If you had asked many in the motoring industry about the business viability of an ultra-luxury automobile brand in the Philippines 20 or even just 10 years ago, quite a few would have given a definitive 'no'... perhaps even with a chuckle for good measure.
Fast forward to today and my, my, how things have changed.
The Philippines has one of the most diverse automobile markets in the region, particularly in the luxury and premium sector. In the last 5 years several luxury auto brands have entered the market. Ferrari and Maserati were re-launched by Autostrada of the Soongs. Lexus Manila was launched by Toyota, headed up by Danny Isla. The PGA Cars group of the Coyiutos launched Bentley and Lamborghini. The Autohub Group of Willy Tee Ten took on the challenge of the Mini brand.
One automobile brand has remained absent from that list, a motor car company that evokes the very best of wheeled luxury: Rolls-Royce.
After much negotiation and coordination between Goodwood, UK and Manila, Philippines, the peerless automobile company has officially arrived at the behest of Autohub's British Bespoke Automobiles, Rolls-Royce Manila has finally opened... and we're going to drive onr.
The right partner
Contrary to popular belief, bringing in a luxury car brand involves far more than just ordering some cars and shipping them to the Philippines.
Beyond the bureaucratic mess that the government requires, the local partner must make long term investments and arrangements with the auto manufacturer. Things like setting up a dealer (and/or network), a service facility, sales and service training, a spare parts pipeline and a marketing strategy among others, all come into play.
This is where British Bespoke Automobiles became the ideal partner to carry the Rolls-Royce brand in Manila.
BBA is actually the 'sister' company of British United Automobiles (BUA), the officially importer of Mini in the Philippines. The parallel is interesting, particularly because Mini and Rolls-Royce are both under the BMW Group, while both BUA and BBA are under the Autohub Group of Willy Tee Ten.
Heading up the BBA/Rolls-Royce Manila team has Willy Tee Ten as president, Michael Cua as senior vice president and Ryan Watson as general manager. The dealer appointment ceremony saw Tee Ten get visibly emotional at the prospect of officially being given the honor as dealer of the ultimate luxury motor car brand in the country.
“We are honored to bring the ultimate in luxury motoring to the Philippines, a market with great passion and appreciation for the 'definitive' brand in luxury quality,” said Willy Tee Ten, Autohub Group President.
A few months after, Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos personally attended the launch of the interim RR Manila dealership in Bonifacio Global City, much to the pride of the Autohub Group.
A date with the Ghost
We arrived at the interim Rolls-Royce showroom for a day with our ride: a Rolls-Royce Ghost Extended Wheelbase.
The Ghost is so named as a throwback to the original Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost from the early years of the Spirit of Ecstasy. The model back then was originally called the Rolls-Royce 40/50, but the 'Silver Ghost' moniker stuck, and has become one of the most iconic early RR's ever made.
Walking up to the modern Ghost for the first time feels like stepping up to a fine work of motoring art. The timeless, classic lines all look absolutely perfect. There are practically no gaps in the metal to speak of, as every seam appears supremely measured and fitted with incredible precision. In a Rolls-Royce, quality and detail are the things you truly pay for. Oh, and the Spirit of Ecstasy emblem on the grille.
The driver-side door opens with the weight and precision of a bank vault, and that's a good thing. Sitting in the driver's seat, everything you can possibly imagine (and more) has been specced into this particular example.
Bookmatched wood veneers? Check. Impeccable Hotspur red leather on everything? Check. Buttons, knobs and controls that are of the utmost quality and feel? Check. Virtually every little detail appears to have been installed by a master craftsman that dedicates him or herself to the perfection of that particular job. The only thing that hasn't been opted for is the signature coachline that is painted by just one artisan freehand for every Rolls-Royce owner that asks for it.
Just a 5 minute stint in the driver's seat tells a story that can last 5 years, and we haven't even begun with the rear seat yet... the other part Rolls-Royce customers pay for.
The back is where it's at
The sheer act of opening the rear doors is an invitation in itself, given that they open suicide-style. Okay, the actual term that RR uses is 'coach door', as the rear-hinged doors date back to the time of horse-drawn carriages/coaches. Once you step in and settle into the rear seats, a press of a button on the C-pillar closes the doors automatically.
Settling in, it's immediately clear that this car is all about first class comfort. The seats are really just meant for two, as three people in the back would have you a bit cramped. Both seats are power reclinable for comfort at the touch of a button. The backrests of the front seats have been fitted with RR's Rear Theatre Configuration option and is controlled by a set of buttons and knobs that appear by folding the center armrest down.
Needless to say, the only vehicle that exceeds this is the larger, more luxurious Rolls-Royce Phantom.
Driving the Ghost
Back in the chauffer's, err, driver's seat, a push of a button brings that 6.6 liter twin turbo V12 to life.
You must be mindful that there is 570 PS and 780 Newton meters of torque at your right foot's disposal, all of which as propelling a motor car that weighs nearly three thousand kilos (gross) and costs as much (possibly more) than a luxury home in Manila's poshest gated villages. Had the Mayor of Makati been riding this, perhaps the Dasma security guards wouldn't have stopped him.
The Ghost EWB is also one of those tricky motor cars to drive in tight city streets upon first glance at the dimensions. As it stands, the longer Ghost measures a massive 5.6 meters long and is nearly 2 meters. You really must give yourself a wide berth if you're driving or train your driver well if you wish to sit in the back.
Even with those dimensions, the Ghost is surprisingly more nimble and maneuverable (relatively, of course) than I had initially expected. And the response from the twin turbo V12 is surprisingly quick. It's best to keep in mind that the engine and 8-speed ZF automatic can easily launch all three tons from naught to 100 kilometers an hour in just 4.8 seconds. It's a yacht with the speed and acceleration of a powerboat.
The best part though is the smoothness by which every mechanical component has been engineered to operate. The ride comfort is superb, a feat considering the poor excuse by which our city streets are paved. Also the noise suppression in the cabin of the Ghost approaches levels that would make my high school's librarian proud.
A quick drive was all I really needed, and I quickly switched back to the rear seat. Why? Because this is a car that is meant to be ridden, not so much to be driven. The phrase 'sit back and enjoy the ride' is a reality when riding in the rear of a Rolls-Royce Ghost Extended Wheelbase.
Many vehicles have similar levels of comfort and convenience for the rear passengers for much less money. The prime examples that come to mind is the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the Jaguar XJ or even Lexus LS long wheelbase model, but what sets a Rolls-Royce -any Rolls-Royce- apart is the sense of occasion.
The Bespoke difference
Each Rolls is bespoke, and has an incredible amount of options and customizations that you can put in. This Ghost Extended wheelbase supposedly costs around PhP 31 million as is, easily the most expensive automobile we'll ever get to drive, unless we get to try the Phantom which starts at PhP 40 million.
RR says that customizing and speccing a Spirit of Ecstasy is like commissioning a work of art. By what we saw, felt, touched and drove, art it is. And like a fine painting done by a maestro, it takes about 6-7 months for your Rolls to arrive after you order it.
The pinnacle of automotive luxury
Many have asked: Do we really need Rolls-Royce to be here in the Philippines?
A valid question, indeed. The typical answer would be no, as the presence of the ultimate automobile brand in a 'third-world' country still struggling for equitable economic growth would only have a select few, extremely wealthy prospective clients, let alone customers. But that would be missing the point.
The ultimate automobile company represents an idea. It's not luxury, nor is it wealth, status or power or any other connotations many of us normally see in expensive automobiles, much less a Rolls.
That idea is ambition. That by hard work, patience, perseverance, enterprise or even luck, we too can move up in the world, gradually climbing the automotive ladder until we get to the top rung: the Spirit of Ecstasy.
What do you think? Let us know below but please, let's keep the PDAF jokes to a minimum.