At one point in time the venerable prestige Rolls-Royce fine motor cars were made and manufactured in the U.S.A. – the United States of America. However this early example of marketing and production offshore and off home base was doomed to failure.
A bare six months after the signing of the historic contract between Charles Rolls and Henry Royce the export drive of Rolls-Royce was on its way. Early on in September 1906 Charles Royce was on his way to the United States, taking with him four cars as samples of the company’s wares. One of these cars was sold almost as soon as it was unloaded; one went straight away to Texas. The remaining two vehicles served as sales and marketing vehicles – an example of the fine craft and attention to detail that the company become world famous and known for. One of the cars was kept on the road as a demonstration model, while the other was put on display at the New York Auto Show. That first appearance at the auto show was a great success for Rolls Royce as well: an additional four orders were taken for new cars. As well an American distributor jumped to the plate.
Business grew for Rolls- Royce in America to the point that in the 12 month period before the beginning of the First World War, fully 100 vehicles were sold. By this time the owners and management of the firm had come to the conclusion of the great sales potential for Rolls-Royce motorcars in the United States. Judged on current trends and market sales information and experience, they came to the conclusion that the American market for their fine products was larger and richer than anything that they could expect to attain in their home market and current manufacturing domain – England. Import restrictions and tariffs would be the limiting factor for Rolls-Royce in terms of both added costs to the final price of the car to American consumers, who would have to absorb the import tariffs on their vehicles and the profitability of Rolls-Royce in America.
The die was cast. As promptly as possible American manufacturing facilities were set up. This was to be a full Rolls-Royce manufacturing facility in America. A factory itself was purchased in Springfield Massachusetts. Manufacturing was promptly commenced under the direct supervision of none other than Henry Royce himself. Production was done mainly by local workers, aided and supervised by a fleet of 50 tradesmen from the British Derby factory itself. These British workers actually physically immigrated to America permanently with their families as well.
Production at this Springfield plant commenced in 1921 with Rolls-Royce firmly stating that the product from this auto plant would be the equal of anything built at the home plant located at Derby England. The plan was that parts would be shipped and assembled in the US with custom made coachwork made by existing prestigious American firms. Interestingly enough over time the number of items made locally in the US, as opposed to Britain, began to actually increase, not decrease. However the consistency of the product, in terms of product line and actual product began to deviate from the strict British made product. Only the first 25 rolling chassis were actually identical to the Derby England factory items. As time went on there were more and more deviations from the strict British product. Some of this may be due to the personal preferences and procedures of the different local American coachbuilders. After each was a premium established firms with distinct products, styles and methods previously. Some was due to the requests from the American customers, their ability to individualize and personalize their American made car to their individual preferences and styles.
What did in the American Roll-Royce? For one thing cost. Substantial costs were incurred in converting the cars from right hand British drive to left hand American. As a result of the increased costs incurred, the selling price of these American made Rolls-Royces was not nearly as competitive to other automotive products available on the U.S. market for prestige automotive products. Next the primary U.S. coachmaker for Rolls-Royce, the Brewster Coachbuilding firm, fell into financial difficulties. Then along came the 1929 stock market crash. The American Rolls-Royce might of continued save for one major marketing blunder. The British parent firm introduced a dynamite model – the Phantom, The car was not made in the US nor even made available, by import of 100 cars, till a year later. The car had great reception with the prestige auto market in the USA. However by the time it was decided to manufacture this hit product to meet the American demand the actual Phantom model was replaced by an ultra high tech and sophisticated model – The Phantom II. With the retooling costs incurred the calculation was that each American Rolls-Royce Phantom II car unit produced and sold would cost the company an astounding 1 million to produce in comparison to the 1929 customer price threshold for luxury prestige automobiles of only $ 20,000.
The fate of Rolls-Royce American manufactured products was sealed. The firm honored the last 200 orders for their cars. By 1935 these orders were completed and delivered to their customers.
That was the ending of the Rolls-Royce experiment of producing an American made prestige car product.