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How Rolls Royce is becoming Younger and Cooler for Chinese Millennials

Rolls-Royce’s success in China, the man responsible


Director Leon Li has been incredibly successful in leading the brand headstrong into a new era of success (and in turn the aforementioned heritage) in China is Leon Li, director of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars China.


  • Though Li has worked at BMW (holding company of Rolls-Royce) since 2007, he was appointed as the director of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars China in the fall of 2014.
  • Rolls-Royce Motor Cars China’s success in China is accredited to Li’s extensive understanding of consumers and how to apply that accordingly, which would have been influenced by his earlier career working at Lexus China and other market research companies.
  • Evident of this, Li was able to — upon joining BMW no less — successfully take charge of sales management in multiple regions all around China, and furthermore lead the Taiwan office of the Import Business Unit.


Li along with Jing Daily columnist Aaron Sigmond discuss Rolls-Royce’s outlook for China and more importantly, what Rolls-Royce is doing that is appealing to the younger Chinese clients. Let’s take a look at their interview.


In 2014, China passed the United States to become Rolls-Royce’s biggest market, but sales then plunged 54 percent the next year, boosting the United States back to the top spot. Given that sales are good overall—in 2016, Rolls logged the second-most sales in its then 113-year history—does the Chinese market concern you?


In 2014, the China market cooled off not only for us, but for most of the international luxury consumer brands. What we currently see is that the market is coming back and stabilising.


Of course, Rolls-Royce has full confidence in the China market and firmly believes that it has a bright future. Even in the most difficult year, our market share remained number one in the super luxury segment of cars over RMB 4 million.


However, Rolls-Royce is not a volume brand—sales volume is not our priority. The value of a Rolls-Royce lies in its rarity—neither us nor our car owners would like to encounter a Rolls-Royce car on every street corner. This is a signature of our brand.


That said, China sales in 2016 were 23 percent higher than the year before. Is that trend continuing thus far in 2017? Are you confident you can recapture the heady numbers of 2014?


Yes, we achieved 23 percent growth in China in 2016. And in the first quarter of 2017, Rolls-Royce maintained its strong growth momentum in both China and the global market. We continue to plan for long-term sustainable growth and believe that 2017 will be a strong year for Rolls-Royce.


[In part, this growth is due to] the Rolls-Royce product line-up becoming younger and cooler, by introducing exciting products, such as the Dawn convertible and the more assertive and darker Rolls-Royce, Black Badge—which perfectly meet the demands of current Chinese customers, who we actively talk to via social media—and experiences including pop-up stores. Rolls-Royce is the first and only super luxury auto brand to offer a pop-up store in China.


What’s the most popular Rolls model on the mainland? Was the Dawn convertible, the most recent model release, well-received?


Sales are driven by the enduring success of the Wraith and Ghost family, while the Phantom remains the company’s pinnacle product globally, reaffirming its status as the world’s most desirable super-luxury good.

Yes. Dawn is popular among young Chinese customers. Almost 100 percent of the Dawns sold in China are bespoke. Many of our customers have an overseas education background and some of them are players in international business. Their tastes and views are very international which makes them willing to try challenging bespoke designs. We have seen many inspiring bespoke colors on Dawn. We specifically chose Auto Shanghai 2017 for the Asian premiere of  “Dawn – Inspired by Fashion”.


Unquestionably, the 2018 model year looms large for Rolls-Royce globally, with the release of the eighth-generation Phantom, followed by the ultra-luxury Cullinan SUV. What do you expect of the Phantom in particular, both on the mainland and in Hong Kong?


We will launch the brand-new eighth-generation Phantom this year. It is based on an all-new aluminum architecture, which will be applied to all new Rolls-Royce models in future.


The eighth-generation Phantom keeps the most classic elements of a Rolls-Royce, yet elevates our cars to a new peak. To some extent, the Phantom is the personification of Rolls-Royce, especially in China. Whether it is in mainland China or Hong Kong, or the global market, we have full confidence the brand-new Phantom will excel.


As for the Cullinan, we plan to officially introduce it to the market next year. For the time being, we are describing it as an all-terrain, high-chassis Rolls-Royce car.



At the 2017 Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exposition, Rolls-Royce showcased its increasingly “bespoke” capabilities, through which buyers can customise their vehicles to an unprecedented degree. Is this feature more important in China than in the rest of the world?


Bespoke is Rolls-Royce.


And as such, is very important around the globe, including in China. Demand for our premium bespoke cars is now growing rapidly across the world. However, the main reason for the increasing demand for bespoke from Chinese customers is that more and more Chinese customers come to have a strong perception that every Rolls-Royce car is a rare, precious work of art.


To this end, the Rolls-Royce brand has introduced new models that are appealing to the emotional resonance and lifestyle of our Chinese patrons. And the craftsmen in our Goodwood headquarters build every Rolls-Royce with the intent to ensure ultimate comfort and the distinctive, “magic carpet” driving and riding experience unique to a Rolls-Royce.


Final thoughts?

Today, Rolls-Royce cars are not just a conveyance, but an extension of the owner’s lifestyle. A Rolls-Royce is a work of art on wheels. For many Chinese, a Rolls-Royce is more than just a car, but represents a higher realm and spirit.