Rolls-Royce fights back in US

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The Independent Online

A strong marketing effort in America is beginning to pay off for Vickers' luxury car division, Rolls-Royce, which saw a 25 per cent rise in US sales last year.

Although sales are still way below pre-recession levels in the US, the company believes it has regained its place in the world's most important car market. Vickers shares rose 15p to 272p.

R-R, long rumoured to be on BMW's takeover list, sold 1,556 Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars world-wide in 1995, up 10 per cent on 1994. The biggest rise came in the US, where sales rose from 335 to 420 vehicles, according to figures published yesterday.

R-R has concentrated heavily on marketing in the US, and in the summer introduced a leasing scheme, which accounted for 10 per cent of sales there.

A company spokesman, Chris Ladley, rejected suggestions that the scheme would demean the famous name. "All companies are starting leasing programmes. It encourages potential owners who are hesitating about enjoying the Rolls-Royce experience," he said.

In 1989, R-R sold 1,200 vehicles in the US, though because of the weak dollar it is thought many of these cars were destined for countries in the Pacific Rim. The company sold 3,000 cars world-wide.

But the American recession, and the imposition of a luxury tax, hit sales hard, and R-R sank into loss and became a drain on Vickers' resources.

These latest figures are evidence that the car-maker's steady climb out of recession is continuing. Sales in Japan in 1995 rose from 116 to 121, and in continental Europe from 216 to 230. In the UK, sales rose from 460 to 493, up 7 per cent. But in the Middle East sales fell from 75 to 71.

Chris Woodwark, R-R chief executive, said: "A 10 per cent increase in retail sales world-wide means we are out-performing the market, which shows that the strategies we are pursuing, particularly in getting closer to our customers, are working"

The company has invested more than pounds 75m in product development over the past two years. The pounds 215,000 Bentley Azure was launched in March, and the target production of 118 vehicles were sold. The car sells for double the price of a normal Rolls-Royce, and the company expects to build more than this number in 1996.

After heavy cost-cutting, R-R is back in profit, but Vickers does not disclose details.