Autos

A Rolls-Royce in Every Driveway?


Rolls-Royce Phantom

Courtesy Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce Phantom

Rolls-Royces are quickly becoming common—or at least far less rare than they used to be. BMW (BMW:GR), which owns the blue-chip brand, said Rolls-Royce sales surged by one-third in the first half of this year to 1,968, led by a 40 percent boost in business in Asia.

Consider it more evidence of a strengthening global economy, or perhaps of a few hundred energy titans emboldened by climbing oil prices (there’s a reason the Dubai skyline looms large on the Rolls website). If that pace holds, almost 5,000 Rolls-Royces will cruise out of dealerships this year.

These days, Rolls-Royces come in three general varieties, each of which is instantly recognizable as a Rolls. There’s the Phantom, which costs a little more than $400,000 and looks like a land yacht, the Ghost, which runs north of $263,000 and looks like a slightly sleeker land yacht, and the Wraith, which starts at about $285,000 and looks like a giant coupe with suicide doors the size of a normal car’s hood.

They actually drive pretty well, but real petrol-heads with a few hundred thousand dollars to throw around will buy something sportier. These cars are sheer pleasure machines meant for cruising around in search of fine mustard and the nearest polo grounds. They have a “magic carpet ride” thanks to air suspensions, transmissions that automatically shift gears based on a GPS read of the road ahead, umbrellas in the door frames, and roofs speckled with tiny lights to mimic a star-filled sky. Buying a Rolls is a paragon of conspicuous consumption, which is making a strong comeback since the economic turmoil of 2009.

Volkswagen’s Bentley brand, probably the closest Rolls competitor, isn’t in shabby shape either. It notched a 17 percent sales increase in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Mercedes is searching for the ceiling of the fat-cat market with a new Pullman version of its S-Class sedan. The vehicle—essentially a great white shark-size limousine—will cost more than $1 million.

From that perspective, Rolls might do even better if it makes a fourth model that is a little bit bigger and more expensive than its current lineup. As for a name, “Zombie” would work handsomely.

Kyle-stock-190
Stock is an associate editor for Businessweek.com. Twitter: @kylestock

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  • BMW:GR
    (Bayerische Motoren Werke AG)
    • $90.22 EUR
    • -0.68
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