GAVIN Hartley says he's surprised to see that the golden Spirit of Ecstasy, the statuette on the hood of every Rolls-Royce model, is so popular among Chinese customers.
As the bespoke general manager at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, Hartley is used to helping his Chinese customers indulge their wildest fantasies to make their dream cars.
And the custom-design market is thriving in China, as the expanding economy sees a demand for better craftsmanship, sleek design and a dynamic driving experience.
More and more customers want their cars to be unique, and Rolls-Royce is one car maker willing to embrace the trend.
"About 90 percent of the company's mainland sales are tailor-made," said Jenny Zheng, general manager of Rolls-Royce China in an earlier interview.
The Rolls-Royce Phantom offers 15 standard and five contrast color combinations while providing 23 mono and contrast interiors available as standard for the line-up.
But customers can also order their own treadplates, embroidery, wood inlays and specific color schemes that are non-standard on the exterior and interior. Additional features such as dividing walls with intercoms, and TV and DVD entertainment can also be fitted.
The customized service has also been extended to redesign the interior equipment - everything from the glovebox to a refrigerator.
"We have noticed that Chinese customers have begun to have a stronger preference for the customized models. Some even go quite beyond our imagination," said Hartley.
He said that generally speaking, an extended wheel-base version was more popular on the Chinese mainland, as customers prefer to have a more spacious footrest area.
And red is one of the most popular colors - one that traditionally symbolizes happiness.
In particular, customers also want new designs that are personal. For example, one customer wanted his name embroidered on the headboard while another auto buyer ordered wheel covers in seven different colors - one for every day of the week.
Rolls-Royce's bespoke business in the Asia-Pacific region increased 40 percent last year from 2005, beating the 25-percent growth worldwide during the same period.
Key markets for bespoke cars in Asia-Pacific include China, Japan and Australia.
The trend for customization is also filtering down to the compact car segment, which is drawing auto parts makers to work with vehicle manufacturers to meet their needs.
A study conducted by Visteon, a leading automotive supplier of custom-made lights and accessories, showed that China will play a leading role in several key automotive areas in the coming years.
Chinese consumers are increasingly demanding more compact cars equipped with state-of-the-art components at competitive prices.
"The trends show enormous opportunity for companies that can drive their development by responding to the market changes," said Asaf Farashuddin, Visteon's vice president of strategy.