The Middle East is enormous business for Rolls Royce
Geoffrey Briscoe speaks to Rajarshi Aditya Chaudhuri about Rolls Royce's competitive edge, brand value and the luxury carmaker's outlook for the Oman market
Geoffrey Briscoe has a lot of reason to be excited about the future right now. The regional director of Rolls Royce Middle East, Africa and Latin America was recently in Oman, as part of the British automaker's global launch of its new gran turismo, the Wraith. And apart from adding a new car to the luxury automaker's portfolio, the Middle East has become Rolls Royce's third most important market with one of every five of its vehicles being bought in the region.
"The Middle East market is enormous business for us," said Briscoe. "Not only is one in five Rolls Royce cars sold worldwide purchased here in the Middle East, the region has moved from the fifth largest to the third largest market for us just in the last couple of years. Although China and US remain the two biggest markets for us, the Middle East is a market that is still growing at a very
And within this region, Oman represents something special to the Rolls Royce brand. "The Omani market is one of the rare markets that gives us consistent, continuous growth. Businesses selling luxury items like ours are forever looking for markets like the one here in Oman we have had solid growth year on year and that's why we appreciate this market so much," Briscoe said.
"There aren't too many markets like that in the world right now. There are so many parts of the world where, no matter what luxury good you are talking about, there is hard work and a lot of competition. But I always say that Oman is rapidly growing and the market roughly doubles in size every two years. That puts a lot of pressure on the local dealers selling our cars but they're achieving that anyways. So it's an important, solid growth market for us. We have a solid, robust presence here and strong partnerships with the local businesses as well, and the Rolls Royce brand's position here is quite secure."
With the new Wraith, Rolls Royce is adding a third element to its repertoire. Not only is the gran turismo very different from anything else that the British carmaker has on offer, it still embodies its 'style, power and drama' ethos. And it also happens to be the most powerful road car Rolls Royce has ever produced. The 624hp, 6,600cc V12 engine is mated to an eight speed automatic ZF transmission that can propel the car from 0-100km/hour in 4.6 seconds, all the while making sure passengers are in the lap of luxury. The fastback design features traditional Rolls Royce exterior styling and the coach doors open to reveal an interior bathed in leather and Canadel panelling. Some of the technological features in the Wraith include satellite aided transmission. The system uses GPS data to see where the driver is headed and anticipates the next move based on location and current driving style. The car then selects the gear most appropriate for the terrain ahead. All this while maintaining Rolls Royce's signature 'wafting' ride quality.
"The new Wraith is a car that is very suited to the Middle Eastern market," Briscoe said. "It's a beautiful, stylish car and is very much suited to what people in this region want to have and drive and so it is very much a demand-driven product.
Despite the brand's high profile in the minds of customers and enthusiastic aspirants, Rolls Royce has always managed to maintain a low profile when it comes to the media. "It is absolutely 100 per cent a conscious effort to not try to promote and advertise the Rolls Royce brand in the media," said Briscoe. "Ours is a niche market and, no disrespect to any publication, but there isn't a magazine or newspaper where you can get the right sort of coverage by running an ad, there's not the right kind of television show that can help us get the right kind of coverage for Rolls Royce either."
Part of the reason for this kind of an approach is because Rolls Royce doesn't really have a rival in the car market. "First and foremost we are a luxury item. People buy our cars because they want to have something that is unique and special. We don't see ourselves competing with any car as such. We compete with luxury goods a yacht or a luxury building," he added.
And so, instead, Rolls Royce has found it more worthwhile going to their customer base and personally interacting with them. "For us, our whole presence is about customer relationship we put most of our money into our customer relations strategy, our contacts with our customers. At the launch we had about 60 customers and I and the local dealers made it a point to talk to every one of them and discuss the car and see whether they would be interested in purchasing it," he said. "You ask those 60 people what television show they watched and what newspaper or magazine they read, it just doesn't work for us. For us it is all about direct customer relations and this is a well-planned out strategy that has worked for us throughout our history and we are not about to abandon that any time soon."
It is this emphasis on dealing directly with the customers that has helps Rolls Royce plan and design their future cars. "For example, when we were conceptualising the Wraith, we got a lot of feedback from our customers that they wanted a car with the same level of comfort as the Phantom and the Ghost but they also wanted something that could really get moving in a hurry."
As such, Briscoe said that Rolls Royce is not likely to go down the electric car path that a lot of other carmakers are treading. "The only way we would build a car like that is if there is a demand for it from our customers and I am not sure we'd sell a lot of electric Rolls Royce cars right now," he said. Rolls Royce did build an electric car, the 102EX, back in 2010. Based on the Phantom, it was powered by a 96-cell lithium-ion battery instead of the Phantom's 6,750cc, V12 petrol engine. "There were some motives behind investing in that technology and one of them was to showcase our technological abilities. But my guess is that won't be happening in the short-term at least."
Briscoe credits Rolls Royce's business model for helping sustain the brand's growth despite the financial crisis of 2008 and its prolonged effect still being felt in many parts of the world. "It is part of our strategy to have a steady line of products and to have solid, continual growth and not to take any dips during a ten-year period. And we have managed to achieve that," he said. "Obviously because of the recent economic recession, consumer confidence is often affected when something like that happens. So irrespective of whether you have a lot of money or not, you want to hibernate for a little while. But still our business hasn't really been adversely affected."
Briscoe talked about the excitement surrounding the Rolls Royce brand with the introduction of the Wraith to the current line-up. "We are going through some wonderful growth and changes in our business and for us, the Wraith is the third pillar in the range now. Launching our third pillar is an enormous milestone for us. It increases the expanse of the range and the depth of customers interested in our range. From that perspective, this is a very important new model for us," he said.
"We have a very long order list already and if you can achieve that before the launch of the car, before you even build your first
car, you really have something special on your hands and that is what we have with
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