BERLIN - Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motor Cars Chief Executive Tony Gott introduced his speech at the Automotive News Europe Congress here with the recorded sound of the slow ticking of an old clock.
The clock resides in probably the 'oldest gentlemen's club in England,' he said, a place where traditions are sacrosanct. The gentlemen eat steak and kidney pie and consume port wine and cigars in the old library.
'Here is a world unaffected by the present and future tenses,' said Gott. 'Words like technology, innovation, competitive pressures and globalization play no part.
'My guess is that when you think of a Rolls-Royce or Bentley motor car, you think of the world very like the world that gentlemen's club represents,' he said, 'old, heavy, anachronistic; cars built by woodcarvers rather than engineers; cars that have survived into the modern world only because of the old world they represent.'
The reality is far different, said Gott. Rolls-Royce and Bentley has become in some areas a 'laboratory of excellence for the rest of the industry,' where the possibilities in some key areas are 'stretched, tried and tested and where new ideas find their first execution.'
Gott compared the challenges faced by Rolls-Royce and Bentley with the modern wine industry, which relies on traditional methods but is now being changed by new technology.
Rolls-Royce and Bentley customers are much different than the old gentlemen's club stereotype, Gott said. He cited some demographic statistics: 87 percent started their own businesses or own their businesses; 45 percent have yachts or private airplanes; 65 percent own property both at home and abroad.
The average net worth of the (often young) Rolls-Royce customers is £12 million (euro 18.2 million, $19 million), and they own on average a portfolio of six luxury automobiles.
Those customers are extremely loyal and demanding. About 40 percent visit the factory in Crewe every year, Gott said.
What they see there is modern technology side-by-side with traditional craftsmanship in the world's only factory where two luxury brands are made in tandem.
Modern CATIA computer systems are used to design virtual versions of future cars. The factory features what Gott says is the only 'shake rig' that tests every single vehicle.
'What we're able to do is replicate all the design and build needs and manufacturing requirements in a virtual state,' he said.
In other words, the small size of Rolls-Royce and Bentley enables the company to try things others can't because they are too large.
Rolls-Royce and Bentley have spent £400 million on a modernization program, which includes computerization, said Gott.
'The promise held out by the computer for 20 years to auto manufacturers has been fulfilled at Crewe,' said Gott.
CATIA is a label for a range of software that handles product design, simulates the function of parts, organizes engineering data and provides communication among engineers and designers working together in different locations.
All of this computer technology goes hand-in-hand with the wood and leather craftsmanship Rolls-Royce and Bentley is so well known for, Gott said.
Life is changing ever more rapidly at Crewe and at the end of 2002, Volkswagen, the owner of Rolls-Royce and Bentley, will hand the Rolls-Royce marque over to BMW.
Gott said he is reconciled to giving up Rolls-Royce, but he did say the company would continue to develop the brand until the transfer.
'The Rolls-Royce splitaway is not the preferred option,' said Gott. 'But we would like to leave Rolls-Royce in the best shape possible. We would like to be a hard act to follow. Rolls-Royce is too valuable a marque for any of us in Crewe to damage.'