When chief executive officers of auto makers meet the media, they invariably vow to increase sales and market share. That's not the case with Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd.
"We want to keep volume low," Mr. Mueller-Oetvoes said Tuesday. "The last thing a Rolls-Royce owner wants to see at the next street corner is his car again."
And so he will not give precise information on how many cars Rolls-Royce sold in 2013 – worldwide or in Canada – although North America president Eric Shepherd points out that Canadian sales are up 50 per cent from 2013.
Mr. Mueller-Oetvoes said the company will sell about 4,000 units of its Phantom, Ghost and Wraith models this year.
Nobody needs a Rolls-Royce, he told a small group of reporters over breakfast at a Toronto hotel. "It's a luxury good at the end of the day and you are deciding about it as you decide on a very precious watch, jewellery, a chalet in the Swiss Alps, something which you enjoy and which you buy to reward yourself for certain achievements in life," he said.
When it comes to luxury brands, Rolls-Royce ranks at the top, said John Williams, a senior partner at retail consulting firm J.C. Williams Group Ltd.
"The basis of a luxury brand is having an outrageous price that is beyond what an average person can afford and managing the supply so that it's limited," Mr. Williams said.
Pricing in the U.S. market ranges from $263,200 (U.S.) for the base model of the short wheelbase Ghost to $474,990 for the extended wheelbase version of the Phantom model.
Nonetheless, Rolls-Royce faces issues that other auto makers, such as its parent BMW AG, have already dealt with and industry-wide concerns that all car companies will have to address before the end of the decade. Does an auto maker that considers itself at the pinnacle of the industry expand by adding a utility vehicle? How will it deal with regulatory requirements for lower emissions?
The internal debate about whether to offer a Rolls-Royce utility vehicle is fully engaged, Mr. Mueller-Oetvoes said, and some of the 15 Canadian owners who attended a private meeting with him on Monday night in Toronto think it's a great idea.
No final decision has been made, he said, noting that many Rolls-Royce owners also have a Range Rover sport utility vehicle in their driveways.
"It would definitely make sense," he said. "For us, it's more a question does it fit the brand and what would a Rolls-Royce look like if it's an SUV type of car."
Unlike the SUV debate, he noted, customers have not weighed in heavily with demands that Rolls-Royce cars become more environmentally friendly.
But that is a development that is also likely, he said, saying such an engine could arrive in five years in the form of a plug-in hybrid vehicle that offers both battery power and a gasoline engine.
"I'm a clear believer that Rolls-Royce needs an alternative drivetrain," he said.
He is worried that London, Beijing or some other congested city will enact a law that limits vehicles in the downtown core to those powered by electric propulsion.
For now, however, the company is focused on meeting consumer demands, which are increasingly coming from entrepreneurs and not the traditional, old-money set.
It typically takes four months to deliver a Rolls-Royce that is not already stocked at a dealership. If there is a difficult request, such as the British film and stage star who wanted a specific colour that was not among the 44,000 colour varieties in the Rolls-Royce palette and who visited the plant in Goodwood, England, five times to make sure the colour was exactly what he wanted, it can take more than a year to build the car.