Newspaper article International New York Times

And for the Buyer Who Finds an Off-the-Rack Rolls-Royce Just Won't Do

Newspaper article International New York Times

And for the Buyer Who Finds an Off-the-Rack Rolls-Royce Just Won't Do

Article excerpt

As owners of ultraluxury cars seek to distinguish themselves among their peers, Rolls-Royce, Maserati and others sell more limited-edition models.

CORRECTION APPENDED

In the rarefied world of ultraluxury cars, buyers can already own some of the most lavish vehicles on the planet.

But these days, just owning a Rolls-Royce or a Bentley is not enough. Now, buyers are looking for even more exclusivity, and automakers are more than happy to serve them, offering custom- tailored cars and limited- production "special edition" sedans -- especially to lucrative overseas markets -- as owners try to distinguish themselves among the 1 percent.

This month, for example, Rolls-Royce unveiled the Inspired by Fashion edition of its Wraith at an extravagant event in New York with models and fashion-industry insiders. The details are intended to satisfy even the most persnickety of buyers: leather door panels accented with welting and silk, a steering wheel stitched using an invisible seamless technique from English tailors, and headlights with the Rolls-Royce logo etched into them. The lacquering process for the wood on the dashboard alone took nine days.

The nearly all-white Wraith, with black accents and a splash of color, will be available to a few dozen customers and built only upon request.

A base model Wraith already costs $285,000, but the Fashion edition will set a jet-setter back by at least $350,000, depending on options.

"Our customers expect personalized luxury in every element of their life," said Eric Shepherd, president of Rolls-Royce's North American operations. "They expect that uniqueness and individuality. So we're giving them the ability to have something that is theirs alone."

The car follows another custom version introduced last year, when designers looked to Hollywood to create a film-inspired version that oozed Hollywood glam.

Ross Klein, of Palm Springs, Calif., said he was already considering buying one of the Fashion edition Wraiths. Though the coming Rolls-Royce convertible catches his eye as well.

Mr. Klein, 52, who works in the hospitality industry, has bought several Rolls-Royce models over the years, and most recently he took the ultimate step: having a Ghost created especially for him, which the company calls "commissioning."

"Commissioning a Rolls is an experience like no other," he said. "It's like acquiring a piece of art."

The process takes several months, and Mr. Klein said he visited the factory in Goodwood, England, where the car was being built by hand, and met the people who were putting it together.

"It's like you get to meet the tailor of a spectacular suit," he said. "It gives you an emotional connection and pride of ownership. Nobody has one like it, even though there are other Ghosts out there. It's totally one-of-a-kind."

Rolls-Royce is hardly alone in pushing the limits of exclusivity. Other ultraluxury automakers are vying for top customers like Mr. Klein, finding ways to differentiate themselves and their vehicles in ways that give wealthy owners an experience that a Rockefeller or a Rothschild would have approved of.

Karl Brauer, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book, said the economy had experienced something of a "two-pronged recovery," with those at the top doing quite well, while middle-income earners continue to struggle.

That has led to ultraluxury cars' surging in popularity among well-to-do buyers.

"There are always plenty of wealthy people to go around," Mr. Brauer said, adding, "What makes you feel special is special treatment, and access. …

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