“Phantom is the longest-running car name in history. It’s synonymous with the people who made the world turn: kings and queens, megastars, celebrities, noble people, powerful people who define history. Phantom is a thread that connects world events.”
Quite the introduction to the new model from Rolls boss Torsten Müller-Ötvös, then. Important, much? But while the new Phantom arrives at a time when luxury cars are shifting away from traditional saloons and towards SUVs, there was no way that Rolls was going to let its upcoming Project Cullinan SUV, due in 2019, be the scene-setter for the new ‘Architecture of Luxury’ that will underpin all of its future models.
Müller-Ötvös considers the Phantom to be the epitome of the luxury car; the SUV is all part of diversifying the brand and appealing to the fact that “ultra-high-end net worth is getting more fragmented”. It’s offering an alternative, not a replacement, and not something that will eclipse the Phantom.
Customers don’t order a Phantom, they commission one, often spending £1 million in the process. It makes up 15% of Rolls sales “every year”, says Müller- Ötvös , adding an emphatic “always” at the end.
He says Rolls doesn’t compete with other car makers. “Do people like a Ferrari or a Rolls-Royce?” he poses. “They like both. This is a luxury business. There’s no need to offer a car for A-to-B to buyers; they have multiple cars. These are luxury goods to enjoy. They are bespoke, fulfilling dreams. Only imagination is the limit.”
Customers don’t drive one before buying one; they take Müller-Ötvös’s word for how good it will be. We saw the car in March, before any customers had seen it, but Rolls already had orders in the bank. “They trust me,” he says. “They place an order.”
It’s telling that, away from the design and engineering that has made the Phantom such a compelling luxury car, the thing that excites the Rolls boss most is that customers can commission and display art behind the Phantom’s new glass dashboard. “Art is big for our customers,” he says. “The idea was born out of a customer inviting to me to see their art. At a later stage we thought, why can’t we create the gallery concept and bring their art into the car?”
Why not indeed? Welcome to the car, then, that goes beyond being a merely a car. It’s The National Gallery on wheels.