Marking a memorable decade at Goodwood with record global sales has proved an immensely rewarding period for Rolls-Royce’s operations in West Sussex.
Since BMW made a bold decision to take up the reins of the firm in 2003, its fortunes have continued in the ascendancy, underlined by considerable on-site expansion this spring.
With a total of two and a half thousand additional metres of footage almost complete on the production line of the company’s distinctive glass-fronted UK headquarters, its infectious mood of confidence is clear to see.
This is no more ably demonstrated than with the hype surrounding the launch of a brand new car later this year, the sports-inspired Wraith, which its management believe will prove a hugely influential extension to its illustrious stable.
Clearly, this ambitious vehicle is some stylistic leap from the original design blueprints of the company in producing elegant continental cruisers. But as its launch at Geneva showed in March, there remains a genuine buzz around the company’s activities, which have seen it grow to employ 1,400 people in West Sussex.
To its credit, the firm’s owners have convincingly won over initial industry question marks over quite how the founding principles of Rolls-Royce would translate under European stewardship.
The success of its two principal models, the range-topping Phantom and introduction of its junior partner, the Ghost, several years ago have decisively answered any queries over these vehicles’ pedigree.
While both these prestige cars have some engineering motifs taken from the BMW stable, their high-quality build and specifications have placed them right up as award-winning contenders.
The production facilities at Goodwood have been forged with high-specification eco-friendly credentials including an impressive turf roof and solar heating that has won it considerable design plaudits.
Among its key features are specialist leather and bespoke interior workshops to bolster its highly efficient production lines that have seen the fortunes of its core models go from strength to strength.
The company is now turning out more than 3,000 vehicles per year, though being a prestige luxury marque, it is not eyeing mass production.
As Andrew Ball, of Rolls-Royce, explains in offering a tour of the newly-expanded facilities, the company has been extremely conscious of the need to preserve the company’s heritage, while ensuring it is fit for purpose in the 21st century. He said: “The amount expansion is around £10 million pounds of investment, including the platform walkway that spans the length of the building which allows our production floor to be kept as clear as possible.
“While the expansion does not create more jobs in itself, it will increase space for our production, which will enhance bespoke services for Phantom and Ghost cars.
“The demand for bespoke cars is continuing to grow as buying a Rolls-Royce is like buying a piece of art which you commission, with everything from its interiors to unique paint possible.”
This ever-evolving trend is clearly good for the business, though it is more labour intensive, with a lot of time and energy going into the specifications of each car.
Undoubtedly, the company has come a long way from its first year here in which a modest total of just 38 cars were produced in 2003.
Mr Ball explained: “Though the UK market is important to us, the majority of our sales are now overseas. Both China and the US are really big for the company.
“Much of our focus is on export, West Sussex will remain the home of Rolls-Royce motors and there are no plans for that to change, which has been reinforced by the investment that has been made here.”
His colleague, Richard Collar, head of bespoke sales, added: “The bespoke sales of cars is now an integral part of the business as our customers are increasingly expecting something that is unique.
“We now have a total of 90 per cent of Phantoms produced with bespoke specifications and a figure of 70 per cent for Ghost cars. As a company we encourage customers to come down to our site so they can work with our designers.”
FACTFILE Rolls-Royce began producing cars in 1904, with a partnership between Charles Stewart Rolls and Sir Frederick Henry Royce, who had previously started his own mechanical and electrical business. He made his first car in 1904, with prices starting from £395. Today, the Phantom costs a weighty £253,000.
- The company’s initial focus on cars was diverted into aero-engineering with the advent of WWI, in which the War Office persuaded the company to expand its product range.
- Henry Royce, who had spent much time in West Sussex, went on to design a number of vehicles before his final design of the Merlin engine, which was used in many wartime aircraft.
- The company continued into the 1970s, when its motors division was split in 1973, with its marine and aircraft engine section becoming privatised in the 80s under Margaret Thatcher.
- BMW created the plant at Goodwood in 2003, producing the Phantom, Ghost and Wraith (later this year- see motoring section).
- The company sold 796 cars in 2005, which has now more than tripled to a total of 3,575 last year.