When the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday announced a lawsuit that, if successful, will end Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s career as venture capitalist and public company boss, I immediately thought of Andy Palmer.
Andy Palmer is a serious car company executive who is on a path to accomplish much of what Musk has achieved, but with less of the over-the-top hyperbole, self-aggrandizement, failed promises, personal attacks on critics, and outright mendacity.
Andy Palmer, Aston Martin’s CEO, is an engineer with the soul of a car guy and the acumen of a visionary businessman who’s on the brink of what might prove to be something very special. Musk is a Stanford dropout who talks like P.T. Barnum and sees cars as appliances.
Palmer has run car plants, so he understands the complexity of making cars on an assembly line – the just-in-time demands, the quality assurance challenges, the essence of human resource management, and the importance of good, healthy supplier relationships.
Musk? This past summer he referred to the ramp up of the Model 3 as “production hell” and he’s gone out of his way to insult suppliers. Anyone who knows anything about the car business knows that launching a new model is challenging. But it’s not a hellish experience and if planned and executed properly, with experienced people at the helm, there will be few if any surprises. Andy Palmer and a host of other experienced car company bosses could explain all this quite succinctly to Musk, if he were humble and smart enough to ask.
Englishman Andy Palmer, the former head of marketing, product development, marketing and the Infiniti brand at Nissan Motor, is not a gadfly in the car business, nor is he a relentless stock promoter addicted to a misuse of Twitter. He’s a deadly serious businessman, but irrepressible in his love of fast cars, future technology and the proper way to resurrect a car company.
Palmer most certainly knows electric cars inside and out, and far better than the bumptious Musk who by comparison is an EV dilletante but an outstanding stock tout. By contrast, Palmer, once a key player in the launch of Nissan’s LEAF EV and a variety of EV concept cars, is now central to the renaissance of Aston, with electrification the centrepiece of the reinvention.
If Aston executes the plan that has been steadily unfolding over the past few years, Aston and electrified will be synonymous. The first serious manifestation of the new Aston will be the all-electric RapidE, due to enter production in 2019. By 2025, every Aston will at the very least be some sort of hybrid.
We don’t know yet how this latest chapter in the Aston Martin story will unfold, but we can be certain that it won’t be filled with amateurish admissions of ignorance and inexperience, childish tweets and false promises designed to generate deposits on vehicles that might never fulfill the Musk hype.
The plan we’re seeing at Aston, the storied British brand, includes an impending initial public offering (IPO) that if successful, will mirror the success Fiat Chrysler had with taking Ferrari public.
I know Andy Palmer a little bit and I admire him a lot. Aside from the many interviews, several years ago I spent quite a bit of time with him at the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo, back when Palmer was Mr. Everything at Nissan. He was there representing Nissan/Infiniti’s interests with the Red Bull team that at the time was utterly unbeatable, with lead driver, Sebastian Vettel winning multiple world championships. Surrounded by fast cars and drivers skilled at managing the most technologically amazing cars in the world, Palmer told me stories about growing up a racing fan in England.
He could also explain to me just how an F1 car does so many amazing things, while also being fluent in marketing theory and how to communicate brand authenticity through great vehicles. Everything that surprises Musk, well, it’s all Automotive 101 for Palmer.
Aston Martin will list its shares on the London Stock Exchange (LSE), with details due early in October. The turnaround underway at Aston is following a detailed template known as the Second Century Plan. The near-term goal is to have Aston Martin deliver 6,200-6,400 vehicles, and earn a final profit margin – an actual profit – of about 13 per cent.
By 2019, Aston plans to build 7,100-7,300 units; for 2020, 9,600-9,800 cars. By the mid-2020s, Aston is aiming for sales of 14,000 a year, with final profit margins of more than 20 per cent. Yes, those figures are modest compared to what Musk has promised: Model 3 sales of some 500,000 a year. But you can bet on Aston being profitable, on time and as promised.
With the SEC aiming to take Musk out of the car game entirely, the future of Tesla is at the very least troubled if not imperiled. What will become of this chronically unprofitable startup with outsized costs and immature, unseasoned leadership? At the very least, Tesla now is a distracted car company with a wounded CEO.
Aston Martin on the other hand, is working away at a plan that seems do-able, led by a CEO who is most definitely not the 21st century version of P.T. Barnum.