It's an extremely exciting time in the Rolls-Royce camp. The company is riding a huge wave of momentum from the widely praised two-door Wraith, sales are the best in the company's history, and at the New York International Auto Show, a newly refreshed Ghost Series II was shown off for the first time. When we visited to the booth two days ago, we had a chance to sit down with  Rolls-Royce Regional Director for North America Eric Shepherd. We talked Wraith, Ghost, SUV, electric cars, autonomous cars, and just about everything in between. See what he had to say about the company's future plans: 

How’s the reception of the Wraith been?
Wraith reception has been incredibly positive. When we launched it last year we had orders well into this year. We’ve got a healthy order bank on that car. It's sold out through the summer. So, the first model year has been just as expected. We knew this would be a great car, particularly for the North American market and it's proven to be exactly that.

What types of demographics has the car been reaching?
So, naturally, when you come out with a car like that, the early adopters are going to be people within our brand that are little more used to it, and we expected that and we saw that. As we’ve gone on now, we’ve seen 60-65% of Wraith buyers are new to Rolls-Royce and are younger. We’ve seen 20- and 30-year-olds buying this car. We’re really going after a much younger, more entrepreneurial person with the car, someone that’s never really considered Rolls-Royce before, and that's exactly what we’re getting. We couldn’t be more excited.

When we talk to all the rappers, this is the car everybody says they want.
The funny thing is we don’t target groups like that, but that’s natural that celebrities and athletes would gravitate towards some of our products. Certainly, Wraith does that, because it's such a different package for them. We never talked about the power and the performance before this car. And so, it's natural that a lot of those buyers who are buying Ferraris, Lamborghinis, whatever it is, and now we have an option that really attracts them in a powerful, dynamic way.

It’s interesting, because the other Rolls-Royces have a ton of power, too, but this is the first car that really promotes that image.
We never talk about it. The heart of the Ghost is its V12 twin-turbocharged engine. It's a phenomenal powerplant in that car, but we never really celebrated the power that it has. We do that with Wraith now.

How do you expect the sales of the Wraith to translate for those customers in the future? Have those people bled into other models?
We certainly have seen that-- we’ve got people who’ve come in thinking that Wraith is the car for me and then when they see Ghost and realize I can get four doors-- because they’ve never really been exposed to Rolls-Royce before-- they transition over. We have some where they’ll buy their Wraith and they’re so impressed by it as their first Rolls-Royce that they immediately come back and they order a Ghost as well. So, we definitely see that car as a great way to introducing people to our brand and moving them into our other products.

How has the car played out in the U.S., specifically?
The U.S. is certainly the most significant market for Wraith around the globe. The Chinese market overall was No. 1 around the world last year, but we anticipate that the U.S. market this year will probably be No. 1. And Wraith is certainly fueling that growth. We don’t break out individual sales results by model or by region, but Wraith is definitely right up there for us, leading the way.

Our customers do not want to see a Rolls-Royce on every street corner. You will never have us chasing volume.

Is this a new lane that you guys expect to continue making different models and other sports cars?
We don’t make sports cars or utility vehicles, that kind of thing, but Wraith does certainly lends itself to other derivatives. We haven’t announced anything officially on a convertible or anything like that, but wait and see. But it's not like we’re going to roll out five different models off of this car. That’s not what the plan is, but it's certainly is an exciting thing to be able to have a platform like that that we can explore some other derivatives.

Right now, a lot of brands are filling in every gap in the industry with new cars. How do you maintain exclusivity while still trying to build?
Our customers do not want to see a Rolls-Royce on every street corner. You will never have us chasing volume. We will build cars as our customers order them and we will try to build one less than we have demand for. So, we sold 3,630 cars globally last year, that was our fourth year of record sales. And we anticipate this will be our fifth year of record sales consecutively, but that's not our goal.

Our goal is to provide exactly what our customers want, the ultimate in hand-craftsmanship and rarity. And if we sell more than the previous year, that's fine. But we want to do it for our company in a profitable way. And that’s how we look at approaching the business, rather than setting some sales target and saying we’re going to achieve some x percentage over the year before. We’re not going to do that.

Ferrari is actually limiting their production. Is that something Rolls-Royce would ever do? Or is it strictly demand-based?
We have a very flexible situation at the home of Rolls-Royce, when it comes to our production facilities, so we can ramp up, slow down as needed. Again, it’s all based on the customer demand. It’s not based on what we’re trying to produce.

Is there any update about the SUV -- or lack of SUV?
The SUV market is certainly an interesting one. You see a lot of people rushing to get an SUV in the market place. We’re not going to do that. Yes, we’re exploring it. It remains something that, if we can do it appropriately, we may think that it's very interesting and try to do that. But we’re not going to do anything that’s not purely Rolls-Royce, and until we have the question definitively answered in our mind that we could produce that type of vehicle and be truly Rolls-Royce, we won’t do it. So, we have nothing to confirm at this point. Yes, we’ve penciled a few things, a couple of designs but we have nothing that we can say is ready for production or anything like that.

You see a lot of people rushing to get an SUV in the market place. We’re not going to do that.

Is there a point where the company would just be like, “forget it, its not worth it,” after multiple failed attempts?
I’m sure that if we got to the point where we can’t answer that question that it's an appropriate car for us to build, then yeah, we’ll say this is not for us. But right now we’re exploring it. We just don’t have those answers in our minds yet.

With the new Ghost Series II, there are a lot of minor refreshes. What do you think is the biggest change?
Well there are two pieces of it: You obviously have the latest technology advancements, and then you’ve got the styling design and the exterior. Really, when you see them side-by-side you can see the differences. But they’re subtle, so that someone who buys the Ghost right now is not going to be offended by the changes we make in this car. And that’s appropriate for our customers. We don’t want to radically redesign a car, particularly mid-life cycle for that.

So, when you look at the front end, you see that it's wider, it's got a higher bonnet on it ,so it gives it a slightly more powerful look. It's stronger, it's more dynamic. It gives that look of power. And the redesigned headlights with the daytime running light really give it a stunning feature visually in the front. And then the change in the hood itself, so that there’s the appearance of the jet’s vapor trail coming down the wings from the spirit of ecstasy. So, visually, you can see when you know that you have one right next to it -- you can see the change from Ghost to Ghost Series II.

On the technology side, satellite data transmission that was originally launched on Wraith will come to Ghost. We got a bespoke audio system that’s absolutely the best sound in the automotive world. The new multimedia interface with the spirit of ecstasy rotary controller is updated so it has the pitch and drag on the nav system, as well as the audio controls. And redesigned seats, so that it's much more comfortable.

On the electric side of everything, what are the plans since the previous model Rolls-Royce tried?
We had an electric prototype a few years ago, the 102ex, but right now there are no plans to have electric cars for Rolls-Royce. We tested that out, got a lot of good customer feedback on it, but right now the V12 options seem to fit our brand exactly how they should. Now, there could come a day where for legal reasons in certain countries, that we were forced to have some different power plant options. We have some things that we have explored, where if we would need to move down that route, we will have an appropriate Rolls-Royce answer to that.

So, if you guys did go to that, it would only be to comply with restrictions?
Yeah, our customers have spoken very clearly about our powertrain and they like the fact that we have V12 technology in our cars. So, we have no plans to go down to V8 engines or hybrid technology at this point. Again, if the market says that we have to have that, we will be ready for that. That's one of the nice things of being a part of the BMW group is that there is some of the technological sharing that can go on between engineering teams where we can be prepared for that if necessary.

We have no plans to go down to V8 engines or hybrid technology at this point.

What direction is Rolls-Royce -- if you had to define the direction -- going in right now?
I think you can see the direction very clearly from Ghost Series II, with Wraith the way it came in last year. The Ghost Series II is definitely a much more young, modern, cool approach to the car. This is not to take away from Phantom. Phantom is like our tuxedo and Ghost and Wraith are our tailored business suits. There's a place for all of those in the wardrobe, but the newer car like Ghost Series II is definitely a much more young, modern, and cool approach to the brand.

Rolls-Royces are often used as cars to chauffeur people. What are your thoughts on all the self-driving technology that’s going on right now? Could Rolls-Royce vehicles become the chauffeurs?
That’s interesting, we are not looking at self-driving technologies right now. I know there are a lot of technologies out right now. Google has done a lot of interesting things, but our cars are really designed for that effortless experience to begin with. Our customers don’t want to be removed from the experience completely. They want to enjoy this effortless experience of driving our cars, so we’re going to continue down that road rather than an auto-driven model.

Are you guys viewing and approaching the Chinese market any differently from other markets?
The Chinese market has obviously been our number one market last year, but their growth has slowed slightly. Wraith is still a popular car over there, so what a lot of people perceive as a chauffeur-driven market for us is not entirely true. That’s a big part of it, but the growth over there continues to be fueled by our entire lineup, so our prospects are very polished.

Anything you’d like to add?
You know its an exciting time for Rolls-Royce right now, from Wraith last year to Ghost Series Two this year. We’re a profitable company because we’re healthy. Our customers are ordering our cars. We’re not overproducing for a market out there to just flood the market with volume. Our bespoke programs of customizing a car for every individual that orders them makes each car a unique product and we love the direction we’re heading in.

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