The pride of the British auto industry - Rolls-Royce passes into the hands of foreigners.

Alexander MELNIK. Photo Photobank / REX

One of New York's most fashionable restaurants, Four Seasons on Park Avenue, was flooded with a faint blue glow. Among the invitees that evening there was not a single mortal - solid celestials. Millionaires, aristocrats, managers and owners of the largest companies on the planet, show business stars, fashion artists … However, what happened in the restaurant on this March 1998 evening did not have anything to do with “ordinary taxpayers” - there was an idea American rich men of the new Rolls-Royce model - the “Silver Seraph” worth 220 thousand dollars.

Watching the ballerina’s graceful pas - the girl depicted the Rolls-Royce symbol, the “Spirit of Ecstasy” figurine, whose small silver copies have been adorning the radiators of almost the most prestigious cars in the world for eight decades - Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, English husband of Queen Elizabeth II, quietly told a Rolls-Royce press attache sitting next to him: “I believe it’s incredibly disappointing to sell such a glorious company, isn't it?” Richard Charlesworth respectfully replied: “I must say that the reaction to the planned sale of the company was our headquarters is very positive. " “But why are they even going to sell Rolls-Royce?” Asked Prince Philip. “Has your business ceased to be profitable?”

Recall: back in 1971, one of the oldest British firms was on the verge of bankruptcy, but, having split into two - the automotive and engine manufacturing companies, survived. Since then, production has always been profitable. So, in 1990, Rolls-Royce Motor Karz Limited sold 3, 300 Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars, receiving £ 3.8 million net.

But the trouble is that the market for top-class cars is not only very small, it is also subject to extreme fluctuations. So, in the record year for Rolls-Royce 1990, 90 thousand such cars were sold all over the world, and in the past - only 54 thousand. Accordingly, demand for Rolls-Royces and Bentley fell - only 1918 cars of these brands were sold.

Meanwhile, according to Graham Morris, president of the firm, 2, 500 cars must be produced annually to maintain profitability. It was then that the shareholders of the Vickers military-industrial concern, which owns the Rolls-Royce, faced the question of selling a beautiful, but very expensive toy.

On January 19, Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler-Benz and Toyota executives received an official offer to buy a Rolls-Royce. The first to reject him in Stuttgart - they already managed to invest more than half a million dollars in the development of their own luxury Maybach limousines. Then the Japanese refused - not such an economic situation now, to get involved in costly adventures. Volkswagen was silent, but BMW immediately agreed, even calling the price - $ 680 million.

And here in the British Isles aroused: the pride of the nation, the last of the largest automobile companies in England, owned by local capital, passes into the hands of foreigners! Lawyer Michael Shrimpton, having gathered the Rolls-Royce enthusiasts, immediately organized the “Rescue Committee” of the famous brand. What incredible projects this venerable collection did not offer! One of the most famous British engine engineers Al Melling even undertook to design - absolutely free! - motor for Rolls-Royce. After all, BMW threatened to interrupt the supply of its 12- and 8-cylinder units in case of failure.

“The committee will only ruin the brand, ” BMW President Bernd Pischetsrider admonished the frustrated British. - No matter how much money you collect, it is still not enough for full-scale investments in the development of new models. Judge for yourself, why do we have to lay out such a ton of money - so that, having captured the company, to degrade its reputation? The only thing needed is to protect the individuality of the product. And we will do it. ”

Further Pischetsrider announced the development plans of the company. In order to bring production to 6, 000 cars a year by 2005, another 1.6 billion dollars will be needed. By that time, a new Bentley model will be put on the conveyor (estimated price is 130 thousand), developed on the BMW 5 Series platform.

In early April, Vickers agreed to the deal. And suddenly Volkswagen offered 850 million. What is called - the effect was great! Vickers shareholders, who had not dreamed of such a tidbit, hesitated. BMW once again recalled the supply of engines and even threatened sanctions by the Economic Commission for Europe. In response, Volkswagen … for more than two hundred million dollars bought the Cosworth engine building company (from the same Vickers, by the way!) And increased its stake - 960 million!

I must say, doubters were even on the board of directors of Volkswagen itself. However, chairman of the council Ferdinand Piech firmly decided to insist on his own. And the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche Sr. enjoys a reputation as a stubborn, impatient, warlike visionary, accustomed to always go his own way. Few of the employees of Piech decide to argue with him. Even when they’re right. But with the current chairman, Volkswagen doubles profits for the third year in a row! Argue with the business instinct of such a person? Dismiss

Before the decisive meeting of the supervisory board of the supervisory board, Piech ordered the “Silver Seraphim” to be placed in the lobby. And steel magnates, and politicians, members of the production council and bankers who were members of the Volkswagen’s oversight committee, surrendered. They were happy to sit in luxurious seats, their hands reverently stroking the steering wheel. The Spirit of Ecstasy has done its job. “They rejoiced like little children, ” chucked the pleased Piech.

So, the deal has taken place. Volkswagen has promised that in the next three years it will invest another 1.7 billion dollars in the enterprise, bring production to ten thousand cars a year, and offer a “cheap” Bentley (110 thousand dollars) on the Audi A8 platform. And then thunder struck …

July 25, it became known that, having paid the engine company Rolls-Royce Pls $ 65.2 million, BMW acquired all the rights to the Rolls-Royce trademark. Thus, Volkswagen, having spent a total of almost three and a half billion, will receive by no means the most modern factory in England, where it will be able to produce only Bentley cars, and even those have already been left without engines. Here you have the business genius of Pieha!

But after three days, the unrest subsided. Volkswagen and BMW have agreed that until 2003, both Bentley and Rolls-Royces equipped with BMW units will go off the assembly line of the Cru plant. The Bavarians, meanwhile, will build a plant in England, where from 2003 they will start producing Rolls-Royce … of their own design.

It may seem that Volkswagen in this situation seems almost a laughing stock: to buy a company, having forgotten to acquire the rights to a trademark ?! However, we will not rush to conclusions. Better look through the January issue of the authoritative journal Otokar. “The Germans developed a brilliant scheme, ” wrote the English weekly five days before Vickers sent out his proposals to the four concerns. - “Rolls-Royce” will go to BMW, and “Bentley” - to “Volkswagen”.

And so it happened. And if from the very beginning we assume such a development of events, there is nothing to be surprised that the Volkswagen is reviving the Horch brand - it is these limousines that will occupy the top line in the model range of the concern and will compete with Rolls-Royce and Maybach. Well, BMW in one way or another will have to spend at least three billion to meet the main competitors fully equipped in 2003.

The fact that the game is worth the candle says the example of Ford. In 1989, having bought a Jaguar for $ 2.7 billion, the Americans found themselves almost at a trough - an outdated factory, a miserable distribution network, and rather poor quality of products. But having invested almost seven billion more, Ford has achieved steady growth of profits from the English company and now even plans to promote production from 45 to 250 thousand a year.

“Jaguar”, replicated in the amount of a quarter of a million copies, ten thousand “Bentley”, six thousand “Rolls-Royces” per year - they say that these brands will inevitably lose their image, giving way to the superb piece piece “Maybach” and “Horce”. Is sad But these are the laws of economics: small enterprises are not able to provide high quality and at the same time maintain profitability. And fans of the “Spirit of Ecstasy" can only bitterly reread the words of Peter Royce, the grand-nephew of one of the founders of the company: “This decision was made by ignorant moneybags. They could earn more on pornography if they are already so interested in money … ".

In the winter of 1998, a conveyor was launched for the first time in the Rolls-Royce factory at the Crue plant. It cost $ 65 million and moves at the speed of 1 car in 17 days.