VICKERS HAS reached the same conclusion as British Aerospace, the Wallenberg family and the French government. It is much too hard to own and operate an auto company if you are not an automaker yourself.
The UK conglomerate has put Rolls-Royce up for sale. That is great news for Rolls, which can't compete in the 21st century as a tiny independent or even as part of a diversified industrial company. Brand charisma goes only so far. Rolls needs the partnership and nurturing of a pure carmaker. Especially since Rolls and Bentley are about to have new super-luxury competition.
The Maybach concept car that Daimler-Benz showed in Tokyo previewed Mercedes' ambitions in the Rolls-Royce class. A Maybach at the top of the range would brighten the Mercedes star at a time when it is being stretched to cover new segments and lower-price models.
The Maybach may have little in common with the Rolls-fighter Daimler ultimately brings out. But it was fair warning. Is it a coincidence that four days after the Mercedes Maybach was uncovered, Rolls-Royce was officially on sale?
BMW, which will supply engines to Rolls' next generation of four-door models, is the likeliest buyer. If that happens, it would be another step in the steady emergence of a new German Big 3 in Europe - Volkswagen, Daimler-Benz and BMW.
BMW would build everything from Minis to Silver Spurs. Daimler will make Smart cars and Maybachs. Volkswagen will range from Seat Arosas or lower to Audi A12s or higher.
Under BMW or another top-notch carmaker, the Rolls product range might even expand. The Bentley Java 'small car' idea would probably be revived. Would Bentley build a sport-utility someday and Rolls make a roadster?
Don't laugh. Rolls-Royce won't have to be dragged into the 21st century.