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Peeking Under the Hood of the New Rolls

Last week, BMW unveiled the first Rolls Royce to be built since it acquired the British brand in 1998. DW-RADIO's Eva Kötting visited the company's new factory on the occasion.

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For €300,000, you could be sitting in the lap of luxury.

"We're sanding the surface so it will be perfectly flat," explains a worker in the woodshop at the spanking new $96 million Rolls Royce factory in the British town of Goodwood. The wood being prepared in the workshop will later be installed in the interior of a new Rolls Royce car.

Other than the sanding, few sounds can be heard in the factory -- other than the quiet hum of machines. There's no conveyor belt here and no sense of urgency. The reason is that the engines and bodies of the new Phantom are manufactured in Germany and then shipped to England for finishing and detail work.

Revitalizing a brand

BMW plans to produce 1,000 cars a year at the new facility. Rolls Royce has a long tradition, but the move to Goodwood marks the start of a new era for a brand that BMW hopes to revitalize. The luxury car that has long ferried the world's rich and famous has been completely redesigned and reengineered by BMW. The Bavaria-based carmaker purchased Rolls Royce in 1998 from the British defense industry giant Vickers. It spent the last four years completely remaking the classic automobile in an effort to boost slumping Rolls Royce sales.

The company also built a new factory on a former meadow to house the production facility, and, like the car, it's no simple feat of engineering. The building, designed by British architect Nicolas Grimshaw, is equally stunning. In a very dramatic effect, the production halls have been sunk into the ground and the roof areas have been covered with lush greenery in order to better blend the factory in with the surrounding countryside. Come spring, when the grass begins to grow in West Sussex, the factory will become the biggest green roof in Europe.

Hiring only the best

Beneath the ceiling, there's been life in the edifice for weeks now, where skilled laborers have been busy sanding, varnishing, and stitching. The facility has its own leather and wood workshops, and more than 300 new jobs have been created.

"What's different here from other car plants, is that we didn't require the usual industry workers who are used to working on the assembly line," says Fred Foot, a Rolls Royce spokesman. "We needed specialists who could do the corresponding handwork -- who could master the leather, painting and other surface work" manufacture of the Rolls Royce entails. The company recruited most of its workers from the high-end yacht, musical instrument and furniture manufacturing industries.

Recruitment of the specialist was crucial because every Rolls Royce produced by BMW is custom built to fulfill a customer's every wish. The only taboo is a custom spec that would reduce the car's safety. Otherwise, "anything is possible," Foot says.

"The imagination is often the only limit," Foot says. "We had one customer from America who brought us a pattern of wood from his own property. He used this wood in his office furniture, on his yacht and who knows where else. And he wanted this veneer to be used in his car, too. Of course we fulfilled his wish."

From 0 to 100 in six seconds

Rolls-Royce Phantom Seitenansicht

The Phantom

The company has paid just as much attention to detail under the hood. The Phantom runs on a 6.75 liter motor and can reach speeds of 240 kilometers per hour. It can accelerate from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour in just six seconds. The car weighs 5,478 pounds, carries a six-speed transmission and gets about 17.1 miles per gallon of gas.

But it's a luxury that only the world's 10,000 richest people can afford. The new Rolls Royce starts at 300,000 euros ($312,900), which includes the company's legendary 24-hour breakdown service. In other words: The car won't breakdown -- Rolls Royces never do.

It's fit for a queen, but will she buy it?

With the release of the Phantom, it appears Rolls Royce will continue to be a choice car for the rich and noble. But is Queen Elizabeth ready to purchase the new model? Last year, the Queen switched to Rolls Royce's competitor, Bentley, owned by BMW's German competition Volkswagen, after it was given to her as a gift commemorating the Crown Jubilee. But Rolls Royce has no plans to follow in its archrival's footsteps.

"The Queen already has five Rolls Royces," says Foot. "We don't see any urgent reason to give her one."

Still, it wouldn't hurt the company if the Queen ordered a BMW-produced Rolls Royce, for that would represent the complete rebirth of this legend of luxury.

DW recommends

  • Date 05.01.2003
  • Author Eva Kötting
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/36R8
  • Date 05.01.2003
  • Author Eva Kötting
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/36R8