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Challenging Tesla: The Last Non-Electric Rolls-Royce

NEW YORK (TheStreet) --I recently drove the Rolls-Royce Wraith, which is the BMW-owned luxury brand's all-new coupe, with a base price of $285,000. I believe this to be Rolls-Royce's last non-electric car, marking the end of a century-old era of making gasoline-only cars.

Rolls-Royce was purchased by BMW in 1999 and delivered its all-new car, the Phantom four-door sedan, in January 2003. Since then, it has added a variety of new models as well as updated the Phantom a year ago.

Rolls-Royce is approaching 4,000 cars per year, with prices starting under $300,000 but typically approaching $500,000. A large percentage of the cars are "bespoke" -- or customized, with all sorts of leather, paint and other special one-off jobs. These are high-margin options.

You see, once you go much above $100,000 for a car, such things as the basic body, engine and so forth, doesn't get much better. There are diminishing returns. So how do you justify prices in the $300,000-to-$500,000 range?

Rolls-Royce has figured out that it's exclusivity and individuality that can sustain such high prices. Ultra-luxury buyers are eccentric and strong-willed. They are willing to pay a premium for very precise details. They basically want to design their own car. Rolls-Royce gives them that option, and every Rolls is hand-built.

So what about this all-new coupe, the Wraith? It just entered production in September, and it marks a new styling for Rolls-Royce. The back of the car looks like a hatchback.

The doors are giant suicide-doors ("coach doors") and they close with a button by the A-pillar if you can't reach the handle. Getting into the rear seat is almost as hard as in any coupe, but once you get in there, you actually have good room for two large adults.

I'm 6 feet tall and I fit just fine when I got into the rear seat. Unlike so many other cars these days, there is sufficient headroom. Foot and knee room is also slightly more than adequate. The armrests on both sides are outstanding, because they sit high, so as to actually provide support. In this coupe, you actually enjoy riding in the back seat. Take note, Cadillac!

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