September 18, 2008 / 5:35 AM / in 9 years

Rolls-Royce glides in Asia despite financial turmoil

<p>A Rolls-Royce Phantom is displayed at a newly opened showroom in New Delhi September 12, 2008.Adnan Abidi</p>

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Rolls-Royce oozes class and cash, and Asia's newly minted high-rollers are fuelling the luxury carmaker's growth despite global financial turmoil.

Since the start of this year, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, owned by the world's biggest premium carmaker BMW, has increased its showrooms in the Asia Pacific region by four to 17 -- or over 20 percent of its total global outlets -- and the region accounts for its biggest sales after the United States and the Middle East.

China, with its ranks of nouveau riche hungry for Western luxuries, is Rolls-Royce's biggest market in Asia and third biggest globally, registering sales growth of just over 50 percent last year.

"We're on track to achieve 30 percent more growth this year than last year in Asia Pacific," regional director Colin Kelly told Reuters hours before launching the new Phantom Coupe in Singapore as international financial markets went into meltdown, triggered by woes on Wall Street.

"We'd be naive to think that this won't make people stop and consider, but at the same time what we're not seeing is a dramatic downturn in the business anywhere," he added, referring to the global financial crisis.

Last year, Rolls-Royce sold some 200 cars out of the 1,010 globally to customers in the Asia-Pacific. After China, Japan is the biggest market, and India, with its booming economy and an appetite for luxury, is growing fast, Kelly said.

"Our customers are people who work hard and who want to reward themselves with something unique," he added.

"Some are people who always aspired to own a Rolls, and others are people who would never have considered it five years ago, but are now drawn to the cars."

Retailing for at least 1.41 million Singapore dollars (about $985,000, inclusive of duties, the hand-built Phantom line is a bestseller for Rolls-Royce and a hit in the small but lucrative super luxury car market where carmakers battle it out to lure wealthy, young and often fickle buyers.

Worldwide, nearly two-thirds of new customers never owned a Rolls-Royce before, a fact Kelly said was testament to the brand's development from cars "that weren't really that fantastic" to "cars that wow people".

"We are producing a Rolls for the 21st century," he said of the Phantom. "It's got heritage, but it is thoroughly modern."

The Phantom Coupe features many luxury amenities, including an interior embellished with high quality leather and wood, as well as a state of the art sound system, a built-in umbrella holder and star-like ceiling lights.

The trunk of the car also opens out to form a table, intended to be used at outdoor picnics.

"We think of the interior as furniture and the implements as jewelry," said Hal Serudin, Rolls-Royce corporate communications manager for the region.

Editing by David Fox

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