Potential Rolls-Royce buyers get weekend at a resort

Any car buyer who has slogged across dealers’ lots, past the balloons and free hot dogs, only to face high-pressure salespeople, would hardly believe this scene:

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Seven couples spending an all-expenses-paid weekend at a sun-drenched resort overlooking the Pacific in order to get a low-key introduction to a car. Not just any car, mind you. It’s the new baby Rolls-Royce, the Ghost. But calling this a baby is a little like calling the Queen Mary a dinghy.

The 6,482-pound Ghost is 17 inches shorter than Rolls’ other model, the Phantom, but still a full-size car by any measure. It’s powered by a 12-cylinder engine that delivers 563 horsepower. The cabin is decked out in acres of leather and varnished wood, and the car is filled with high-tech appointments.

Price? A stunning $245,000 for the base model.

“We wanted to offer a Rolls-Royce that is easy to use on a daily basis,” said Paul Ferraiolo, president of Rolls-Royce North America. The Phantom, which starts at $380,000, is more of a weekend or special-occasion car, he said.

The stakes are high. Even though Rolls-Royce was pleased to sell 336 cars in the U.S. last year, the Ghost faces a new rival: the Bentley Mulsanne, which will retail for about $285,000. Rolls-Royce and Bentley, the venerable British brands, were split more than a decade ago. BMW now owns Rolls — and provides its engines. Volkswagen owns Bentley.

It wasn’t clear whether the guests — who were wined, dined and given an overview of the Ghost before taking a tour of Orange County — bought the idea of the Ghost as an everyday car. Most everyday cars, for instance, don’t get the Ghost’s 13 miles per gallon in the city, 20 mpg highway.

“There is no such thing as a non-ostentatious Rolls-Royce,” declared Andy Linsky, a real estate broker from Palm Springs, Calif. His pride is a 1965 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III that he drives about 200 miles a year.

What’s so special about a Rolls-Royce? “That incredible fragrance from the leather when you open the door,” he says. “I love the Old World heritage and attention to detail.”

Ferraiolo says Linsky is typical of Rolls-Royce owners. He describes them as generally wealthy people — star athletes, executives, entertainers — who want to sample the finer things in life but aren’t necessarily tycoons.

Rolls-Royce — which measures its annual new car sales in the hundreds, not hundreds of thousands — is intent on personal attention. Guests spending the weekend at the Pelican Hill resort here didn’t have to endure the auto equivalent of a time-share presentation.

Mostly, they got a chance to try out features, such as the car’s parking system, which allows the driver to judge progress making it into a parking space using cameras mounted all around the car. Or to get them to hear how silent the cabin remains at 70 miles per hour, even with an engine bigger than the one in most muscle cars. “There’s no sales pitch at all,” Ferraiolo says. At least, not a high-pressure one.

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