WOLFSBURG - After months in the show room, the bidding for British luxury car maker Rolls-Royce has begun in earnest.
Volkswagen chairman Ferdinand Piech used his 23 March annual press conference to announce VW had made a bid and got it in on time. 'Now it's up to Vickers,' he declared.
In response, Vickers plc, owners of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd., said there was no formal deadline for bids. But spokesman Peter Boxer did admit, 'We told all concerned that this would be a good week to clarify their interest in Rolls-Royce.'
According to Vickers the Rolls-Royce sale is proceeding on schedule. 'There is an auction going on, as designed,' said Boxer. 'All bidders are operating to a common timetable and have signed a confidentiality agreement.'
Commenting on Piech's announcement of the VW bid, Boxer said, 'If that is VW's interpretation of confidentiality, so be it.'
Boxer says it will take several weeks before an announcement of any agreement in principle.
Vickers refuses to clarify the number of prospective buyers, or the size of their bids. BMW, like Volkswagen, wants to buy Rolls. 'We always said we would bid, and we will,' said a BMW representative after the VW announcement. Both companies are raising money on capital markets.
Daimler-Benz had said it was not interested in buying Rolls-Royce, but Juergen Hubbert said the company might bid anyway to keep the price up. That seems to have been just talk. 'We know in an auction, when you want to boost the price, you spread rumors that there is a lot of interest,' said a Daimler-Benz insider. 'We understand it is a game.'
The eventual winner of the battle for Rolls-Royce is likely to face tough competition in the luxury market.
Daimler-Benz has said it will probably build the V-12 Maybach super luxury sedan it showed at the Tokyo auto show in October. BMW supplies V-12 engines to Rolls-Royce. If it loses the auction for Rolls, BMW would quit supplying engines and probably launch its own luxury model.
VW, meanwhile, plans to add two luxury models with W-12 engines to its range.
Buying Rolls-Royce is one option.
Piech said he is particularly attracted to the Bentley name, Rolls' sister marque.
'If you have a Rolls in front of your house,' joked Piech, 'you would be frightened of attracting attention from the tax authorities.' The Bentley, he said, is less easily recognized and suits the growing fashion for understatement.
If VW doesn't win Rolls-Royce, Piech said he may revive the Horch brand, a German luxury car maker of the 1920s and 1930s.