THE GERMAN automaker that buys Rolls-Royce Motor cars must be prepared to place the company on a pedestal.
The battle for Rolls-Royce is worth winning. It is possible to overpay for this prize, but it is hard to overstate the potential.
The business case for Rolls and Bentley is solid. And there is the great intangible - the two loftiest car brands on the planet can lavish their owner with new prestige.
This acquisition is like alchemy. BMW or Volkswagen would automatically instill new faith in the Rolls-Royce name.
In return, Rolls would immediately bestow new nobility on either BMW or VW.
The size of the segment in which Rolls and Bentley compete is unknowable. In the USA, the post-war baby boom generation is reaching the traditional age of Rolls-Royce owners. Many affluent boomers spent their careers as BMW drivers and are ready to spend their 50s and 60s in a reliable, modern Roller.
But the company needs special stewardship - like the distinct, hands-off way in which Fiat has maintained Ferrari since 1969. Ford has brought out the best in Jaguar.
Rolls will require an even more delicate touch.
For example, Rolls needs a British chief executive. BMW's announced plan to set up a separate, UK-style board of directors for Rolls is encouraging.
Rolls has had no family guardians like Ferry Porsche or Enzo Ferrari. The new owners must play the role. They may not be British, but Bernd Pischetsrieder, the nephew of Mini designer Sir Alec Issigonis, and Ferdinand Piech, nephew of Ferry Porsche, understand what makes Rolls-Royce special.
It won't be easy. When Ford bought Jaguar in 1989 it found the company in worse shape than expected. BMW found the same inside Rover. There will no doubt be a few surprises for whichever company purchases Rolls.
But it is time for Rolls-Royce to come in from the cold. Auto companies have waited generations for this day. The determination of Piech and Pischetsrieder to own Rolls is easy to understand. The battle cannot be expected to finish easily or quickly. There is something extraordinary at stake.