BMW puts third chairman behind the wheel at Rolls

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The Independent Online

The luxury car maker Rolls-Royce yesterday found itself under the command of its third chairman in the space of six months after the abrupt departure of its latest German boss.

The luxury car maker Rolls-Royce yesterday found itself under the command of its third chairman in the space of six months after the abrupt departure of its latest German boss.

BMW, the Munich-based car maker which now owns the Rolls marque, announced that Karl-Heinz Kalbfell had left to take up a job with another unnamed motor manufacturer. He had been in the job only since May when he replaced the ousted Tony Gott, who left after falling out with his German masters.

Mr Kalbfell has been replaced by BMW's finance director, Stefan Krause, who will double up in the job of Rolls chairman until a long-term successor can be found. He or she will almost certainly come from within BMW.

A Rolls spokesman maintained that the latest upheaval in its management ranks in no way reflected the performance of the company. He said that production of the new £250,000 Phantom model was now running at five cars a day and sales were on target to reach 1,000 this year.

In the nine months to the end of September, Rolls sold only 490 Phantoms from its Goodwood plant near Chichester. However, sales of the luxury marque are heavily weighted to the last three months of the year when buyers, particularly those in the United States, decide whether they have had a good enough year to splash out on a new Rolls.

The Phantom has a top speed of 150mph, accelerates from 0 to 60mph in under six seconds and comes with lambs-wool floor rugs, GPS navigational aids and a nine-amplier, 13-speaker sound system as standard. But most buyers spend far more than the basic £250,000 having their car customised.

Along with its oversized price tag, the Phantom is also one of the biggest production cars ever built in Britain - weighing in at some two-and-a-half tonnes and taking up nearly 20 feet of road. BMW, which took control of the company in 1998 after agreeing to pay just £40m for the rights to the Rolls marque, has invested £65m in the new purpose-built factory on the south coast, sited next to Goodwood House, home of Glorious Goodwood and the annual Festival of Speed.

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