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Rolls-Royce drivers are a lot younger than you think

Hannah Elliott | Bloomberg |  Jun 29, 2017 03:35 AM IST
Photo: iSTOCK
Rolls-Royce may not strike you as a brand that’s ever more spry. After all, the 111-year-old institution takes its sweet time on its stately, half-million-dollar cars. Its three-ton Phantom sedan, for instance, undergoes more than 800 hours of work by the team in Goodwood, England, before being personally delivered to its intended dignitary in some exotic locale.
But, according to Chief Executive Officer Torsten Müller-Ötvös, the bulk of the brand’s buyers are surprisingly young.

“We are seeing, in that segment of ultrahigh-end-growth individuals, a fast decrease in average age,” Müller-Ötvös said. “It’s fantastic, it really is.”

In practical terms, that means the global average age of a Rolls-Royce customer is 45 years old, down from 56 seven years ago, he said. That’s lower than the average age of car buyers overall, which hovers around 52, and younger than the average age of luxury car buyers, too, which is 50, according to data provided to Bloomberg by Kelley Blue Book. 

Buick, for instance, has an average new-buyer age of 59. At Cadillac it’s 52, at Mercedes-Benz it’s 51, and at BMW it’s 50, according to KBB. Land Rover’s average customer is 45, the youngest of any included in the data. (Rolls-Royce was not among the brands reviewed in that report—its numbers are internal.) Bentley, a closer competitor to Rolls-Royce, reported an average buyer age of 56.2 years in 2014, though that number is likely younger now. Why does attracting a young(ish) buyer pool matter?

For one thing, it prevents against the hypothetical eventuality that your customers eventually die off. Older buyers tend to be loyal buyers, but as they age, their numbers naturally dwindle.

More immediately, it has to do with brand image. If pensioners are the ones driving your cars, the rest of the world inevitably associates the brand with their age set. That doesn’t exactly foster future buying excitement.

“If you’re appealing only to older buyers, you’re not growing that back end,” said Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst-Americas at IHS Automotive. “If you’re not connecting at least on the aspirational level with a younger buyer, chances are when they get to 45 or 50 and are able to buy your product, they won’t think of you.”

The reason for the relative youth of Rolls buyers has to do with how they’re amassing their wealth, Müller-Ötvös said. Rather than in previous decades when acquiring it from Daddy was viable, and respectable, option, he’s noticing the people turning up at his dealerships are self-made.

“It’s not any longer inherited money,” he said. “The majority is all self-generated money in very young people who are already making fortunes, be it real estate, be it engineering, be it IT, be it Western entertainment, whatever.”  
That’s promising. Experts have warily anticipated in recent years an expected slump in car sales as millennials begin to overtake baby boomers in the marketplace as the world’s biggest spenders. 


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