Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia can be number one market for Rolls-Royce, says carmaker’s CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos

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Updated 27 December 2021

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia can be number one market for Rolls-Royce, says carmaker’s CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia can be number one market for Rolls-Royce, says carmaker’s CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos
  • With more women and young people drawn to the brand, Saudi Arabia is becoming a top Middle East market for Rolls-Royce
  • CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos says Rolls-Royce is a “frontrunner” in the electric car transition among ultra-luxury brands

DUBAI: Big changes under way in Saudi Arabia could turn the Kingdom into the top market in the Middle East for Rolls-Royce cars, Torsten Muller-Otvos, the elite motor company’s chief executive, told Arab News.

“Saudi obviously is a big market. I see even more potential to come from Saudi in the years to come because the market is currently also opening up and is growing,” said Muller-Otvos, citing the royal decree of 2017 that granted Saudi women the right to drive and obtain driving licences for the first time.

“We see now the first female drivers in our cars in Saudi and for that reason I foresee we might in a couple of years talk about this being a massive, great market. It might even one day be the number one market in the entire region. Who knows? Potential-wise, it’s possible, but it depends on some other aspects,” he added.

Muller-Otvos delivered his forecast on Frankly Speaking, the series of video interviews with thought leaders in the Middle East and the world.




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In the interview, the boss of the British-designed but German-owned luxury car manufacturer set out Rolls-Royce’s road map to go completely electric, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on global and regional sales, and the effect of rising oil prices on elite car sales.

He also talked about some of the more extravagant custom features regional customers want on their cars.

The Rolls-Royce mark, founded in Britain 115 years ago but owned by BMW of Germany since 2003, is the ultimate status symbol in motoring, from California to Shanghai, but with a particular appeal among Arab buyers.

The transition currently under way in the global transportation market, with the surge in electric vehicle sales, has impacted Rolls-Royce and other petrol-engine manufacturers. Nevertheless, Muller-Otvos says Rolls-Royce is leading the way in electrification among the ultra-luxury market.




A vintage Rolls-Royce is shown during the exhibition in the King Abdullah II car museum in Amman, Jordan  Feb. 18, 2016. (Shutterstock)

“I would even say we are front-runners,” he said. “I mean, we are not comparing ourselves with what I would call the ‘normal’ automotive business. We are high in luxury. And you might also know that we are the very, very first ones in the ‘ultra-high luxury’ segment worldwide.”

The first electric Rolls-Royce, the Specter, will be available in the Middle East from 2023. “I can tell you Spectre will be a stunning, remarkable Rolls-Royce,” Muller-Otvos said. “We also took our time because, first of all, it needs to be a Rolls-Royce, so that means no compromises around luxury experiences for our clients worldwide, and then second comes, obviously, electric.”

The Spectre — which motoring pundits expect will cost around $350,000 for a starter-level vehicle — will play to Rolls-Royce’s traditional strengths. “It is also silent. We are not defining ourselves with loud engine noises or exhaust noises and for that reason I think it’s a perfect fit for the brand,” he said.




Rolls-Royce has announced that its first electric car would be made available by 2023. (Supplied)

But there were also commercial and regulatory imperatives for Rolls to get into the electric market. “We also see, worldwide, certain regulations kicking in that might mean in a couple of years you can’t enter city centers any longer without driving electric. And that, of course, would not be great for the brand.”

Elon Musk’s Tesla has so far been the headline grabber in the move to electric vehicles. Now, many traditional car companies in all the big markets are jumping on the “EV” bandwagon. However, Muller-Otvos is confident Rolls-Royce has traditional strengths in the hotly competitive market.

“Rolls-Royce never defined itself purely by the engine. That is not us. That is for other brands. We defined ourselves as the ultimate in luxury. It is about the finest materials, the best craftsmanship. It takes 1,000 hours at least to build one of these beautiful masterpieces,” he said.

Muller-Otvos also believes the move toward electric vehicles fits the shifting demographic of the Rolls-Royce clientele. “I think we will see a trend, step-by-step. Particularly the younger ones are very much attracted to electric propulsion. What we have also learned is that once you’re in an electric car, you are probably not getting back into a combustion car,” he said.

In the past, Rolls-Royce customers were overwhelmingly male, successful business executives, celebrities, or even royalty. That profile is now changing.

“When I started — and I’ve been in the role now for nearly 12 years — the average age of a Rolls-Royce customer was around 56. We are now down to 43. We have massively refurbished the brand, reinvented the brand, rejuvenated the brand. We now have young clients all over the world,” he said.

In the Middle East in particular, more women want to drive a Rolls-Royce. “When I joined, (the client base) was 1 percent female worldwide. Now we are at around 15 percent worldwide, and I think there are more to come, particularly here in the Middle East. You see quite a lot of female drivers behind the wheel. I think in the Middle East, we are talking probably 20 percent or so, and that’s quite a good share,” he said.

A big earner for Rolls-Royce has long been the trend towards customization — what the manufacturer calls the “bespoke proces” — where wealthy customers pay extra for unique features in their cars.

Sometimes, this results in lurid color schemes and outlandish accessories that would horrify Rolls-Royce traditionalists. But Muller-Otvos does not see himself or Rolls-Royce as an arbiter of individual taste.

“Let’s imagine, for a moment, a bright orange exterior and a yellow interior. It might look a little bit odd in central London, but down here in bright sunshine it looks stunning. I think you always need to keep that in mind. The last thing I want to do is judge — with my European taste — international clients. We are not the taste police in Rolls-Royce,” he said.

There was one request for a luxury accessory, however, that went aa bit too far — a request from a wealthy client for a chilled cigar compartment on the dashboard.

“One that was too crazy and was declined was for a humidor on the top panel, and that, unfortunately, wasn’t possible, technically, because we would have lost homologation (regulatory approval),” he said.




The Cullinan has been tested in the world’s toughest terrain, including Arabian deserts. (Photo courtesy of rolls-roycemotorcars.com)

Rolls-Royce has long held a special place in the Arab world, dating back to the time when Britain’s then-prime minister Sir Winston Churchill presented King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia with a custom Phantom model as a post-war gift.

The early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a sharp drop in Rolls-Royce sales, as the Goodwood plant in the UK was forced to halt its production line for two months and deliveries were disrupted.

But that turned out to be the prelude to a rapid acceleration in sales in the Middle East and the wider world once the recovery got under way, matching a global phenomenon that saw all sales of luxury goods grow after the initial shock of lockdown. Muller-Otvos had an intriguing explanation for this.

“Many clients told me they have realized that it is possible that you could die suddenly, and many of them have even seen that up close. That made them think: You only live once, enjoy your life now, don’t postpone it to later days,” he said




The new Rolls Royce Ghost – re-engineered and relaunched in 2020 – is in high demand in the Middle East (Shutterstock)
 

The Cullinan, Rolls-Royce’s first foray into the luxury SUV market, has been in particularly high demand in the Gulf, as has the Black Badge Ghost.

As ever in the region, the fortunes of the oil market continue to determine the strength of the economy — and Rolls-Royce sales.

“The oil price is quite an indicator here for how healthy the economy is and we are very much dependent on how the economy goes,” Muller-Otvos said. “If the economy flies, we fly.”


Who’s Who: Turki Al-Thonayan, CEO of the National Security Services Co.

Turki Al-Thonayan
Turki Al-Thonayan
Updated 23 May 2022

Who’s Who: Turki Al-Thonayan, CEO of the National Security Services Co.

Turki Al-Thonayan

Turki Matooq Al-Thonayan was appointed CEO of the National Security Services Co., or SAFE, which is owned by the Public Investment Fund.

Al-Thonayan has more than 25 years of extensive security experience, starting in 1996 with Saudi Aramco, where he eventually became manager of its northern area industrial security operations in 2018.

He later worked at BATIC, overseeing investment and logistics, held the position of CEO at AMNCO, and was appointed to the board of directors of AMNCO Facilities Management.

Prior to AMNCO, Al-Thonayan also served as a part-time board member of Smart Cities Solutions Co.

Al-Thonayan began his extensive career as a part-time lecturer at the Arab Open University. He then ventured to Saudi Aramco where he climbed the executive ladder, starting as a system analyst for the computer security administration.

He then dedicated over 16 years to the company to reach the position of offshore security operations superintendent.

Al-Thonayan’s security experience is diversified across corporate security services, computer security administration, residential area security operations, industrial and maritime infrastructure facilities protection, and security support system and identification systems.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in information and computer science, and later a master’s in the same field, both from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals. He has been certified as a port security officer, information systems risk analyst, ethical hacker, fraud examiner, hacking forensic investigator and an SAP consultant, in addition to his membership of many international organizations related to security.

With SAFE, Al-Thonayan is working to uplift the security services industry, maximize integration among security elements, support national security initiatives, offer best-in-class security solutions and combine world-class technology with the expertise of well-trained and distinguished security personnel.


Saudi minister receives Swedish special envoy to OIC

Saudi minister receives Swedish special envoy to the OIC. (Supplied)
Saudi minister receives Swedish special envoy to the OIC. (Supplied)
Updated 57 min 21 sec ago

Saudi minister receives Swedish special envoy to OIC

Saudi minister receives Swedish special envoy to the OIC. (Supplied)
  • The meeting was attended by the counterterrorism coordinator at the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs Ambassador Erika Ferrer, the Swedish Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Niclas Trouvé and an accompanying delegation

RIYADH: Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh received in Riyadh Ambassador Ulrika Sandberg, special envoy of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Organization of the Islamic Conference for interreligious and intercultural dialogue.

The meeting was attended by the counter-terrorism coordinator at the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs Ambassador Erika Ferrer, the Swedish Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Niclas Trouvé and an accompanying delegation.

Al-Asheikh said the Kingdom endeavors to spread the principles of moderation, rejecting extremism and respect for all human beings, as stipulated in the Holy Quran and the way of the Prophet.  

Sandberg called for further cooperation in the fight against terrorism and spreading tolerance and dialogue among followers of religions.


Education minister heads Saudi delegation to EWF 2022

Education minister heads Saudi delegation to EWF 2022
Updated 23 May 2022

Education minister heads Saudi delegation to EWF 2022

Education minister heads Saudi delegation to EWF 2022
  • Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Sheikh reviewed the Kingdom’s successful experience with e-learning and distance education during the pandemic
  • Al-Sheikh met with several education ministers and officials, including UK Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia is participating in the Education World Forum 2022 in London, UK, under the theme “Education: Building forward together; stronger, bolder, better.”

EWF 2022 brings together education ministers and professionals to address key issues and share challenges, solutions, learning, and success stories they have experienced during the coronavirus disease pandemic.

Saudi Minister of Education Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Sheikh is heading a delegation representing Saudi Arabia at the four-day forum, which kicked off May 22.

On the forum’s first day, Al-Sheikh delivered Saudi Arabia’s speech during the first session. He focused on how the Kingdom learned from the recent challenges, highlighting the Saudi experience in dealing with the repercussions of COVID-19. He also reviewed the Kingdom’s successful experience with e-learning and distance education during the pandemic.

Al-Sheikh met with several education ministers and officials, including UK Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi, the Special Representative of the Prime Minister for Education Dr. Sir Steve Smith, and the secretary of state at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and head of the British side of the Saudi-British Partnership Council, Kwasi Kwarteng.

He also met with the CEO of the British Council, the CEO of Microsoft International, and the Saudi ambassador to the UK, Prince Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan, as well as executive leaders of various educational publishing houses and institutions.

Al-Sheikh also visited a number of prestigious UK universities and educational institutions, including University College London, Oxford University, the Center for Artificial Intelligence, and the Oxford/AstraZeneca Vaccine Medical Center, as well as the Saudi Cultural Bureau in London, where he met with Saudi students studying at UK universities.

According to the organizers of the forum, EWF 2022 will assist in planning and developing education to support individual and collective resilience, and foster economic progress.

It will discuss major educational issues, such as ways to improve equity and assign resources more effectively, how education-providing institutions responded to the recent challenges, ways to accelerate collaborative innovation, building better citizens and societies, and improving education.


Assistant speaker of Shoura Council meets Saudi deputy minister of Foreign Affairs for Public Diplomacy

Assistant speaker of Shoura Council meets Saudi deputy minister of Foreign Affairs for Public Diplomacy
Updated 23 May 2022

Assistant speaker of Shoura Council meets Saudi deputy minister of Foreign Affairs for Public Diplomacy

Assistant speaker of Shoura Council meets Saudi deputy minister of Foreign Affairs for Public Diplomacy
  • The meeting was concluded by stressing the importance of continuous cooperation between the Shoura Council and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to strengthen the aims of parliamentary diplomacy

RIYADH: Saudi Assistant Speaker of the Shoura Council Dr. Hanan bint Abdulrahim Al-Ahmadi, met Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Public Diplomacy Fahd bin Asaad Abulnasr at the council’s headquarters in Riyadh today.

During the meeting, they discussed the prospects of cooperation between the Shoura Council and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to support the parliamentarian diplomacy of the Shoura Council, which is considered as an important and supportive dimension of public diplomacy to develop relations between the Kingdom and the brotherly countries.

The meeting also reviewed the role of the parliamentary friendship committees in the Shoura Council and their efforts to boost communication with the equivalent committees in the parliaments and legislative councils of the brotherly countries and their role in bringing various views closer and highlighting the Kingdom’s positions towards the various international issues and events.

The meeting pointed out the active role of the Shoura Council in the meetings of the regional and international parliamentary organizations and unions of which it is a member, and through which it is keen to highlight the point of view of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on various issues.

The meeting was concluded by stressing the importance of continuous cooperation between the Shoura Council and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to strengthen the aims of parliamentary diplomacy and support both parties’ efforts in support of the Kingdom’s foreign policy.


Saudis are natural-born storytellers, says Saudi Film Commission CEO

Saudi Film Commission CEO Abdullah Al-Eyaf held several discussions with international industry professionals. (Supplied)
Saudi Film Commission CEO Abdullah Al-Eyaf held several discussions with international industry professionals. (Supplied)
Updated 22 May 2022

Saudis are natural-born storytellers, says Saudi Film Commission CEO

Saudi Film Commission CEO Abdullah Al-Eyaf held several discussions with international industry professionals. (Supplied)
  • Abdullah Al-Eyaf discusses the importance of Saudi talent during the 75th Cannes Film Festival

CANNES: Abdullah Al-Eyaf, the CEO of the Saudi Film Commission, aims to drive the Saudi film industry by fostering an environment for young Saudi filmmakers to develop their passions and talents.

During a panel discussion hosted on Sunday in the March du Film pavilion in Cannes, Al-Eyaf expressed his vision for Saudi youth filmmakers and the important role they play in the industry.

“We in the commission strongly believe in the filmmakers in Saudi, actually they are the reason behind all that we do,” Al-Eyaf said.

The Kingdom’s film industry is bursting with talent and passion from Saudi filmmakers, writers, and artisans. What is needed now is the strong support from an entity to facilitate that growth. This is where the Saudi Film Commission plans to come into play.

The Saudi Film Commission, under the Ministry of Culture, has conducted numerous outreach and education programs to help Saudi filmmakers in the industry through masterclasses, workshops and training.

According to the CEO, Saudis play a pivotal role in the industry’s growth on a global and local level.

“These young filmmakers started before the commission was established and they will continue with or without the film commission that’s why we think the industry will not be built in Saudi without these filmmakers,” Al-Eyaf said.

HIGHLIGHT

With many blockbusters films showing an interest in shooting in the Kingdom, doors are opening for Saudi production teams, special effects artists, actors and many more talents to contribute to the industry.

Therefore the commission is striving to establish a wider creative opportunity for Saudi talent through partnerships and representation in global film festivals such as the Cannes festival.

Through the organizations and initiatives of the Saudi Film Commission, the Saudi presence during the Cannes Film Festival has only grown stronger since the 74th Cannes film festival held in 2021.

It is known that Saudi Arabia has a wealth of locations through its 13 diverse provinces. During the initial days of the festival, this is what attracted many producers and filmmakers to the Saudi pavilion to learn more.

With many blockbusters films showing an interest in shooting in the Kingdom, doors are opening for Saudi production teams, special effects artists, actors and many more talents to contribute to the industry.

Al-Eyaf said that Saudis are natural-born storytellers; what is needed now is to support and empower them throughout the film sector.

“We really appreciate what they are doing and our only role is to support them and to have Saudi Arabia as a friendly environment for filmmakers to create their films and tell their stories to the world and to Saudi,” Al-Eyaf said.

The Saudi Film Commission aims to expand and strengthen the Saudi film industry on a local and global level through partnerships, investment and educational empowerment.

During the 75th Cannes Film Festival, the Saudi pavilion welcomed some of the biggest global names in the film industry — producers, directors and actors — to partner on Saudi film projects.

The commission’s role isn’t only to support Saudi talents but it’s also to foster a community where directors explore collaborative initiatives from filming in Saudi to creating films with some of the many Saudi talents in the sector.

In January the commission launched the third phase of the “Film Makers” program that took students through sets of comprehensive training workshops that were spread throughout the Kingdom.

“We have already contacted hundreds (of Saudi filmmakers) via either training programs, grants or the fund that we launched a couple of years ago,” the CEO said.

The commission has developed an incentive package for local and international filmmakers to establish the Kingdom as a global hub for film, creative production and industry talent.