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.”


Two additional Saudi aid planes arrive in Pakistan

Two additional Saudi aid planes arrive in Pakistan
Updated 36 min 14 sec ago

Two additional Saudi aid planes arrive in Pakistan

Two additional Saudi aid planes arrive in Pakistan
  • The aid will be delivered to 8,424 beneficiaries across Pakistan

RIYADH: Two additional planes carrying 60 tons of humanitarian aid from Saudi Arabia arrived in Karachi to help those affected by Pakistan’s worst floods in decades.

The 6th and 7th flights to be dispatched by King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSRelief) delivered tents, blankets, shelters, and food baskets for 8,424 beneficiaries, reported the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

The batches of aid were received by the National Disaster Management Authority to be distributed in several regions across Pakistan based on the need.

KSRelief earlier established a Saudi air bridge to deliver urgent aid to Pakistan amid the floods, which drowned third of the country, killing over 1,300 people and displacing millions more. The first two batches of Saudi aid arrived earlier this month.

“The aid reflects the Kingdom’s mission to help people in need across the world in various crises,” read the SPA statement.


Health ministry transfers child to Saudi Arabia after heart attack in Kuwait 

Health ministry transfers child to Saudi Arabia after heart attack in Kuwait 
Updated 26 September 2022

Health ministry transfers child to Saudi Arabia after heart attack in Kuwait 

Health ministry transfers child to Saudi Arabia after heart attack in Kuwait 

RIYADH: The Ministry of Health transferred a Saudi child to the Kingdom after he suffered from a heart attack in Kuwait, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Sunday. 

In cooperation with the Saudi Embassy in Kuwait and other stakeholders, the child – who was on life support – was transferred on board a medical evacuation plane that belongs to the defense ministry, according to SPA. 

He is currently being treated at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Riyadh.


Saudi podcaster amplifies voices of local, regional creatives

Hatem Alakeel in London where he launched season 3 of his podcast, Gems of Arabia, in partnership with Harrods. (Supplied)
Hatem Alakeel in London where he launched season 3 of his podcast, Gems of Arabia, in partnership with Harrods. (Supplied)
Updated 26 September 2022

Saudi podcaster amplifies voices of local, regional creatives

Hatem Alakeel in London where he launched season 3 of his podcast, Gems of Arabia, in partnership with Harrods. (Supplied)
  • Hatem Alakeel partners with Harrods to build a community of likeminded individuals, bridge generational gap

DHAHRAN: Hatem Alakeel is the most immaculately dressed Saudi podcaster with a heart of gold.

His podcast, Gems of Arabia, which aims to highlight “all the shimmering hidden gems of the Arab world,” recently launched its third season with a big change — he is partnering with world-famous UK-based luxury department store Harrods.

This is the first official Middle Eastern collaboration between Harrods, established in 1849, and an emerging podcast launched in 2021.

I’ve been doing this all my life, like being in a boarding school (in Europe) and being the ambassador to Saudi Arabia representing my country. I hope to continue with what I’ve been doing over the past years and change the perception-based stereotypes and elevate the Saudi culture and Arab culture.

Hatem Alakeel

“Harrods and Gems of Arabia are partnering on a podcast series, themed on bridging the generations through culture,” Alakeel told Arab News. “As two established institutions in their own regions, our podcast and Harrods hopes to facilitate conversations between guests who are excelling in their field, and to provide a bridge between both generations in both the UK and the Middle East.

“We are hosting these special editions of Gems of Arabia from inside Harrods, Knightsbridge,” he said.

A softly spoken and articulate host, Alakeel has found some of the most interesting UK-based Saudis and other Arabs to interview. The new season offers plenty of surprise guests from within the MENA region.

Hatem Alakeel in London where he launched season 3 of his podcast, Gems of Arabia, in partnership with Harrods. (Supplied)

With 18 years of experience, Alakeel first started as a fashion designer with his label “Toby,” modernizing the traditional thobe, and has been elegantly sashaying into each endeavor he has embarked on ever since with his brand consultancy Authenticite.

Although Alakeel is proud of his Saudi heritage and his Jeddah roots, he is mostly based in Dubai. But no matter where he is geographically, he is always passionate about amplifying narratives in the region regardless of where they are from.

For the past four years, he has been writing an online column where he highlights change-makers in the region who are shaping the Saudi landscape in a positive way. He knew it was time to try a different platform to further amplify the voices of those individuals to build on the conversations, so he started the podcast.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The new season offers plenty of surprise guests from within the MENA region.

• Hatem Alakeel lived a significant portion of his life abroad, his mother constantly reminded him not to stray too far away from his heritage and to never compromise on his values.

• This is the first official Middle Eastern collaboration between Harrods, established in 1849, and an emerging podcast launched in 2021.

• For Alakeel, authenticity is the keyword. He is now trying to facilitate opportunities for local creatives to showcase themselves — without excluding Saudis living abroad.

That is something Harrods was attracted to.

“For me, Harrods has been an institution that I’ve always looked up to ever since I was a kid. It really has this kind of nostalgia feeling for me. I believe that the way we have been able to connect was through my podcast during my second season, which I did on the Saudi Cup — it was about heritage,” he said.

As Alakeel become recognized online and offline, he felt a sense of responsibility to help foster a thriving ecosystem for creatives in or from the region. He wanted to create the type of community that he wished he had when he was starting his career.

An un-ironic instagram influencer, he makes sure that his posts are both in English and Arabic. He also genuinely tries to bring out the silver lining in every situation.

The person who has been his anchor is his late mother, Seham Arab, who recently passed away.

Although Alakeel lived a significant portion of his life abroad, his mother constantly reminded him not to stray too far away from his heritage and to never compromise on his values.

His beloved mother’s scent lingers in Alakeel’s life — literally. Every night, he spritzes some of her favorite perfume onto his pillow so he can fall asleep to her memory. However, the bond between mother and son goes well beyond smell, which is known to be the strongest sense tied to memory.

She was the inspiration for his life’s work and the reason he began on his journey trying to uncover hidden gems and treasures within the Arab region. Alakeel calls her his first gem. She also introduced him to Harrods.

“My recollection of my first experience with Harrods was when I was in boarding school and my mom sent me a box of riding gear — it was shoes, a hat, and it was the most immaculate riding gear that I got, because I was horseback riding. So from there, it snowballed into me always going there and appreciating them. I was over the moon to have the opportunity to actually do something with them,” he said.

She would have loved his collaboration with Harrods and how he decided to approach the partnership.

“The approach that I proposed to Harrods is generational and cultural — there’s also a generational bridge that’s being built. And we need to recognize that a lot of the younger generation, Generation Z, for example, is very much inspired more than ever with vintage. Millennials were always so brand-obsessed,” he said.

“So, this is kind of the movement that I’m creating with the podcast — what we’re going to be doing with Harrods — is to highlight the generational bridges existing between both cultures. You know, an idea of how progressive Saudi designers are becoming, how much more exposed they are and how much more we need to kind of see where it’s heading. And this is the kind of conversation we want to have,” he said.

For Alakeel, authenticity is the keyword. He is now trying to facilitate opportunities for local creatives to showcase themselves — without excluding Saudis living abroad.

He wants to try to bridge the different generations that seem somewhat disconnected. A podcast felt like a natural progression to merge all of these elements together. It is a conversational vehicle that will allow different members of communities to express themselves.

It is all about creating a community and building it up.

“I’ve been doing this all my life, like being in a boarding school (in Europe) and being the ambassador to Saudi Arabia representing my country. I hope to continue with what I’ve been doing over the past years and change the perception-based stereotypes and elevate the Saudi culture and Arab culture,” Alakeel said.

Saudis, and indeed Arabs, have shopped at Harrods in London for generations. It is a trusted place to find curated and well-crafted goods. This season’s podcast promises the same.

“Harrods is partnering with game-changers in the local market; trailblazers, designers and entrepreneurs based in the Middle East. The goal is to build a community of likeminded individuals, to provide them with a global platform and wider network of contacts, while allowing Harrods to build relationships with and support the next generation of talent. Harrods’ partnership with Gems of Arabia is a perfect alignment and a brilliant example of this work, ensuring their position in these foreign markets is meaningful and built on cooperation,” Alakeel said.

Tap into season 3 of the Gems of Arabia podcast empowered by @harrods by connecting to @authenticite_by_hatem_alakeel.

 


Ahmed bin Saleh Al-Wasaidi appointed vice president of Saudi survey, geospatial information authority

Ahmed bin Saleh Al-Wasaidi appointed vice president of Saudi survey, geospatial information authority
Updated 25 September 2022

Ahmed bin Saleh Al-Wasaidi appointed vice president of Saudi survey, geospatial information authority

Ahmed bin Saleh Al-Wasaidi appointed vice president of Saudi survey, geospatial information authority
  • Al-Wasaidi has more than 25 years of experience in aerial surveying, remote sensing, and geospatial information

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s crown prince approved the appointment of Ahmed bin Saleh Al-Wasaidi as vice president of the General Authority for Survey and Geospatial Information, Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday.

The authority oversees work in the field of surveying, map production, geographic information, and marine surveying. It also produces and markets geospatial information and services.

Al-Wasaidi holds a MSc in Geospatial and Mapping Sciences from the University of Glasgow, Scotland and another Master’s degree in aerial surveying and remote sensing from the University of Twente, the Netherlands.

He has more than 25 years of experience in aerial surveying, remote sensing, and geospatial information.

Al-Wasaidi has previously worked at the Ministry of Defense and as a general supervisor of geospatial services and surveying at the GASGI.


Saudi education minister signs MoU to support English-language teaching

Saudi Minister of Education Hamad Al-Sheikh. (SPA)
Saudi Minister of Education Hamad Al-Sheikh. (SPA)
Updated 26 September 2022

Saudi education minister signs MoU to support English-language teaching

Saudi Minister of Education Hamad Al-Sheikh. (SPA)
  • The cooperation aims to advance the work between the English Language Center at the Agency of General Education and the group, conducted last year as a part of a project to implement a sample of language curricula in 50 Saudi primary schools

MAKKAH: Saudi Minister of Education Hamad Al-Sheikh recently signed a memorandum with a US group specializing in providing language teaching books, materials and services.

The agreement, signed with CEO of MM American Publishing Group, Giannis Malkogiannis, is to support English-language teaching and learning, and is part of Al-Sheikh’s tour of American universities and research centers.

The meeting touched on cooperation between the Saudi Ministry of Education and the MM Group in providing English-language curricula. The group has previously provided English language curricula for the Kingdom’s schools, from the fourth grade to the twelfth grade. The group also owns a “binary logic” company that provides digital skills curricula and engineering curricula.

The two parties discussed supporting cooperation between the ministry and the MM Group in providing a vision for adding a specific course for languages or the STEM track, in line with best international practices.

The cooperation aims to advance the work between the English Language Center at the Agency of General Education and the group, conducted last year as a part of a project to implement a sample of language curricula in 50 Saudi primary schools.

“What the ministry strives to achieve in learning and teaching English is one of the successful steps in utilizing global expertise in this area,” Ahmed Asiri, an educational consultant and former director of the educational supervision department at the ministry in Taif, told Arab News.

“The US specialists in this field are familiar with and have very high experience in dealing with these age groups. They also have the needed requirements to pass their knowledge on through digital and intensive programs, creating a beautiful learning environment,” he said.

He added that the path taken by the ministry was in compliance with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

“Mastering English will be a helpful instrument to maintain the communication between societies. For instance, all international, cultural and economic relations in various aspects of life all share the same main tool, which is the English language,” he said.

Abdul Rahman Surti, educational supervisor at the ministry, told Arab News that the curricula by MM Publishing Group was considered one of the best educational series. “They were able to serve students, teachers and the entire educational process, and facilitated communication with parents through interactive CDs,” he said.

Surti, who is the author of “Creative Ideas for Teaching English Language,” said that more real-life examples were needed for Saudi students to boost learning.