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Exclusive Interview: Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

Since he took the helm of the world’s most luxurious carmaker in 2010, Torsten Müller-Ötvös has done an amazing job of reinvigorating the British brand—Rolls-Royce. Worldwide sales have been rocketing in the last few years, from 1002 units in 2009 to 4107 cars in 2018. 

As far as product lines go, Müller-Ötvös has expanded Rolls-Royce’s portfolio to include new models such as the Ghost, another four-door sedan like the Phantom; the Wraith, a two-door coupe; the Dawn, a full-size four-seat convertible; and the new SUV Cullinan.

Mr. Müller-Ötvös granted an in-depth interview to Maqina magazine about the sales projections of Rolls-Royce in the Middle East, the departure of the brand’s two heads of design, and the shift in Rolls-Royce’s consumers’ attitudes, among other issues. 

Q. In the Middle East, Rolls-Royce is seen as a chauffeur-driven brand for older customers; what are the strategies that Rolls-Royce has to employ to change this image and become more of a brand for drivers and to appeal to younger buyers?

That is quite an old image of Rolls-Royce. It has not been true for quite a while. The vast majority of our clients, particularly here in the Middle East, are self-drivers. That has happened on the back of the launch of the Wraith, the fastback coupe we introduced five years ago, and the Dawn, our favorite convertible, not to mention the Black Badge that helped to increase the number of self-drivers massively. No one would like to be chauffeured in a convertible, a coupe, or a Black Badge. Then, last year, we introduced the Cullinan, which is also very much a drivers’ car or indeed a family car. The entire demography of our clients has changed massively and, for that reason, that image of Rolls-Royce is no longer true. 

Q. In 2018, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Middle East and Africa (MEA) enjoyed an exceptional year with an impressive 32% increase in sales compared to 2017; do you expect that Rolls-Royce will enjoy another phenomenal year in 2019?

I am very confident that will happen. The whole region has become instrumental in our entire global strategy and for our business, particularly on the back of the Cullinan—our SUV that we introduced a year ago. For that reason, I think we will see substantial regional growth this year.  

Q. A few weeks ago, Rolls-Royce announced the departure of Jozef Kaban, Head of Design, after just six months in his position, making his stay in Goodwood one of the shortest in recent history, while in June 2018, Giles Taylor also resigned as Rolls-Royce’s Head of Design, what is your comment on that? 

It is a pity! I was really very sad about that. I had a very good working relationship with these two gentlemen. The decision was not about what happened at Rolls-Royce, but more about how these two gentlemen were tempted by exceptional offers from outside. Imagine that you are sitting at the helm of the design of a brand like Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. Offers for other jobs would be flooding in. In both cases, it was for that reason that they unfortunately left the company. 

Q. With the advent of electrification and self-driving cars, what do you think is the biggest challenge that Rolls-Royce will face in the coming decade or so?

I think electrification is a way forward for our brand. I have already announced that our brand will move to electrification step by step over the next decade. The switch from a traditional internal combustion engine to electrification will not happen overnight. Things will transition smoothly, until Rolls-Royce achieves full electrification. 

Q. The Middle East used to be the second biggest market for Rolls-Royce worldwide after the U.S. That has changed now. Do you think the Middle East will regain the second- biggest-market spot once again?

Do you think the Cullinan will help the region to become the number two market again?

I would say it is not about Rolls-Royce’s Middle East performance, as the performance is really good here in the region. But, it is more about how China has emerged quite massively as our second biggest market worldwide. On that point, our first market is the United States, then China, and the Middle East comes third. That is still a remarkable achievement for our Middle East market. 

Q. Since you were appointed as Rolls-Royce CEO in 2010, have you ever sensed a change in consumer attitudes and trends towards Rolls-Royce’s cars? 

Massively, I would say! You cannot imagine how the world has changed for ultra-high net-worth individuals over the past decade. The ladies and gentlemen who are our patrons and clients are now far younger, more modern, and more casual than they were ten years ago. They come out of completely different professions now. They are self-made business executives, rather than those who have inherited their money. The structure of that group of ultra-high net-worth individuals has changed massively. In addition, there is now a far higher number of powerful women within the ultra-high net-worth group. For our brand, that is a big advantage—the share of women who own a Rolls-Royce has now increased from 1% to 15%, and the average age of our buyers has gone down from 56 to 43 years old. These are unbelievable figures. Still, 80% of our clients are CEOs and business owners, while the remaining 20% are prominent people, celebrities, sports stars, and the like. This is a very eclectic mix of amazing clients for Rolls-Royce.  


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