Manufacturing News

Rolls-Royce says U.S. sales may top China volume

Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes said the brand's U.S. sales could overtake those in China this year, revving up the BMW-owned British brand for record global revenue in 2012.

Rolls-Royce remains focused on China after selling more than 1,000 cars there last year, helping China sales cruise past the United States for the first time in the brand's history.

But Mueller-Oetvoes expressed confidence in a resurgence of growth in North America, saying he would not be surprised if sales in the United States accelerated ahead of China in 2012.

"I think the American market will definitely pick up," he told Reuters from a flagship Rolls-Royce store in Hong Kong. "It depends on the economy and the U.S. market. There are encouraging signals we are seeing."

Earlier this week, Rolls-Royce reported record sales of 3,538 cars for 2011, up 31 percent from the previous year.

While mass-market brands are facing slowing demand, luxury automakers are forecasting faster sales growth.

Stellar sales

Like Rolls-Royce, luxury brands such as Bentley, Porsche and Aston Martin have posted stellar sales in Asia, where a wave of newly rich consumers are eager to flaunt their wealth.

Mueller-Oetvoes, who started at BMW as a trainee in 1988, said Rolls-Royce's main competition was not other high-end automakers but luxury goods such as helicopters and yachts.

"Our competitors are not other brands," he said. "It is jewelry for the wife, a new family home in the Swiss Alps, a new motor yacht."

Volkswagen-owned Bentley has prospered with new models such as the Mulsanne and the second-generation Continental GT. Mueller-Oetvoes said Rolls-Royce had no plans to introduce new models over the next two years.

He added that Rolls-Royce was not planning to develop a specific China model. "It is exactly the British heritage, British genes that make them so successful -- especially here in China," he said.

Asked whether Rolls-Royce could sell more than 1,500 cars in China this year, Mueller-Oetvoes said: "Wait and see."

He said China was unlikely to experience growth in the same explosive way as in previous years, but he remained confident of strong growth in 2012.

Rolls-Royce, which has 14 showrooms in greater China, is in talks with dealers in second-tier Chinese cities.

Drink cabinets, cigar humidors and embroidered logos are some of the features Chinese customers request when they order custom-made cars, Mueller-Oetvoes said.

Hong Kong has the highest density of Rolls-Royce cars in the world, with Beverly Hills and Singapore vying for second place. There is a six-month average waiting list for a top-end Rolls-Royce car, he said.

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