x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Gulf's love affair with Rolls-Royce at full throttle

It's one of the world's most recognisable symbols of prestige and wealth and now the luxury car maker Rolls-Royce says sales across the Gulf have gone into overdrive.

Appetite for Ghost model in region helps firm hit record sales for Rolls-Royce.  Stephen Lock  /  The National.
Appetite for Ghost model in region helps firm hit record sales for Rolls-Royce. Stephen Lock / The National.

The rich rolled out the cash last year, pushing Rolls-Royce cars to their highest sales figures since BMW bought the company in 2003.

Fuelling demand in the luxury brand was the Gulf's love for the status symbol, with sales in the region doubling compared with 2009.

This helped Rolls-Royce to sell a record 2,711 models globally last year, up 171 per cent from 2009, the company announced yesterday.

"I'm very optimistic that we'll see sustainable growth in the next years given that the economy is getting stronger and stronger," said Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes, the company's chief executive. "People are coming back to the showrooms. They're prepared to spend money again and that should help us. Our dealers, especially in the Middle East, are investing in new showrooms."

Sales in the Middle East region doubled, with the UAE the biggest growth market, said James Crichton, the company's regional director for the Middle East.

Sales in Abu Dhabi surged 176 per cent, while Dubai posted a 50 per cent rise last year compared with 2009. "Consumer confidence in Abu Dhabi remains stronger than it does in Dubai," Mr Crichton said. "Some of the impact of the property market are still having effects in Dubai … But the good news is every single market [in the region] has grown for the year."

Growth in many markets was robust - 400 per cent in India, 600 per cent in China and 200 per cent in the US, said Mr Mueller-Oetvoes. The Middle East is Rolls-Royce's third-largest regional market. By country, the UAE was its fourth-largest market, behind the US, China and the UK.

Mr Crichton would not disclose exactly how many cars were sold in the UAE or the Middle East but said the Abu Dhabi dealership ranked among the top five worldwide.

One factor contributing to Rolls-Royce sales growth last year was the introduction of the Ghost model. The relatively cheaper car, priced at about Dh1.1m (US$300,000), compared with the Phantom at Dh1.6m, opened up Rolls-Royce to a broader segment of younger drivers.

"The Phantom is our tuxedo, which is a car used for special occasions. Whereas we are positioned with the Ghost as a business suit, to be used on a more regular basis," Mr Crichton said.

But consumers in the region were among the keenest to have customised cars, said Mr Mueller-Oetvoes. Such adaptations could more than double the cost of the car.

"More or less 100 per cent in the Middle East region were bespoke," he said.