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Sat., March 21, 2009, midnight

In this down economy – where some automakers are asking for government bailouts – you might wonder: How are companies like Rolls-Royce doing?

The answer is: Rolls-Royce sales are down, too, but only a bit.

In February 2009, the company sold 36 cars in the United States. Last February, it sold 37.

That’s the sort of downturn a lot of luxury car companies could live with. Bentley sales, for example, dropped from 231 cars in February 2008 to 69 last month. Lamborghini sales dropped from 84 to 70, and Ferrari sales dropped from 135 to 90.

“We’re doing well,” said Monte Patterson, who sells Rolls-Royces at the company’s Orlando, Fla., dealership, called Ultimate Motor Works. With 30 dealers in America, Rolls-Royce has averaged 2.4 sales per dealer this year, and Patterson said Ultimate has long been one of the brand’s top stores.

That said, it is never easy to sell a car that starts at $380,000. To help, Rolls dispatched product specialist Brian Clark to Orlando to host special test drives of the company’s models for current and prospective customers of the dealership.

The top-of-the-line model is the Phantom Extended Wheel Base model, (or EWB, if you want to sound like you know your Rolls models) stretched to give the rear-seat passengers extra foot room.

“This is our flagship,” Clark said.

It features three types of leather inside; wood trim consisting of 29 layers; and an optional “Starlight” headliner, which has dozens of tiny fiber-optic lights peeking through the perforated leather. This car starts at $450,000, Clark said, “but this one has a few options,” including that lighted headliner. Total price: $540,000.

Rolls is now owned by BMW, and the four models – all part of the Phantom family, differing in the number of doors and overall size – are powered by the same 6.7-liter BMW-built V-12 engine, with a six-speed automatic transmission.

Fuel mileage? An EPA-rated 11 mpg city, 18 mpg highway.

Despite a weight of nearly 3 tons, acceleration is brisk, and handling – thanks to an air-controlled suspension – is better than you think, and the ride is, of course, sort of like your living-room sofa, if that sofa had 453 horsepower.

Orlando Sentinel


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