Rolls-Royce is trying a new strategy, attempting to go a little downmarket to boost sales.
And it's working: Sales were up 171% in 2010, mostly due to the introduction of the "low cost" Ghost. The Ghost is the "cheap" Rolls, but it still comes with a hefty pricetage of $248,500.
That's more than $130,000 less than a Phantom, helping Rolls attract a younger demographic to boost its customer base.
Much of that success stems from the more down-played vibe associated with the Ghost, which attracts a clientele on average 10 years younger than that of the Phantom. (The average Rolls buyer is a 60-something.)
"The Ghost was intended to be the daily commuting car, the daily business tool, and the clear car for the self-driver," Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös said. "Phantom is the symbol, the pinnacle in terms of luxury. if you're pulling up in front of a hotel, there's no better car to do that."
He compared the Phantom to a tuxedo and the Ghost to a business suit. Although the price is still laughable for most of the world's population, the lower sticker price is attracting new buyers. About 80% of people who bought Ghosts in 2010 were first time Rolls owners, with the youngest at 28.
Even Rolls was hit by the global recession in 2009, with sales dropping 17.3% to just over 1,000 sales that year. The automaker only sells around 1,000 vehicles annually, but sales hit 1,200 in 2008.
During the downturn, other brands saw sales fall 50% to 60%, so Rolls showed some surprising resiliency. But the company says that's because Rolls-Royce buyers still had the money to spend on a new Rolls, they just decided not to make purchases out of sensitivity to others facing financial pressures.
"Our customers are not normally short of money--that's not the issue," Müller-Ötvös said. "It is very much, when you buy a Rolls-Royce, you are looking for is the moment the right moment to buy such a car."
A lot of Rolls' 2010 171% jump in sales came from China, which beat out the U.K. in sales for the first time. There, the bespoke stitching and embroidery options on the Rolls are appealing to China's new monied class.
"It's not bling-bling, let's say in a typical way," Müller-Ötvös said. "It's also very much connoisseurship, because you are investing in a master piece of art and a master piece of engineering."