Home » Exclusive: Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, Is Retiring. He Met With Us to Explain Why.

Exclusive: Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, Is Retiring. He Met With Us to Explain Why.

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A key indicator as to the overall health and strength of a government or industry, is how easily it transitions in leadership. In the nearly 120 years that Rolls-Royce—the esteemed British manufacturer of engines and luxury automobiles—has been in operation, it has seen its share of corporate tumult and fiscal uncertainty. Yet under the stewardship of Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars since 2010, the marque has experienced a renaissance, expanding both in model line and customers while not sacrificing exclusivity. It’s been announced today, though, that Müller-Ötvös is retiring. Succeeding him will be Chris Brownridge, presently the CEO of BMW UK, on December 1.

Robb Report was given advance notice of the departure by 63-year-old Müller-Ötvös himself back in June, during our test-drive of Spectre, Rolls-Royce’s first all-electric model. But it wasn’t until Monterey Car Week and the debut of La Rose Noire, Goodwood’s latest one-off coachbuilt example, that we were able to speak with him at length about his career path, his span as CEO, and how that time influenced his perception of luxury (as seen in the accompanying video).

Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars since 2010.

Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars since 2010.

Justin Festejo

“It’s something you can’t plan for,” says Müller-Ötvös, when asked about heading up such a storied marque. Joining the BMW Group in 1989, the German-born executive had been “massively involved in branding discussions with Rover, when BMW acquired the Rover Group,” he notes, citing that he also helped relaunch Mini. “That brought me deeply into British brands,” he says, “also learning a lot about how special they are, how emotional they are, how carefully curated they are, and how carefully you, yourself, need to curate them, otherwise you could fail in really positioning them properly in the world.” When he was eventually approached to captain Rolls-Royce, “it was the right moment in time,” he says, “that’s something I didn’t need to sleep on.”

Yet during that period, the automaker was in danger of losing relevance as its customer demographic was aging out. According to Müller-Ötvös, the average Rolls owner was 56 years old. In answer, he sought out the advice of numerous private banks and listened to their predictions as to how the landscape of ultra-high-net-worth individuals would be changing in the coming years. “They gave me some remarkable insights . . . and it happened as they forecasted” he says.

The Rolls-Royce Black Badge Cullinan.

The edgier Black Badge trim package and the Cullinan SUV are among the decisions that helped the automaker expand to a younger customer base.

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

Foremost among his takeaways was that this top echelon would be getting far younger. Armed with this intel, Müller-Ötvös knew there had to be a corporate shift. “When I took the helm, it was 80 percent chauffeur-driven and 20 percent self-driving—now, it’s completely the opposite,” he says, regarding the state of the brand. The course change was first apparent with the introduction of the two-door Wraith, followed quickly by the second iteration of the modern Ghost sedan, which has gone on to become the most commercially successful model in the Rolls-Royce pantheon. Then there was Dawn, the two-door convertible debuted in 2016, which drew a larger segment of women to the fold. That same year, the decidedly edgy (at least by Rolls standards) Black Badge trim option premiered, initially on the Wraith.

The Rolls-Royce Fux Bright Yellow Dawn, commissioned by car-collector Michael Fux.

The Fux Bright Yellow Dawn, commissioned by car-collector Michael Fux.

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

The Black Badge idea came to Müller-Ötvös after seeing that select owners were already giving their cars a more visually aggressive aesthetic, blacking-out signature elements. “Why not create the alter ego of Sir Henry Royce, and create a more menacing, darker character and positioning of the brand,” he remembers thinking. “That was super successful for us in reaching out to a completely new breed of clients.”

That move is one of the contributing factors to lowering the average age of Rolls-Royce owners to 43, which is below that of Mini. It’s even younger for those who buy the latest Ghost, completely revised in time to be named the Robb Report Luxury Car of the Year in 2021. But that doesn’t mean that the older guard was left wanting. The stewardship of Müller-Ötvös ushered in the eighth generation of the flagship Phantom, as well as a resurgence of coachbuilt examples like the eight-figure Boat Tail projects.

The 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost.

The completely revised Rolls-Royce Ghost was Robb Report’s Luxury Car of the Year in 2021.

James Lipman, courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

His imprint on the marque is arguably most indelible on two fronts: introducing an SUV (or high-sided vehicle in Rolls parlance) and bringing the automaker synonymous with 12-cylinder internal-combustion engines into the age of electrification with Spectre. Those mandates, met with skepticism and criticism by some at first, were refined through extensive discussions with the client base, whom he met with regularly.

“I will miss Torsten dearly,” says renowned car-collector Michael Fux. “Torsten really ‘got me’ from the onset of our relationship, despite my requests for some zany colors. Some of my fondest memories include Torsten, especially the Mille Miglia race and receiving my Rolls Royce’s from him at Pebble Beach.”

Torsten Müller-Ötvös at the reveal of Spectre, the first all-electric model from Rolls-Royce.

Torsten Müller-Ötvös at the reveal of Spectre, the first all-electric model from Rolls-Royce.

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

Müller-Ötvös may be handing over the reins to Brownridge, and finding more time for fly-fishing and boating, but he will certainly stay active in consulting and what he calls “non-executive roles,” although he’s unsure exactly where at the moment. What he can answer definitively is whether there are any regrets that linger from his tenure. “None. Seriously,” he says. “Looking in hindsight, I would not change anything.”

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