It experienced a wretched year that saw its chief executive step down and the failure of one of its engines that could have resulted in the crash of an Airbus plane carrying 469 passengers. Then last week one of its bosses accompanied David Cameron on his ill-fated tour to bang the drum for Britain's defence industry.
Yet a remarkably fortuitous sense of timing, coupled with its renowned sense of British stoicism, has led to the Rolls-Royce Group toppling Microsoft as the most respected brand in the UK.
Compiled by The Centre for Brand Analysis, which reflects the views of a panel of 2,000 business professionals, Rolls-Royce Group has taken the top spot in the Business Superbrands index for the first time since 2007. More than 1,100 brands were shortlisted for the survey, judged by professionals from the marketing, financial services and manufacturing sectors. Brands were rated against a number of criteria including quality, distinction – and reliability.
But the champagne at Rolls-Royce's Derby headquarters may have to be kept on ice for a while longer. The survey was compiled just before the dramatic failure of one of its Trent 900 engines, which exploded while powering an Airbus A380 on a Qantas plane last November, forcing the jet into an emergency landing in Singapore. The incident led to every Trent 900 in service being examined and partly or entirely replaced, at a cost to the firm of £56m. Both Airbus and Qantas are understood to be negotiating a commercial compensation agreement.
"It's difficult to tell what would have happened if the survey had been conducted after that event," said Stephen Cheliotis, chief executive of The Centre of Brand Analysis. At the time of the incident, Rolls-Royce went into communication lockdown.
Branding specialists warned yesterday of a "perception creep" between Rolls-Royce, the decadent purveyor of luxury cars, and its engineering counterpart Rolls-Royce Group. "It's hard to separate one without thinking of the other," said Malcolm White, of ad agency Krow. "Rolls-Royce still carries equities of the UK aeronautical pedigree and is a reminder that Great Britain has not lost sight of its manufacturing heritage."
The airline sector did particularly badly in the survey. British Airways, hampered by union strikes and bad weather, slumped from eight in 2010 to No 48. Virgin Atlantic's credibility also dropped significantly, falling from fourth position in 2010 to 14th.
As a testament to Germany's manufacturing recovery, Bosch made its debut in the top 10. Apple, which recently released the fourth generation iPhone and iPad variant to critical acclaim, came fifth and the top 10 also included Google, Pricewaterhouse- coopers, Visa, the London Stock Exchange and GlaxoSmithKline.