GAYDON, Warwickshire, England – This is the story of a 102-year-old automotive startup, a famous though never particularly profitable British car brand that in the words of its marketing director “has been on a yo-yo” its entire history. “What, bankrupt seven times?” smiles Simon Sproule in his slightly bemused British way.
Rather than dwell on the past, Sproule has just summed up the endgame for Britain’s Aston Martin: six entirely new models by 2021, including four reinvented sports cars and the DBX crossover; a very likely rebirth of Lagonda as a line of luxury saloons to rival Bentley and Rolls-Royce; and an expanding parade of “special vehicles” along the lines of the current 600-hp GT12 (£250,000 pounds) and the Vulcan (production run limited to 24, race-track only, £1.5 million).
Shocking. Until late last year Aston was losing millions and treading water, waiting for new CEO Andy Palmer to come on board (Oct 1). The former Nissan vice-president of everything from product planning to marketing, as well as chairman of Infiniti, set immediately to work crafting the comeback with his team.
Then he secured funding to the tune of £750 million by the main owners, private equity groups Investindustrial of Italy and Investment Dar and Adeem Investment of Kuwait. Aston also did a deal with Daimler. The German car maker gets five per cent in return for supplying electronics architectures for future Astons, as well as the Mercedes AMG 4.0-litre V-8 engine to replace the current V-8.
The “wheels up” moment for Aston came in the spring at the Geneva, when Palmer did his best Winston Churchill in a speech both defiant and hopeful. He showed a DBX concept crossover and the Vulcan, saying Aston will never surrender, but grow and prosper as a luxury brand that happens to make automobiles.
“We still need to be the coolest brand in the world,” he said later at a conference in Europe. “But we need to build on the image and culture that we have so that, most importantly, we build the brand as a luxury brand. We have to reinvent ourselves as a luxury brand and break out of the 102-year cycle of feast and famine. We have the brand to do that. What we need is the strategy and bravery to make that change.”
The brand piece is oh, so true. Aston’s Q Score far outweighs the reality of total historical sales of about 70,000. As much as you and the world recognize Aston as the “Bond” car in movies from Goldfinger to Skyfall, Aston has never sold more than 7,300 cars in a single year – in 2007.
Yet Aston has some 6.5 million Facebook likes, which is more than Nissan with sales of more than 4.5 million a year, says Sproule, who was head of communications there for 11 years. The public knows Astons as breathtakingly beautiful and deliciously powerful sports cars that the world’s most famous secret agent has been driving for more than 50 years.
And James Bond will be driving them again on Nov 6 when the next Bond instalment Spectre is released. Daniel Craig will take his fourth turn and he’ll be behind the wheel of an all-new DB10. Aston has created this entirely new model just for the film, with a production run of precisely 10.
Here’s the kicker: Sproule says none of them will ever be sold and they’re not street-legal. When the film is finished, the DB10s will be used for promotional and other purposes. So a first: a Bond car strictly for a Bond movie.
“It’ll be massive,” says Sproule of the movie and its public relations effect on Aston.
It will also signal the start of a marketing push that leads up to the launch of the DB9 replacement next year, and then a new model every six months after that. The plan is to cap sports car sales at 7,000, with near-term overall sales reaching 10,000 or thereabouts by the start of the next decade.
“It’s an ambitious plan, but I don’t think it’s reckless,” says Sproule. “We want to be a grown-up luxury company that can sustain itself.”
Something completely different for Aston’s second hundred years.