Why Rolls-Royce appointed a country manager to Canada for the first time

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Steady sales growth has led ultraluxury brand Rolls-Royce to appoint a country manager for the first time to oversee operations in Canada.

Matthew Wilson, 43, who will be based out of the BMW head office near Toronto, was promoted effective Feb. 1. Previously, Wilson was national manager of product planning for BMW Group Canada for more than eight years.

Canada is one of the three fastest-growing markets for Rolls-Royce globally, said Gerry Spahn, a spokesman for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Americas. What was once a double-digit sales market has grown to triple digits for the past three years: 108 units in 2018, 228 in 2019 as the Cullinan SUV was added to the portfolio, and 160 units in 2020 during a capacity reduction at the brand’s plant in Goodwood, England, because of COVID-19, according to the Automobile News | tomobile.org Research and Data Center in Detroit.

“North America is the largest market for Rolls-Royce globally, and Canada pulls its weight,” Spahn told Automobile News | tomobile.org Canada. “There are not many [markets] that are the size of Canada that are triple-digit markets for us.”

When asked whether plans existed to expand the number of retailers, Wilson said Canada was “very well-served” by its four retailers.

Rolls-Royce is represented in Toronto by the luxury dealership group Grand Touring Automobiles; in Montreal by Holand Automotive Group; in Vancouver by OpenRoad Auto Group, which has dealerships in Greater Vancouver, Greater Toronto and the Pacific Northwest; and a new fourth location in Calgary by Grand Touring Automobiles, expected to open in late June or early July.

ROLLS SERIOUS ABOUT CANADA

Adding the country manager position allows Rolls to centralize functions such as marketing and media relations and apply them consistently across Canada, Spahn said. Wilson’s appointment signals a more serious commitment by Rolls-Royce to Canada, said Gad Bitton, CEO of Holand Automotive Group.

“They’ll be able to do a lot of things that they can’t do right now,” Bitton said. “For instance, if you have an auto show, everything [for the display currently] has to come from the U.S. It’s a clear sign Rolls-Royce is evolving.”

A centralized Canadian head office will help retailers across the country unite under a common Canadian identity, said Paul Gilbert, Rolls-Royce brand specialist at Grand Touring Automobiles.

“Right now, we basically operate off U.S. pricing, and it does create some confusion and is not as cohesive as we’d like it to be,” Gilbert said. Pricing across the Rolls-Royce portfolio currently ranges from Cdn $400,000 to $1,000,000-plus depending on the nature of customizations.

“A Canadian identity would [include] a Canadian MSRP and Canadian pricing list,” Gilbert said.

The ultraluxury market was hit hard in Canada in 2020, with some subsegments down as much as 50 per cent, said Robert Karwel, senior manager of the Power Information Network for J.D. Power in Toronto.

Karwel attributed the sales plunge to supply constraints. He noted a price increase of six per cent to an average of $390,000 in the ultraluxury segment last year compared with 2019 and a reduction in time-to-sale to less than 50 days from more than 90.

“We suspect superpremium customers were not greatly impacted by the COVID situation last year, but their ability to locate and secure an exotic vehicle may have been,” Karwel said.

As production picks back up, RollsRoyce expects to deliver a record number of commissions in Canada in 2021, Spahn said.

A custom-designed Rolls-Royce ordered in Canada in March would be delivered in the fourth quarter, Wilson said.

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