Rolls-Royce says it is not a car company that chases volume. But it’s counting on some rich Texans to help push global sales over 4,000 cars this year.
Asked how Fort Worth fits into that plan, Eric Shepherd, president of Rolls-Royce North America, is quick to point out that Cowtown is “incredibly important” and a “perfect fit” for its brand.
“When you look back at the renaissance of downtown areas … Fort Worth certainly led that for Dallas-Fort Worth,” Shepherd said during a recent interview in Dallas as Rolls-Royce Motor Cars spent a week in North Texas introducing its Ghost Series II, which starts at $287,000.
“We really like this market,” he said. “We’re largely entrepreneurial-driven. Over 80 percent of our customers are self-made. Whether they’re CEOs running large companies they’ve started or … younger entrepreneurs who have sold their companies for hundreds of millions, those are the kinds of people that are our customers now. They’re fueling our growth.”
Wealth has long been part of the Dallas mystique, but luxury automakers are discovering that there’s also big money in Fort Worth and throughout the region. Rolls-Royce autos are sold by Park Place Motorcars in Dallas, the top dealer for Rolls-Royce in North America last year. It serves Fort Worth and the surrounding area, as well as West Texas, Oklahoma and beyond. The dealer declined to say how many Rolls-Royces it sells annually.
“The market is expansive,” Shepherd said. “Our customer doesn’t want to see a Rolls-Royce on every street corner. They absolutely want the rarest car on the road today, and that’s what Rolls-Royce is.”
Fort Worth entrepreneur Ken Hill owns a 2013 Ghost, but has owned four Rolls-Royces in six years. He said he has about 19,000 miles on the current model, which he’s owned for about 16 months. He uses it to drive to his home at Possum Kingdom Lake and to pick up out-of-town guests at the airport, as well as around town.
“It’s an extremely comfortable car,” said Hill, who owns a group of medical technology companies. When he’s driving, Hill said, he puts the car in cruise control and “it’s almost like sitting at home in an easy chair.”
Hill said his black car was made to order and includes red leather seats with black piping and stitching, lambswool carpets for special events, a champagne cooler and crystal glasses for passengers, and electric curtains on the side and back windows. Flat-screen televisions are also among its features.
Hill said he has already ordered the new Wraith model, which won’t be released until next August. It won’t be delivered until late next year or early 2016.
Park Place was chosen as the automaker’s top dealer based on how it sells, what it sells and how it treats customers, Shepherd said. “That’s a perfect testament to talk to about the growth of the area here.”
That growth, in part, comes from the number of corporate relocations to Dallas-Fort Worth, as well as an economy that didn’t fall too far in the recession. The Metroplex has its share of millionaires and billionaires, and Rolls-Royce targets individuals with a net worth of $10 million and higher, Shepherd said.
“There are literally thousands of wealthy homes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area like that,” he said. “It’s not just restricted to Dallas.”
“We don’t chase volume. We’re not about trying to sell every car we can,” Shepherd said. “People will lump us into competitive sets with Bentley and others like that, and quite frankly Bentley is a mass-luxury company: They’re looking at numbers. That’s not our business model. We want to be a very profitable company that sells the rarest motorcar on the road.
“Our customers appreciate that and they’re willing to pay for not just the beauty and the quality of the vehicle, but for the rarity as well.”
Rolls-Royce has been owned by BMW since 1998, but not until 2003 did it start producing cars at its factory in Goodwood, England, about 90 minutes south of London. Bentley is owned by Volkswagen. Today, 40 dealers in the U.S. and Canada make up its North American network.
In 2013, Rolls-Royce sold 3,630 cars in 40 countries. The U.S. is expected to repeat as its top market. Rolls-Royce has been around since 1904.
In 2009, Rolls-Royce sold just 1,002 cars. But by 2010, sales climbed to 2,711 as it introduced the Ghost Series, a smaller and more approachable car. It now has the Ghost Series II for 2015, a refreshed model with subtle design changes, largely in technology. Rolls also sells models called the Phantom and the Wraith.
The exterior of the Ghost Series II looks bigger and wider because the headlights were pushed out and outlined in LEDs. But the grille is raised and the bonnet of the car is slightly bigger.
The car has satellite-aided transmission that uses GPS data to allow the car to “see” beyond the driver’s vision and anticipate its next move based on location and driving style. If a curve in the road is ahead, it selects the best gear to be in.
It’s all part of delivering a luxury car that is also effortless and seamless, Rolls-Royce says.
The Ghost Series II starts at about $287,000, but typical retail prices are around $320,000, Shepherd said.
“Our builds are limited only by imagination. We’re not limited by budget,” he said, referring to a Phantom model that a buyer from Hong Kong had built with 420 diamonds inlaid throughout the interior.
“That was certainly over $1 million,” he said.
FAST FACTS ABOUT ROLLS-ROYCE GHOST SERIES II
What’s under the hood:
The engine: V-12
Top speed: 155 mph
Acceleration: Zero to 60 in 4.9 seconds
Gas mileage: 13 mpg city, 20 highway
(You’ll pay a $2,100 gas-guzzler tax)
Some cool features
• The leather seats are made from 2-year-old bulls raised on farms at 2,000 feet above sea level or more to curb mosquito bite marks on the hide. The farms must be free of barbed wire to prevent nicks.
• The exterior is available in 15 colors, including Darkest Tungsten, Madeira Red, Smoky Quartz and Jubilee Silver.
• The personalized RR umbrella can match the color scheme of your car. There’s also a holder in the door with a drain so water doesn’t pool in the door.
• Producing one car by hand requires more than 450 hours of labor.
• The satellite-aided transmission uses GPS data to see beyond what the driver sees, anticipating hills and curves and selecting the best gear to be in. The result is a very smooth ride.
Just a few of the options
• Front massage seats: $1,375
• Rear theater configuration: $7,300
• Lambswool floor mats: $1,300
• Rear compartment curtains: $6,525
• Seat piping: $3,375
• Two-tone paint: $8,950