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Thu 4 Mar 2010 07:21 AM

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Rolls-Royce upbeat on ME despite 10% sales dip

EXCLUSIVE: Outgoing CEO says region to see double digit growth within next four years.

Luxury car maker Rolls-Royce saw its sales in the Middle East dip 10 percent in 2009 but the company said it remains upbeat about the region.

Outgoing CEO Tom Purves told Arabian Business that he expected to see growth back to double figures within the next three to four years.

“2008 was a record year for us and in 2009 we had a drop in sales,” he said in his last interview in the Middle East before he retires next month.

Global sales dropped by 17 percent last year and the Middle East saw a drop of 10 percent, said Purves, who believed the collapse of Lehman Brothers was the main catalyst for the drop in sales.

The downfall of the high profile investment bank led to an “end of extravagant shows of wealth” and Purves said he didn’t think the luxury car market would see the sort of growth figures seen in 2008 “for some substantial period of time".

In the midst of the recession, the British-based car maker launched the more compact Rolls-Royce Ghost model and Purves said its popularity is what will be the motivator for any recovery in the coming years.

The Ghost model costs $297,016 before tax, compared to $474,639 for the Phantom. However, Purves dismissed any notion that the company was considering introducing a scaled down or budget priced model.

“You cannot build a small Rolls-Royce so we don’t have plans to go down in size and certainly don’t have plans to go down in price,” he said.

While Purves described 2009 as “a tough year,” he still believed in the Middle East region.

“The Middle East market remains a tremendously important market for us and going forward it will continue to be so,” he said.

The Middle East accounts for about fifth of Rolls-Royce’s global sales and it currently has eight dealerships in the region.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi are among the its top five dealerships in the world and the UAE and Saudi Arabia and among its top five biggest selling markets.

Purves, who was made CEO of the world famous automotive company in 2008, is planning to retire next month.

He said he believes his successor will see sales growth return in the region in the coming years and said he would be surprised if growth rates do not return to “around 10 or 15 percent per annum in the Middle East” within the next three to four years.

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