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The Stage: Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

A behind-the-scenes look from CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös about how Rolls-Royce navigated the pandemic.

Without question, Rolls Royce is one of the world’s premium automobile manufacturers. Even the British Royal Family has driven (or rather, has been driven in) dozens of Rolls-Royces over the years; Meghan Markle even rode in one to her wedding in 2018. Their name is synonymous with the upper echelon of automobile luxury, and that is a title they have fought to retain for over a century. In an interview with CEO Today Magazine, CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös revealed how Rolls Royce not only survived the pandemic but ended up having the highest yearly sales increase in the brand’s 116-year history during Q1 of 2021.

The CEO

Mr Müller-Ötvös first gained international attention in the auto industry for relaunching MINI as a premium small car brand. Since then, he assumed responsibility for BMW’s automobile marketing and product management, and from there, he earned his spot as CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars in 2010. Mr Müller-Ötvös is based in Sussex, the home of Rolls-Royce and the only place where the company manufactures its automobiles.

With its success in 2021, some might assume that Rolls-Royce had it relatively easy during the pandemic. But this success was based on several key decisions made during 2020. In response to a question about how the manufacturer navigated the pandemic so well, Mr Müller-Ötvös revealed how it went down:

When the UK’s first nationwide lockdown was introduced in March 2020, we voluntarily suspended production to protect our employees, suppliers and their families. We did not take the decision lightly, but it was clearly the right one. At the same time, we had to adapt to having many of our staff working from home for the first time. But as I expected, people quickly adapted, bringing their customary imagination, flexibility and dedication to bear on this unique situation.

On 4 May 2020, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars was the first UK automotive manufacturer to reopen, operating a single-shift production cycle. Customer handover ceremonies, with appropriate social distancing measures in place, resumed in early June, and we were able to welcome clients to the Home of Rolls-Royce in Goodwood to collect their new motor car in person.

By September, we were able to resume full two-shift production and operate once again at pre-lockdown levels. That same month we launched our new Ghost to the world, completely virtually, in what became our most successful launch ever. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, demand for Ghost and all other Rolls Royce models has developed strongly across all markets worldwide, resulting in record first-quarter sales results in 2021. This reflects the long-term strength and resilience of our brand and its products.

Rolls-Royce is not the only luxury car company in the world; there is stiff competition from well-financed, talented competitors. The key to retaining premium status for its products is no easy task, but Mr Müller-Ötvös shed some light on how Rolls-Royce achieves that feat:

We are uniquely close to and in touch with our clients and their requirements, to the extent that they can talk directly to me, whenever they wish, to offer feedback on their cars, the service they receive, or other aspects of our marque and business. I have always believed that, in our market, this is not something I can or should delegate to anyone else. That personal connection adds enormous value and authenticity to our relationships, which are the very essence of our offer.

Our products and service both reflect and influence trends in the wider luxury market. We know customers increasingly seek true value for their money, focussing on less ostentatious displays of wealth in favour of a more and craftsmanship that withstands the most intense scrutiny and discreetly tells their own story. Above all, we offer patrons the opportunity to co-create their motor car with us through our Rolls-Royce Bespoke Collective. Every car we build includes bespoke elements, from subtle interior details to a completely individual commission, including coachbuilding.

Based on Mr Müller-Ötvös’s insight, service is the key to post-pandemic success. The company does not engage in mere lip service, but instead offers several real value-adds for its clients, value-adds that their clients actually want. Even though Rolls-Royce is situated at the very top of the ladder, its path to excellence should be a lesson to all companies about how to emerge from the pandemic in the years to come.