It’s hip to be Rolls: Evolving brand brings in younger buyers

As Rolls-Royce’s lineup has expanded via new models and redesigns, the evolving British ultraluxury brand is attracting more and younger customers.

A stately sedan to be chauffeured in? Yes, Rolls-Royce still offers the flagship Phantom, a posh behemoth that costs about half a million dollars.

But the rest of Rolls-Royce’s lineup — the Ghost sedan, Wraith coupe, Dawn convertible and Cullinan crossover — not only increased the brand’s global sales in the past decade, it has sparked a generational shift, attracting super-rich millennials.

“That’s been the biggest change,” said Kelly Wolf, CEO of IndiGO Auto Group, which includes Rolls-Royce Rancho Mirage in California and Rolls-Royce North Houston. Customers now are “a little more youthful, a little more exciting.”

“The old kind of Grey Poupon stereotype is gone,” he said, referring to the mustard commercials from the 1980s which depicted two wealthy gentlemen, each riding in the back of a Rolls, with one asking the other whether he had that brand of dijon. “The new Rolls owner is driven, is edgy and typically is very successful. That works out good for us.”

Rolls-Royce’s average customer age has dropped to 43, the automaker said in August. It was 56 prior to 2010, when the Ghost joined the lineup and started the brand’s product push beyond the Phantom.

Rolls clients represent a broad mix, said Beau Rice, general manager at Hi Tech Motor Cars in Austin, Texas, which includes Rolls-Royce Austin. The buyer could be an attorney or physician, a venture capitalist or a professional athlete.

“I’m asked all the time, ‘Hey, what is your typical Rolls-Royce customer? What’s he or she look like?’ And my answer to that is they’re not typical. That’s what they look like,” said Wolf, who also is chairman of the Rolls-Royce dealer advisory board.

“They are unlike any other customer in our portfolio. It’s hard to put a stereotype around them. Their underlying similarities is they’re all very, very successful and very confident in what they do. But other than that, they’re truly unique individuals. That’s why they’re searching out such a brand.”

Karl Brauer, executive analyst, said Rolls introducing models that are clearly meant to be driven, as opposed to being used to chauffeur people, has been much more appealing to wealthy people younger than 50.

“There’s a spectrum between old, established and staid and young, vibrant and hip,” Brauer said. “They’ve absolutely moved the needle from the one side of that spectrum towards the other side, substantially.”

After the Ghost, the Wraith launched in 2013 and the Dawn debuted in 2015. Black Badge, Rolls-Royce’s performance and style subbrand, which is aimed at younger customers, launched in 2016.

The Phantom was redesigned in 2017, the Cullinan launched a year later and the redesigned 2021 Ghost will arrive at dealerships by year end. All three models are on the brand’s aluminum architecture.

While people in their 20s and 30s would not have considered a Rolls-Royce in the past, that’s changing. “With Black Badge, the new designs and all the technology inside the cars, it’s just attracting that younger demographic,” Wolf said.

One noticeable example of Rolls’ younger customers is 23-year-old celebrity Kylie Jenner. She’s shared photos of her bespoke Cullinan — it has a black exterior with a hot-pink interior — on her Instagram account, which has 197 million followers.

The impact of a growing lineup has been significant on Rolls’ sales. In 2009, the brand sold 1,002 vehicles globally. In 2019, that figure grew to 5,152, a surge of 25 percent over 2018’s results, driven largely by the Cullinan.

“Cullinan has done very well for us,” Rice said. “It’s been fantastic. It’s an exceptional car.”

The automaker doesn’t break down sales by region but has said that North America accounts for roughly one-third of its total. It has 37 dealerships in the U.S. and seven combined in Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Chile.

The Automotive News Data Center estimates U.S. Rolls-Royce sales at 916 through September, down 30 percent.

For the brand’s dealers, their mission is clear: Identify potential customers and make the crucial introduction to the storied brand.

“Once you’ve owned Rolls-Royce, there’s nothing like it,” Rice said. “There is not a car that has that level of detail, that level of craftsmanship, that sense of arrival and that sense of experience. But it’s getting people that haven’t been in that portfolio to understand it, to experience it sooner than maybe perhaps they planned.”

That can mean meeting in a social environment away from the dealership, such as a country club or at a restaurant rooftop, Rice said. That way the conversation can be focused on a passion, such as $400,000-and-up vehicles.

“It’s really just coming up with unique concepts, as far as places to host, with an idea in mind and what we want to share,” Rice said. “And coming up with a plan that wraps that all into something that is fun and that people are going to talk about. Maybe it’s not the actual participant that we speak to that ends up buying a vehicle, but they’re so excited about what they saw, what they heard and what they experienced, that they go and share that. It broadcasts that message out for us. That’s something you just can’t buy.”

IndiGO Auto Group was awarded the Rolls-Royce North Houston franchise in 2017. Wolf said he doesn’t think the retailer has even “scraped the surface as far as the potential in Houston.”

“While there’s plenty of wealth, it’s a much more conservative market,” Wolf said. “We have been working on teaching people how to own a Rolls-Royce. I know that sounds funny, but some people, regardless of their wealth, would not even consider a Rolls.

“But when you show them how to own a car, show them how to enjoy it and teach them — and I use the word ‘teach’ for lack of better word — how to enjoy their own success when it comes to this type of vehicle, it just takes a while.”