SAN DIEGO – With a big boost from the new Phantom Drophead Coupe now being delivered to buyers, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars is on track to reach record sales this year, a top U.S. official says.

"We're operationally profitable, and we're on track to achieve everything we set out to achieve (when BMW AG acquired the brand)," says Paul Ferraiolo, president of North American operations.

He forecasts Rolls will crack the 1,000-unit sales mark next year.

Ferraiolo, who became president July 1, arrives in the U.S. at a fortuitous moment thanks to the Drophead's introduction. Rolls-Royce expects to sell about 100 of the convertibles this year and about 200 in 2008. That should push the brand's sales above the 806 units it delivered in 2006.

A Rolls' spokesman says the Drophead, which bases at $407,000, probably will boast an average transaction price approaching $435,000. There's also a $2,000 transportation charge and a gas-guzzler tax of $3,000.

Rolls started accepting letters of intent to buy the new model immediately after the concept debuted at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2004.

The Drophead began moving down the assembly line at the Rolls Goodwood, U.K., plant at the end of March. The first five convertibles for customer delivery were completed in mid-July.

The topless Rolls is built on the same line as the standard and extended-wheelbase Phantom sedans at the combined rate of four to five cars per day. Output will increase to six units per day in September, after the plant resumes production following a vacation shutdown during the final three weeks of August.

It takes 350 worker-hours to build the Drophead, excluding the engine, which is made by Rolls-Royce personnel in BMW's Dingolfing, Germany, plant in the same section where BMW M-series engines are produced.

The Drophead is powered by a 6.7L V-12 that generates 453 hp. Maximum torque is 531 lb.-ft. (720 Nm). The engine is mated to a ZF 6HP32 6-speed transmission.

As with an increasing number of luxury cars today, shifting into drive and reverse is accomplished by pushing a lever under the steering wheel up or down. Shifting into park is accomplished by pressing a button on the same stalk.

Rolls claims the car has an electronically governed top speed of 149 mph (240 km/h). Acceleration from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) is 5.6 seconds. The U.S.-spec coupe/convertible rides on Michelin Pax run-flat tires mounted on 20.5-in. wheels.

The monster aluminum spaceframe is built at a BMW plant also located in Dingolfing. Rolls uses components from 400 suppliers for the car.

Fifty new employees were hired at the beginning of this year to work on the new convertible at the U.K. plant. Goodwood now boasts 550 workers, and there are another 150 contractors who toil in the facility’s leather and wood shops. The bulk of the employees work full time, a Rolls spokesman says.

About 40% of the cars will be sold in the U.S. Another 15%-20% will be sold in all of Europe and 15% in the Middle East. China, the fastest-growing Rolls market, is expected to sell about as many vehicles this year as Japan, Rolls’ third-largest market.

The auto maker says it controls 32% of the market for cars priced above $200,000 and 57% of those with prices above $300,000.

That's a natural outcome of having super-rich customers. Ferraiolo says most Rolls buyers have three or more homes. About 30% have access to a corporate jet. More than 40% have yachts, and one owns a nuclear power plant.

However, Ferraoilo admits that due to the private nature of Rolls’ clients not all of these statistics are fully documented. "I don't have the data to back it up – and I'm never going to get it," he says.

CEOs of privately held, not publicly traded, companies are among Rolls’ more frequent customers, and one-third of Rolls owners have easily recognizable names and faces, Ferraiolo says. Many are younger than 40 years old, and the vast majority are men.

Rolls has fewer dealers now than it did prior to BMW ownership. There are 31 dealers in the U.S. and one each in Mexico and Canada. The Rolls showroom in Beverly Hills, CA, is the highest-volume U.S. store, tied with a Tokyo dealership as the top-seller worldwide.

The Drophead Coupe is a big vehicle, but despite its size and weight it cruises surprisingly smoothly and navigates sharp turns with aplomb.

It is definitely not just a chopped-top Phantom.

"Simply removing the Phantom's roof could have made a great convertible, but it wouldn't have made a perfect convertible," chief designer Ian Cameron says.

Every exterior panel is new and tailored to the shorter body of the car. Designers eschewed use of bleaches, stains and lacquers for interior materials.

But like the Phantom sedan, the convertible has rearward-opening coach doors. Rolls-Royce had to obtain an exemption from the European Union safety regulations to use them.

The car’s hood has five layers of acoustic insulation to keep the interior quiet. A fabric roof is used because the auto maker sensed its customers would prefer that to a folding hardtop. It also stores in a smaller space, leaving more cargo room.

Much of the appeal of any Rolls is the quality of the build and the luxury materials used, in this case flawless leather throughout and special teak decking behind the rear seats.

Elephants are employed to deliver the teak for the car. Most teak is grown in Southeast Asian forests and floated down rivers, giving the wood a greenish hue Rolls designers found unsatisfactory. To avoid that, the auto maker has the wood carried out on the backs of elephants.

The cost to do that is considerable – much more than a few peanuts, but so is the price of the Phantom Drophead Coupe.