Rolls-Royce SUV 'will not compromise brand'

Luxury car maker Rolls-Royce will not compromise its exclusive image if it builds a sports utility vehicle (SUV), its chief executive said Tuesday.

Speaking to journalists in Singapore, Torsten Muller-Otvos said the firm known for its stately sedans is now in the early stages of designing its first SUV for the super rich.

"I have tasked our designers to come up with some ideas on paper how they would imagine our car, the Rolls-Royce, would look like in this segment," he said.

"This segment is interesting, it keeps growing and growing and growing, even at a time when the whole automotive industry was quite in a crisis."

The auto press is abuzz over the idea of a Rolls-Royce SUV but Muller-Otvos said the BMW-owned British company would tread carefully as "Rolls-Royce is not sporty, Rolls-Royce is not utility (and) it is not in the genes of this brand".

"There is no decision yet made, and we aren't rushing it, and there is also really no need to enter that segment. It only makes sense if this can be credibly represented by Rolls-Royce," he said.

Bentley, Rolls-Royce's British-based rival, in July said it would go ahead with plans to launch an SUV by 2016.

Lamborghini, which like Bentley is a unit of German auto giant Volkswagen, is also eyeing the SUV market along with Fiat's Maserati.

Porsche, also part of the Volkswagen group, is well ahead of the pack, with its sales boosted by its hugely popular Cayenne SUV.

Muller-Otvos, who was on a tour of Asian dealerships, said demand in the fast-growing region remains robust, underpinned by brisk sales in China.

"We started the whole business in the eastern part of China, but now we are now moving also to the more western parts of China," he said.

Rolls-Royce has announced plans to have 20 dealers in the country by the end of the year, up from the current 16.

Rolls-Royce, based at the Goodwood factory in southern England, sold 3,575 cars in 2012, the highest-ever total in the 108-year history of the company, beating the previous record of 3,538 set the previous year.

Muller-Otvos said about "28 to 29 percent" of sales were in China while another 30 percent were in the United States.

The former BMW executive said Rolls-Royce would avoid going the way of "mass luxury brands", which have focused on increasing sales volumes.

"I think that exclusivity is very much related to the volume... We aren't pushing into volumes like 10,000 or 15,000," he said.

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