Rolls-Royce sees a role for Korea

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Rolls-Royce sees a role for Korea

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Lars Klawitter, head of Rolls-Royce’s Bespoke unit, holds a material sample at the dealership in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul. Provided by the company

While many people are trying to regain their financial footing as the economy gradually recovers, there are a few who aren’t afraid of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a car. And more of them are considering a Rolls-Royce.

The England-based carmaker, now owned by BMW Group, sold 3,575 cars last year - 27 in Korea - the most in its 108-year history.

Rolls-Royce attributes that success to its famous Bespoke program, described as the “ultimate customization.” The program’s motto: The only limit is your imagination.

Bespoke has been one of the fastest-growing units of the past three years, with revenue jumping 500 percent. Today, 90 percent of Phantoms and 75 percent of Ghosts go through the program, according to the company.

Korea may not be as large a market for Rolls-Royce as the United States, China or the Middle East, but the country plays an important role and Korean buyers will be interested in the Bespoke program, says Paul Harris, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars’ regional director for Asia-Pacific.

“People think of Rolls-Royce as a more of a work of art,” he says. “Your country [Korea] has been a huge influence on music, fashion and design. We see more people having an interest in our Bespoke program and limited editions.”

About 1,200 employees work for Rolls-Royce, but only 60 people are assigned to Bespoke at its Goodwood plant. They are dedicated to finding new paints, materials and engineering solutions that meet each client’s individual demands, to ensure a truly unique car.

Heading up the program is Lars Klawitter, general manager at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. He visited Korea last week to introduce the Alpine Trial Centenary Collection model, a limited edition of the Rolls-Royce Ghost that pays tribute to the 1913 Alpine Trial cars.

Klawitter, who joined Rolls-Royce in 2006, says the Bespoke program will remain a core business for the company and an element that separates Rolls-Royce from other luxury carmakers.

Q. How does your IT background apply to the Bespoke program?

A. I like to see Bespoke as sort of a fusion between high-tech and craftsmanship. I always have been a “process person.” When I started at Rolls-Royce, I helped redesign most of the business processes to build and pursue goals. I think that helped me because, with the growth of the Bespoke that we have seen, you need to make sure that you get your processes right. You can’t grow your business by a factor of five without having some sort of structure and process beneath.

How do you see the Korean market in terms of the Bespoke program?

At the moment, we are not seeing the same levels of Bespoke that we are seeing in other markets, but we are seeing tremendous growth. So in terms of potential, Korea is a very important market for us. Demand is increasing year after year.

What kind of demands do you receive from Korean customers, and what would you expect more of in the future?

I think Korea is about more subtle personalization than we see in other regions. Here, it’s very much about elegant, understated luxury personalization. Whenever we introduce one of these collection cars - whether it is Alpine Trial or Art Deco, which we introduced earlier - we see very strong interest from Korean customers and that helps us to understand better the requirements here.

There is a very specific regional taste. In China we typically see a red interior combined with a black exterior, but Korea is much more like Japan. We will probably see more dark colors, both interior and exterior, slightly conservative but with more personalization.

How many color combinations can we expect from the Bespoke program?

By definition, it has to be infinite, because Bespoke is not just set list of features that you can combine. Bespoke, of course, has a list of features, but it’s also about developing new features.

What about the price of the Bespoke program?

We do have a Bespoke price list, but this is actually all the features that we have done for specific customer requests, which then turned out to be so successful that we wanted to able to offer them on an ongoing basis. That is only part of what Bespoke does. If we add all of that against the car, it will probably be in the six figures. If you want to create a true Bespoke Rolls-Royce, we will design and develop features that can easily triple the base price of the car. But it can be anything in between, depending on your preference.

Does Bespoke modify car bodies and exteriors?

We have done some interior modification, but not so much in exterior modifications because we are careful not to overstep certain boundaries. Engines are the same thing. Rolls-Royce engines have been quite carefully fine-tuned and it’s not appropriate to change that. There are times when we need to politely reject customers’ requests, such as getting rid of Spirit of Ecstasy or changing the grille, which would derail brand integrity.

If the owner wants to sell his Bespoke car, what would be the price? What about maintenance?

First and foremost, these are collectors’ cars. So they have much less depreciation than a normal car. They are intended for collectors, and they will remain at a high price point much longer than a standard spec car, which is what makes it so interesting for individuals.

In terms of maintenance, our service teams aim at 40 years of use for these cars. Especially for collection cars, we have to make sure parts are always available.


BY JOO KYUNG-DON [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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