2006 Rolls Royce PhantomEnlarge Photo
Despite a 2008 that wreaked havoc on car sales, Rolls Royce enjoyed - get ready for this - a 20 percent increase in sales for the '08 model year. It would seem that those who can shell out sick six-figure sums for the gargantuan, opulent, and non-eco-friendly Phantoms and Drophead Coupes aren't really all that bothered by tumbling markets and careening energy costs. Or maybe once bitten by the desire to drive a car with a pretty incredible custom starlit headliner, one does without the vacation yacht and springs for the Rolls instead.
To be sure, we're not talking about huge volumes of cars here. In 2007, BMW-owned Rolls Royce sold 1010 exhaustively-detailed, sumptuously appointed luxury vehicles, and in 2008 they parted with 1212 units. North America remains the biggest single market for Rolls-Royce. Sales for the brand grew 95 percent in Northern Europe, 48 percent in the Middle East, and appreciable numbers in the Asia Pacific region.
As an automotive fanatic and gearhead, I admit that the marriage of BMW engineering prowess and quality with British opulence and over-the-top interior detailing is pretty tantalizing. Many journalists agree, and scribes likes of the legendary Jean Jennings of Automobile Magazine and Dennis Simanaitis of Road & Track have thrilled to sybaritic European press trips promoting these astonishing vehicles. The current Rolls powertrain of choice is a modified BMW 6.7-liter V-12 that oozes torque (an engine now only to be found in Rolls' products, as BMW has banished the thirsty 12 for its own vehicles), and BMW mechanicals elsewhere have relegated things like the old oddball Rolls brakes (with fussy, problematic mineral oil as their hydraulic medium) to the history bin.
Keep spending your unemployment benefits on lottery tickets, and perhaps one day you too could pilot (or better yet, be driven in) a $300,000-plus Phantom sedan. Or maybe you are one of the lucky few who own this vehicle, in which case I hate you.--Colin Mathews