A Rolls-Royce is never ordinary, and nor are the people who buy them. Such discerning folk expect the highest standards of service when they plonk more than half-a-mill down on one of the bespoke cars emerging from the Goodwood factory, and special measures are taken to ensure that the two-year unlimited servicing contract that comes with each Rolls-Royce results in customer satisfaction.
Such a high standard of service demands dedicated people like George Rowlands, the patrician British brand's globe-trotting after-sales manager for the Asia-Pacific region. Rowlands is a man who spends half his life visiting Rolls-Royce customers and dealers in locations as far-flung as Mongolia and Melbourne.
The 140 days he spends travelling from his base in Singapore each year must now include visits to New Zealand after the March opening of the first Rolls-Royce dealership in Newmarket, Auckland.
His "turf" takes in more than 20 countries, as he's responsible for ensuring that all Rolls-Royce customers in the Asia-Pacific region are totally satisfied, and he has a mentoring role for a counterpart who will eventually take care of the rapidly growing number of Chinese customers.
The diverse nature of the markets creates different challenges in each, says Rowlands.
''In Australia it's dust, in India it's the extremely high temperatures and the nature of the road conditions. In China it's isolation, as some of our customers live in very remote parts of the country. We also have a customer who lives right up in the north of Japan in Sapporo - I witnessed the heaviest snowfall that I've ever seen there.''
Wherever Rowlands goes, his laptop is the main tool he carries with him. Loaded with special software, it enables him to carry out a three-step process of interrogating, diagnosing and re-programming each car.
''We have become very skilled at remote support, and I can usually do anything that's necessary from the laptop. However, there are times when I need the help of the experts back in Goodwood, in which case we link up and they take control of my laptop. It's a weird sensation watching the cursor move in response to an input from the other side of the world. We've learned plenty of tricks of the [remote support] trade, and have never failed to solve whatever problem a customer has.”
One of the software programs loaded into the laptop can tell Rowlands how each car has been driven over the 10 days prior to his visit on a day-by-day basis.
"It's sometimes important to know the recent use of the car in order to make a repair," he says.
Such "white collar work" is a world away from Rowlands' earliest employment in the motor industry in Melbourne. His 42-year career began as a part-time car groomer at 11 years of age, and he progressed to a mechanical apprenticeship at a small service station that specialised in fixing Land Rovers.
"In my early days as a technician, we used to ream out kingpins (a wear-prone part of the steering system), and I doubt whether today's technicians even know what a kingpin is. Automotive technology is advancing at such a fast rate, and the complexity and sophistication of cars is doubling in an increasingly shorter time. I love technology, and have to keep up with every new development as I have to be able to do everything if the need arises. We're about to experience another revolution in the form of the electric vehicle."
Rolls-Royce has already exhibited an EV in the form of the 102EX concept car, and in Rowlands' opinion it is a signpost to the future. "We took the 102EX all over the world and surveyed our customers about it. It won't be long before I'm connecting my laptop to electric Rolls-Royces located in big cities like Singapore and Tokyo."
The bespoke manufacture of each Rolls-Royce means that every car is different, and Goodwood has developed some strategies for dealing with this.
For example, the grains of the lavish wood veneers that furnish the interior of a Phantom are coded by an H-shaped section inserted into the dashboard that can be sent to Goodwood to enable a part of identical grain to be created to replace any damaged section.
Rowlands has had some unusual requests from customers.
"One required a new glovebox lid with his autograph embossed upon it. I had to inform another of the code for the safe fitted to his car. The strangest request was when a customer asked to have a towbar fitted - which we politely declined."
Rowlands says he holds a privileged position in the motor industry, and the best part of the job is the people he meets.
"I'm not just talking about the customers but the technicians and dealers as well. They're all so passionate about cars, and about Rolls-Royce being a standard-bearer for excellence."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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