Thailand - MGC-Asia, the Thai distributor for a string of prestige automotive brands that now stretches into the double digits, has created a special event, dubbed “The Pinnacle of Luxury” that’s focused around exciting new arrivals in Bangkok from two of the British brands in its diverse portfolio, namely Rolls Royce and Aston Martin.
In terms of Rolls-Royce, it’s celebrating the arrival here of the latest creation from what it terms its ‘Collection Car’ programme, the Wraith Eagle VIII, one of just 50 being built and the only one that’s coming to this market. Meanwhile, for Aston Martin the news was that the latest ‘AMR’ performance upgrade for the DB11 is now available to retro fit to the existing V12 versions already on the roads here and that will give owner’s the opportunity to extract more power, quicker acceleration, better responses and a higher top speed from their cars, updating them to the new DB11 AMR specification through the application of a new software programme.
The two brands have almost adjoining boutique showrooms nestling on an upper floor of the city centre’s sprawling Siam Paragon shopping mall and that represented the perfect upscale location to unveil these two new cars to members of the Thai media.
First, the Wraith Eagle VIII is the brand’s latest ‘Collection Car’, a concept initiated to produce limited edition and highly customised cars in small numbers – in this case just 50 will be made and sold worldwide. The work is carried out at Rolls-Royce’s Goodwood factory by its specialist department, dubbed the ‘Bespoke Collective’.
Luxury and storied brands always like reach for key moments from their rich histories, to weave epic past achievements into their narratives, remembering and repackage them for the contemporary era – and in terms of Rolls-Royce they sure have a lot of historic moments to choose from.
It’s not just super luxury cars though but aircraft engines that bear the famous “RR” logo and it’s exactly one century now since two intrepid airmen, Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Brown, made the first non-stop transatlantic flight.
History recalls this as a truly epic journey where things went wrong almost from take-off. In particular their radio and navigation equipment failed and they had to navigate safely to their landing place by using the stars. The pair flew a modified WWI biplane powered by a pair of 20.3-litre 350 bhp Rolls-Royce ‘Eagle VIII’ engines – which were probably the only things that didn’t go wrong on the journey.
It’s one of the great adventures of the last century and to commemorate that amazing achievement exactly a century on Rolls-Royce has created the Wraith Eagle VIII.
The car is packed with many reminders of this flight, all wrapped into the overall design in a sophisticated and integrated manner. Starting with the exterior, the gunmetal and grey colours evoke a plane in the sky with a brass feature line separating them which Rolls-Royce says aims to convey an early hint of what is to be found in the interior. The vertical ribs of the black radiator grille offer a hint of the cowlings of the Eagle VIII engines while the massive wheels are polished and have a translucent finish.
This Wraith Eagle VIII fits neatly into a strengthening of the brand in this region – as well as a growing demand for bespoke cars, as Ian Grant, Global Client Sales Manager, present for the launch, explained. “What’s exciting is to now to see customer order banks exceeding six or nine months,” he said. “Korea and Japan are our largest markets, but that’s not to take away the importance of the South East Asia markets, particularly here in Thailand, this is one of our most exciting bespoke markets.
“The Thai customers are very interested and quite particular about the bespoke levels they bring to their cars,” he continued. “Ultimate design and the contribution to what’s becoming our bespoke range is actually quite a lot higher here in Thailand.”
But it’s inside the Wraith Eagle VIII where the craftsmanship really lies. There is a similar grey and black leather colour scheme for the seats to the exterior and everywhere there are references to brass, constant reminders of the sextant that was integral to the daring mission a century ago. Brass speaker covers are etched with ‘1,800 miles’, the flight distance from Newfoundland to Ireland, while the ‘RR’ logos are stitched into the seats with brass-coloured threads.
On the driver’s door there is a brass plaque holding the famous quote that Winston Churchill made about the flight.
The seemingly random pattern on the dashboard fascia, says Rolls-Royce, ‘represents a modern-day abstract interpretation of the view the pair would have enjoyed as finally, their craft cleared the thick fog and cloud’.
“How we designed this, basically they vaporised gold and brass and pulled it through the metal inside a vacuum chamber and then polished it through,” further adds Grant. “Such a high level of craftsmanship goes into producing it. This is a particular and exacting way of putting together this design.”
According to history, the plane’s instruments soon became frozen due to the high altitude and conditions leaving the intrepid flyers with nothing more than an eerie green glow from the panel lights at night. To commemorate this, the dashboard clock has an ice effect background and at night it emits a green glow. The clock also has lines that are inspired by a compass and the landing coordinates have been engraved just below.
Rolls-Royce takes personalisation to the max and they leave no stone unturned in their quest of ensuring customers can realise exactly what they want with their car. “Ordinarily, that discussion starts off with maybe the person or the family bringing in a memento that’s important to them, maybe a family crest or something that’s dear to their hearts,” says Grant.
“Quite often we can manage that request through our offices in Singapore,” he continues. “But the best way and the most exciting way is to take that customer to Goodwood, home of Rolls-Royce where you have the whole of the bespoke atelier, we have all the textures and materials and of course the artisan designers on hand to feed and work with that customer for the information to build for the customer their truly bespoke car.
“It’s a beautiful experience to be collected from perhaps your London hotel and driven to Goodwood in a Phantom [and] spend a day with our designers,” he adds. “We have a beautiful restaurant and dining gallery within Goodwood where the customers can have the cuisine of their choice, it’s a beautiful way to emotionally connect. What’s going to come out at the end of it is a truly bespoke item that’s going to be dear to you.”
Back to the car. Probably the most striking feature is the headlining and it’s something one could very easily miss whilst making a cursory glance around this car which already has enough interesting and unique details to overload the eyeballs.
Rather than try to describe what they have achieved with the headlining, it’s probably easier to lift the relevant paragraph straight from the brand’s press release which reads: “1,183 starlight fibres show the celestial arrangement at the time of the flight in 1919, the flight path and constellations are embroidered in brass thread, whilst the exact moment the pair left the cloud to navigate by the stars is indicated by a red fibre optic light.
“Clouds are embroidered and a plaque reading, ‘The celestial arrangement at the halfway point 00:17am June 15th 1919, 50” 07’ Latitude North – 31” Longitude West’ shows the half-way point of the momentous journey,” the press release adds.
Expect to see more unique cars from Rolls-Royce land here in the future and expect to see more of the brand, especially as it now has Cullinan on its books, the ultimate luxury SUV in a market where luxury SUVs are a fast-growing trend. There already are SUV options on sale here from Porsche, Maserati, Lamborghini, Bentley and others. But Cullinan is bigger and more luxurious than everything else. And more expensive.
“We have seen growth in this region, not only in this year but the years preceding,” says Grant. “The reason I use that statement is around Cullinan, [it] has given us a natural growth. But what’s exciting about Cullinan is we are seeing around 50% of sales going to first time Rolls-Royce owners so that’s given us natural growth. At the same time other models [are selling well], particularly, Ghost has had one of its strongest years and that’s surprising in its twilight years as we retire that beautiful car.”
So where are the new customers drawn to Cullinan’s bold attributes coming from? Grant reckons there’s a lot of awareness of this luxury giant of the road. “With Rolls-Royce we do very little media advertising, you never see us advertising on TV for example, the customers do come to us,” he says. “We find our customers are very aware of what’s happening in the world of luxury and the world of bespoke.
“When a new model from Rolls-Royce comes they’re normally much more informed about the vehicles than you would ever imagine,” he continues. “So, they do come to us, particularly with the information and designs in their minds.”
Grant gives an example of the immediate waves Cullinan has made. “When we launched the car in Australia, we launched it and we had some news TV networks working with us, by the end of that interview we had our first order from a lady in Australia who had already designed the car in her head,” he says. “So, she called us and told us exactly what she wanted and placed the first order in the country and she was unknown to us as a Rolls-Royce client at that stage.”
The brand’s ‘Black Badge’ specification level has been rolled out onto Cullinan which opens the SUV up to new buyers. “Black Badge is a model line of its own right,” says Grant. “It’s available on Ghost, Wraith and now on Cullinan as well.”
It offers something of a more sportier image. “The silver badges are inverted so now it’s a black badge, there is a higher torque output on the vehicle, there is a different suspension and braking setup and there are upgrades in the gearbox to give that vehicle much more urgency so [with] all of that combined it’s a much more bold outlook of the car and it’s more of risk takers car, it’s more unapologetic the way it stands as a Rolls-Royce, it’s a lifestyle choice,” says Grant. “It also has a sports exhaust, so the car’s got a bit more growl.”
They prefer to term it as an alternative ethos, rather than a sports model but Black Badge is certainly strategically important now, making up around 30% of the model range. “I think that’s appealing more to the younger market,” says Grant. “As the younger market is getting more interested in moving towards our brand I believe that percentage of Black Badge will grow and won’t remain at 30%.”
This is going to be the sole Wraith Eagle VIII to come here. “No others are homologated specifically for Thailand,” confirms Grant. “This is the only one that should be in the kingdom of Thailand.”
It’s a trailblazer too. “The only other right-hand drive one in the region has just arrived in Australia,” he adds.
Expect more ‘Collection Cars’ here in the future as Grant reckons they chime with Thai buyers. “What’s particular about the Asean market and referring directly to Thailand is the desire for uniqueness and one offs is much higher than I see across the rest of the region,” he says. “I think it’s the desire to have the best and something that no one else has and is true to you, a totally unique piece.”
With that it’s a short 25 metre walk to Aston Martin’s boutique showroom where they’re taking the wraps of a DB11 coupé now upgraded to the new ‘AMR’ specification.
The DB11 V12 only debuted in Geneva in 2016 before hitting the showrooms later that year and it caused a real sensation as the motoring press ‘en masse’ raved about its dynamic capabilities. The next summer it was joined by a V8-powered version.
However, the DB11 V12 has just been superseded by the new DB11 AMR which is even faster and more powerful as well as being generally much improved.
To bring that value of that extra performance oomph to Thai buyers who have previously bought the DB11 V12, Aston Martin is offering a retrofit software upgrade.
“We bring the DB11 V12 to tune up with the AMR performance kit,” explained Boonmanop Nuchnoul, Marketing Manager for Aston Martin Bangkok. “We can download the setup of the programme, which is supported by Aston Martin Lagonda, to our ECU and then we inspect everything about the car with the support team, the regional team that are very specialised in tuning the car.”
That upgrade elevates the existing DB11 V12 to the same performance level as the new AMR version, Nuchnoul notes. “The power is up to 630 hp, 30 hp up, and the maximum speed goes from 322 [hp] to 334 [hp] and also the details of the exhaust and the response of the throttle, everything is a little bit up. Overall the 0-100 [km/h acceleration time] is developed from 3.9 [seconds] to 3.7 [seconds].
“It’s the same numbers of the AMR car, the DB11 AMR, that car we didn’t order to Thailand,” he adds. “But this car we use this to boost up the every DB11 in Thailand.”
Since the DB11 came out in 2016 more than twenty have been sold in Thailand the split is slightly in favour of the V8 but that still leaves the V12 into double figures.
The upgrade makes a good difference so Nuchnoul expects a big uptake. “The customers who test the car already make a decision to tune their car [as] when we compare with the horsepower we get it’s very competitive,” he says. “We just do it for two weeks and customers, two persons [so far, both] make a decision to tune it. We expect 100% of our customers to tune the car.”
Aston Martin has good brand awareness here and the team at Aston Martin Bangkok are working hard to build on that and raise their volumes. “We started six years [ago],” explains Nuchnoul. “We need time to make our brand stronger, we invest a lot about brand awareness, we try the big events [and] try everywhere, everyhow to generate more brand awareness and more sales so it’s become better and better [for] the brand situation and market share.”
That strategy of getting out and about and putting the brand in front of people scored quite a hit during this year’s Bangkok Motor Show, held back in March, where they brought in the completely crazy Valkyrie AMR Pro. Unquestionably, the sensational track-only version of this hypercar was the star of the show.
The Valkyrie, designed by Adrian Newey has been a huge hit around the world and given Aston Martin all the buzz associated with having the most extreme production hypercar. The latest Vantage, with its new styling direction, has also been well received by customers and just these past few days the distinctive new DBX SUV has also been revealed and opened up a new market segment for the brand. There’s lot for Aston Martin Bangkok to build on going forward.
“We aim to sell more than 30 cars a year [but] it’s very tough in a high tax country,” Nuchnoul adds. However, their work is starting to paying off as Aston Martin becomes more of an option alongside perennial sportscar favourites here, Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini.