While in New York at the recent New York International Auto show, BMWBLOG had the unique opportunity of sitting down with Paul Ferraiolo, President of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars North America.
So as to fully comprehend the opulence and luxury of Rolls-Royce automobiles we decided to conduct our interview in the back seat of a new Ghost. Paul had many insights to offer regarding automobile production, technology, craftsmanship, and the history of the brand.
From where I was sitting, this was a highly enjoyable interview – and it wasn’t just thanks to the buttery hand-stitched leather. To learn more about this magnificent brand, their history, their goals and their future, we invite you to read on.
Rolls Royce is a very exclusive, luxurious brand. What sets Rolls-Royce apart from the competition, including Bentley and Maybach?
We actually share a lot in common, a lot of our buyers are the same buyers – all of our key competitors are trying to build the best possible car they can, and that is a product that reflects their brand identity. The key differences? We’re fortunate to be a part of the BMW Group and we’re benefiting tremendously from the Group’s technical expertise in engineering and manufacturing. We’re benefiting from the parts and the platforms that exist on the shelves of BMW. I think BMW has a better respect and understanding of great brands than some of our key competitors. Within the Group, we’re not afraid to do what’s right, even if it can be more costly to make our cars as good as we can. I think another key difference is that our volume aspirations are much less than, say, Bentley. We’re trying to own the pinnacle position of the automotive market; probably no one has sold more cars above 300,000 than we have. Bentley has, for the past several years been more active in volume, so I think we’re all about pinnacle positioning while Bentley is more about lower price, more volume, with a bit more of a sporting focus.
Sitting here in the back of this beautiful vehicle, I sense an aura of prestige, I feel a special mystique about this vehicle. Can you tell us how Rolls-Royce achieves this in their motor cars?
Well, first of all you sit more upright in a Rolls-Royce than you do in a BMW and you’re sitting a little bit higher off the ground than in most other sedans. This helps a lot: it gives you great visibility, but it’s also a little bit more relaxing to sit in a more upright position. The “H Point,” the height of the seat off the ground is also higher. In the back of the car, what you’re sensing is what we call a lounge seat environment – the seat wraps around the back. The coach doors allow us that opportunity, the door cutline is more forward than it might be and we allow the rear of the cushion to go where your shoulders are. You’re also sensing the materials; we’ve got really the finest wood and the finest leather you can buy. The wood and leather is so important with our cars that we don’t trust it to any other supplier – we do all of the wood and leather work in our own factory. We train our craftsmen ourselves and we do everything on site. When something is really core to your brand, really essential to your vehicle’s character, you don’t trust it to anyone else, you tend to do it yourself.
No room for compromise?
Further to that point, could you tell us a little bit about the training involved for new Rolls-Royce employees?
Well, it can take months to train them. Last year was a tough year in the industry, most manufacturers where trying to cut costs yet we were hiring people through out the year because we needed months to train an individual to do a lot of the wood and leather craftsmanship that we need to do. So really it depends on what skill set we are trying to pass on, but it’s in the months not weeks.
What is Rolls-Royce mantra or motto if you will?
I see a large team of people working as hard as they can to make the best possible car that we are able to make.
BMW has the Joy campaign, which is a new initiative in their marketing technique that really emphasizes, not so much the product itself, but the enjoyment of the product and the feeling that the consumer gets when they’re driving a BMW. In one word, how would you summarize Rolls-Royce?
The core of our brand is, “elation.”
So “elation” in one word?
Who is a Rolls-Royce driver? What would they be like in terms of their activity, their lifestyle?
Very hard people to describe. The ultra wealthy don’t typically follow any normal pattern so I’m going to do something that is very difficult to do by describing them. The best way to describe them is in saying they are typically entrepreneurs. They have generated or achieved significant wealth with their own skills and talents, with their own businesses, their own creative ideas. They are very passionate about living life and they may have great wealth but they are using that wealth to enjoy life to the fullest. They are passionate about cars; they usually have several cars that are “best in segment” examples – no compromise cars. They tend to be very knowledgeable about cars as well. We’re talking about people who are always buying the latest and greatest and they cycle through cars rapidly. So they are very knowledgeable, very passionate about cars and about life.
You just described me minus the wealth.
Well, you still have time, you’re young. (laughs)
The devil is in the details. How does Rolls-Royce adhere to this philosophy?
Look around the interior, most of what you see was done by hand. We try to use the best materials and our craftsmen really put their heart and soul into this. I hope that when you see a Rolls-Royce it is an emotional experience, I hope you feel something. With our Phantom family of cars that has definitely been the case and we see it with the Ghost as well. There are other things I see: people tend to like to touch the leather and wood, they tap on things. The things that are chrome plated, they know it’s metal – it’s a very tactile experience. We do everything we can to make our cars, our products, as good as they can be.
Describe the design and production process at Rolls-Royce. We’ve touched on it already, but in terms of the actual design house, the time spend perfecting one detail, and of course the actual production process.
We have a great design team and the design team has been pretty much in tact since the BMW Group bought the brand. So the same team, the same lead designer and much of the team that did the Phantom and the Phantom family of products also worked on the Ghost. We’re fortunate there has been a lot of continuity and a lot of experience developed.
In terms of the production of the vehicles, they’re all assembled in one location?
Yes, our factory is in Goodwood. Goodwood in England is about an hour and a half South of Heathrow Airport, right on the English Channel – it is a very beautiful part of the country. The factory is right next to part of the Goodwood Estate and where the Goodwood Revival and Goodwood Festival of Speed take place. It’s a real ‘hot bed’ of motoring activity and it’s a beautiful location – a great place to go visit.
So based on this ideal factory location and the beauty of it, can you tell us a little bit about the factory visit program for purchasers?
Actually, I would encourage anyone to come and visit our factory at Goodwood. It’s not that far away from London, it’s not a far drive, and we love showing off the factory. It’s not a normal factory tour; you get to see things at our factory that you don’t see at other places. It’s a brand-new facility, architecturally it has won many awards and it is a beautiful facility to look at. It’s a very green factory; we have the largest living natural roof in Europe, so there is about a foot of soil and there are plants planted on that. We have a lake on the property used for heating and cooling of the building. There is natural lighting on the walls of the factory and there are computer-controlled louvers that cut things back when the sun comes and things get too warm. So in terms of a factory tour it, is a fascinating experience.
Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the Rolls-Royce brand?
There is 104 years of history and that is a whole book, but I will talk about the recent history.
In 1998 BMW Group bought the brand and what is important is not what they bought but what they didn’t buy. They didn’t get our factory, they didn’t get any car designs, they didn’t get the dealer network, they didn’t get any people – the BMW Group just got the brand name. In 2003 they set about rebuilding, recreating this great company and they did a fantastic job. 99.9% of the decisions made in that period have proven to be the right ones and the work done then has made Rolls-Royce the success it is today. In 2003 we started selling the Phantom and from 2003 until 2009 we expanded the Phantom family of products to include the sedan, the extended wheelbase, the convertible – the Drop Head, and then our coupe. So we have got four derivatives of the Phantom, technically all very similar but with a very different emotional design. I do hope that when you see one of our cars you feel something and go, “Wow – that’s very powerful, very romantic.” So that is the most recent history and with the Phantom family of products, each of those cars are perfect cars for special occasions. Our buyers have several cars and they like cars that have specific purposes for different things. It’s like us in clothing; you have different sport coats for different occasions.
What is the future of Rolls-Royce?
I think we’re excited that the Phantom family of products has reestablished the brand as the pinnacle automotive brand. Right now what we are doing with the Ghost is growing the business and increasing our importance to our dealers – broadening the appeal so that there are more people that are interested in Rolls-Royce, and we’re becoming more profitable.
Lets talk about the Ghost. It is a brilliant car, sitting in it. It feels like it is filling a market niche that was previously untouched by Rolls-Royce.
Yes, our Phantoms are very large cars and we wanted a car that was easier to use everyday. We’ve made the Ghost about a foot and a half shorter than our Phantom sedan. This car is not a replacement for the Phantom; this is a car that was developed to live along side the Phantom. We’ve made the exterior smaller, but we’ve maintained the interior dimensions. It is still as spacious inside, it’s still as comfortable inside as a Phantom. We’ve tried to capture all of the luxury, all of the craftsmanship you would expect of a Rolls-Royce, but in a smaller package that you can use every day. We’ve loaded this car up with all of the technology we could get from the BMW Group. You’ll see all of the driver assistant tools, infrared display, lane change warning – really everything from a feature perspective that we can get. We’ve loaded it up with great dynamics, great performance. 563 horsepower, 8-speed automatic transmission, direct injection with twin turbos, so the car is extremely powerful and extremely fast. We’ve given it great handling, active roll stabilization, great large tires. The car can be extremely comfortable and luxurious if you’re taking a nice relaxing drive – or if you want to drive it hard it can be a thrilling car to drive.
The chassis is based upon the 7 series – is that correct?
Well, it’s probably about as close to a 7 series as a 3 or a 5 series might be. We have larger wheels and tires, the wheelbase is longer than a 7 series long wheel base, the engine is of a bigger displacement: 6.6 liters verses 6, we have coach doors, and we have a higher seating position so it’s taller. There are some similarities, about 20% of the components in this car are provided by the BMW Group and I can say that all of those components have made this a better Rolls-Royce, so it’s been really great for us.
So it is dynamically gifted in so much as it has the spine of a 7 series and the rigidity of its chassis and the sporting nature of its drive?
There are not any body panels that are the same. Really, when you change the height, the seating position, the wheel base, the coach doors, the tire diameter – it forces you to develop really an all new shell, but the electrical architecture for instance or the rigidity that you might get from a BMW – this car has inherited those good attributes.
Paul, what do you drive as your personal car?
Right now I own a 7 series, a 750i. I have a 3 series touring and I have a Z3.
Three beautiful cars.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, some of your passions and your pass times.
You know, I am fortunate I have a job I love and it consumes the vast majority of my time. I get to travel all over the U.S. to the best car events and meet some fascinating people. So I’ve made my job my passion and I’m having a lot of fun with that. The rest of the time I try to spend time with my family and try to stay fit.
We would like to extend our sincere thanks to Rolls-Royce Motor Cars of North America for the generous donation of their time to complete this interview.
Please note the open invitation to all of our readers from Paul Ferraiolo, President of Rolls-Royce NA, to take a personal tour of their factory in Goodwood if ever passing through England.