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Rolls-Royce ponders entry into SUV market

High roller: Graphic artist Chris Harris' vision of a Rolls-Royce SUV.

A revitalised Rolls-Royce considers entering the SUV market

20 Oct 2004

ROLLS-ROYCE’S Spirit of Ecstasy emblem may adorn the grille of a 4WD before the decade is out.

The company’s global sales and marketing director, Howard Mosher, exclusively told GoAuto the brand would embark on a more adventurous design strategy now that the BMW-engineered Phantom has re-established its traditional core values.

"We’re very open-minded about future products," Mr Mosher said. "In fact, the biggest growth in recent times has been in the SUV segment, so we’re not averse to looking at that category. We can redefine what Rolls-Royce means, now that we’ve successfully re-established it."Mr Mosher suggested the illustrious brand had lost direction from the 1970s onwards as it struggled against recession, the oil crisis, an ageing product line-up and a changing social culture worldwide. The models launched subsequently – including the Camargue, Silver Spirit and Silver Spur – kept the Spirit of Ecstasy alive, but some aficionados and Rolls-Royce loyalists argued the cars had lost the stately elegance synonymous with the marque.

Hence the decision to revert to the aristocratic magnificence of Rollers of yore with the gargantuan Phantom, launched globally last year.

"We had to re-educate people as to what Rolls-Royce is," Mr Mosher said. Having achieved this, in his view, the stage is set to broaden the buyer demographic.

Although it might seem sacrilegious for Rolls-Royce to venture down the SUV route, the notion may not be as absurd as it sounds.

The brand’s BMW masters have plenty of expertise in building SUVs, thanks to their former ownership of Land Rover and, of course, their own products – namely the X3 and X5.

Theoretically, a good portion of the hardware could be derived from the imminent X7 SUV flagship, just as the Phantom owes much of its drivetrain to the 7 Series.

Furthermore, Porsche has already proved with the Cayenne that pleasing the purists goes out the window when it comes to fattening up the bottom line.

Porsche’s profits topped one billion euro for the first time in the company’s history for the 2003/04 fiscal year and it attributed the financial bonanza to the Cayenne, of which 39,913 examples were sold.

Meanwhile, products in Rolls-Royce’s short-term pipeline include a long-wheelbase version of the Phantom and an armour-plated variant.

Then there’s the all-new convertible. Although Mr Mosher is non-committal about the production prospects of the 100EX drop-top concept that starred at the recent Australian International Motor Show in Sydney, the car undoubtedly provides a strong indication of what’s in store.

"We’re not making a formal announcement about the 100EX at this stage," Mr Mosher said. "(But) the reaction to the car has been very strong in the US, southern Europe and the Middle East." Rolls-Royce is on track to post close to 1000 global sales this year, a sizeable improvement on recent years, but Mr Mosher said it was only the beginning.

"With the current range, 1200 to 1400 annual sales globally is the limit, but with more body styles we can grow this. Of course, price will also be a function," he said.

"We believe 70 dealers globally is about right. Our worldwide dealer network now stands at 67 and earlier this year we opened for business in South Korea, Kiev and Moscow, and in the coming months we will add Italy to the network.

"We’ve just produced the 1000th Phantom, so in a very short period of time we’ve established a new company, a new car and new infrastructure."

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