Rolls-Royce is suffering from an identity crisis

The car company says its struggling aerospace namesake is weighing on its brand.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 24 Nov 2015

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and Rolls-Royce PLC parted ways more than 40 years ago, but it seems a lot of consumers are still struggling to tell the two apart. That hasn’t always been a problem. When both were booming the super-luxury car maker was happy for the engine manufacturer to piggyback on its reputation for quality.

But now the aerospace giant has begun to weigh on the automotive company's brand. Rolls-Royce PLC has had a tricky few years and things got even worse last week when it issued yet another profit warning and its shares tanked a further 18%. For Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, which is now a subsidiary of BMW, this historical association has become a liability.

‘We know how famous the brand is, and as much as we have done to make clear that they are separate, for many people it is hard to see the difference,’ the car company’s boss Torsten Müller-Ötvös told the Telegraph. ‘When people read about turmoil at Rolls-Royce in a newspaper it causes concern.’

The link between financial performance and brand value might not always be especially pronounced – the concerns of shareholders aren’t necessarily shared by customers. But Rolls-Royce’s brand is all about projecting success, and it’s easy to see how a captain of industry, an Arabian sheikh or a Russian oligarch could want to distance themselves from a business that some perceive to be failing. 

The motor company has made similar noises before, issuing a press release last November stressing the difference between the two businesses. ‘Rolls-Royce Motor Cars is a completely distinct company from Rolls-Royce plc which manufactures engines for aircraft, ships and land applications,’ the statement urged.

‘Rolls-Royce Motor Cars recently announced that it is on track for a record year in 2014. The company is poised to deliver a record of over 4,000 super-luxury motor cars, making 2014 the fifth consecutive record year and the highest in the marque’s history.’

It seems the message didn’t get through (perhaps unsurprisingly), but there’s not much else Herr Müller-Ötvös can do about it. A rebrand is surely an absolute no-no, and he would need the persuasive powers of a hostage negotiator to convince the other company to give up its own name. Unless Rolls-Royce Plc collapses or is acquired (a prospect which, to be fair, seems increasingly possible), its automotive cousin will probably just have to lump it and drive on.

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