It is a truth universally acknowledged in the luxury goods market since the 2009 recession; people have become blasé about bling, and those who do spend on big name brands are looking for the narrative beyond the label. While customers cough up for coffee from Brazilian rainforests and rugs hand-knitted in Nepal, the canniest luxury brands are letting people build their own stories into high-end products. New figures released by Rolls-Royce in January prove the success of this strategy: last year 56 percent of customers who bought the carmaker’s latest Ghost model worldwide employed their ‘bespoke personalization’ service, a particular form of customization that is far removed from a paint job. In the Middle East, the proportion of Phantom cars sold with bespoke content rose from 75 percent in 2005 to 99 percent last year.
These numbers point to a new truth, exemplified by brands like Rolls, that top-drawer customers no longer buy from the showroom. Rolls has always had a customization service, but new trends are making those extra options an essential part of any Rolls purchase, rather than the whims of a few super-rich.
It is all about control — Rolls’ website even features a standalone ‘configurator’ where color schemes and add-ons can be tried out virtually, from picnic tables and lambs’ wool foot mats to champagne sets and humidors, and from privacy glass to up to 44,000 different shades of paint. There is also the separate website 21stcenturylegends.com that shows videos of extraordinary stories about extraordinary motor cars. The message is unequivocal: these cars are unique, handcrafted, exceptional legends, and you, the customer, can write your own. Rolls’ new Phantom Coupé, the third newest model from Rolls since the BMW Group became custodians of the marque in 1998, has partly been driving the surge in Middle Eastern business, and will surely be a darling of 2012. At a stately five and a half meters long and two meters wide, the Phantom Coupé has all the Rolls-Royce trademarks: long bonnet, short front, long rear overhangs and large-diameter wheels, but with a more dynamic and rising profile. The inside is equipped with polished woods and hand-dyed leather, rear-hinged doors, picnic boot and fiber-optic-cable-studded rear cabin roof, giving the impression of a star-filled night sky. All this glamour conceals a 6.75-liter V12 engine that features advanced direct fuel injection with variable valve lift and timing. With 453 horsepower and maximum torque of 720 newton-meters at 3,500 rpm, the 2,590 kg Phantom Coupé offers an agile, fast, refined drive, accelerating from zero to 100 km/h in 5.8 seconds and reaching a limited top speed of 250 km/h.
Whatever you choose to do to your Rolls, customization is no barrier to reselling it at a very respectable price — David Beckham’s black Phantom Drophead, which he bought in 2008, is now reportedly on the market in Los Angeles for $390,000. Wooden decking, 24-inch alloys and a black Spirit of Ecstasy make this car unique regardless of who owned it previously. For his part, Beckham will be back for another Rolls, and like 84 per cent of buyers in the North American market, he will be making sure it stands out as his own.
Customization is big business, not merely surface fripperies. Rolls confirmed earlier in January that its biggest sales ever were in 2011, up 23 percent in the Middle East. The new Phantom Coupé, with a suggested retail price of around $400,000 (excluding the additional Lebanese taxes and registration fees), has found a way to appeal to those customers for whom simply owning a Rolls isn’t enough — they need one they feel they have designed themselves. In case you needed any more proof, Rolls-Royce is expanding its United Kingdom manufacturing plant to keep up with worldwide demand, doubling its staff headcount on the bespoke program by the end of 2011.