Restoring a Historic Brand: The Future of Aston Martin
Aston Martin, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the brand selling its first car in North America, is making strides to get back on its feet and set itself apart as the performance-oriented brand in the ultra-luxury car space. In addition to operational changes, the company is transitioning from a focus on front-engine sports cars to an automaker with three distinct families of mid-engine cars, as well as profitable SUVs and eventually a portfolio of electric vehicles.
It has been a year since new executive chairman Lawrence Stroll convinced Tobias Moers to leave Mercedes-AMG and become CEO and chief technical officer at Aston Martin. The two men have focused on getting Aston Martin (including car brand Lagonda and the Formula 1 team) back onto sound financial footings. The Project Horizon business plan calls for annual sales of 10,000 vehicles by 2025—Aston hopes to sell 6,000 units in 2021. About $1 billion in financing has been raised for the overhaul.
Five Milestones to Transform Aston Martin
The new team in Gaydon has spent the last year working towards five key milestones, all of which have been met, Stroll says. Wall Street has rewarded these efforts; the stock price has nearly doubled since Stroll bailed out the ailing British brand that has gone bankrupt seven times in its 108-year history. Manufacturing has been rejigged to be more efficient and operate at break-even. Inventory has been reduced to better align supply to demand; when people want your limited supply of vehicles, they will pay top dollar.
Also key was getting Mercedes-Benz to take a larger stake, now 20 percent, in Aston Martin and supply about $700 billion in needed tech. Mercedes is now the second-largest shareholder after Stroll, the Canadian billionaire who owns 25 percent. Stroll became a billionaire by helping luxury brands expand, and he is applying past winning formulas to Aston Martin. Another key goal for Stroll, who brought his own Formula 1 team to the deal, was to get Aston Martin Racing back on the grid.
Growing Aston Martin’s Product Portfolio
The key to growth is expanding the product portfolio. Financially, the brand is benefitting from the sales boost of adding the Aston Martin DBX SUV which now accounts for half of total sales. Under Moers, the DBX lineup will grow to as many as six models, with a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and more performance-oriented version in the pipeline as well as a more aggressive, coupe-like body style.
But the automaker is also transforming the sports car side of the business with facelifts as well as more classical cars to come as well as electric vehicles.
Mid-Engine Cars for Aston
A key decision was to create a platform to take Aston from front engine cars and SUVs to mid-engine cars derived from technology from Formula 1, said Stroll. The 2024 Aston Martin Valhalla, a mid-engine hybrid coming in 2023, represents the future of Aston for its mid-engine platform while dipping its toe into electrification.
A new mid-engine Aston Martin Vanquish, also with a hybrid engine, is coming in 2024.
The hybrids (including putting motors in the DBX) were initially to use a V-6, but when Moers arrived to find it was still in the fledgling development stage, he arranged instead to use AMG-sourced gas engines modified for the respective Astons. The mid-engine Valhalla uses a version of AMG’s 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 designed for hybrids. Aston uses the 4.0-liter built by AMG in a number of vehicles including the DBX, the Vantage, and some versions of the DB11. The DBX plug-in hybrid will also use a system derived from Mercedes.
At the extreme end of the scale is the F1-inspired Aston Martin Valkyrie. The coupe just started production in Gaydon, U.K., and workers will start building the spider in the summer of 2022. Both are sold out.
Aston Martin could potentially reach the point where half of its sport car sales are front-engine and half have a mid-engine, Moers tells MotorTrend in an interview.
Deliveries of Aston Martin V12 Speedster
On the super niche side, there is the 2022 Aston Martin V12 Speedster. Aston is making 88 Speedsters, a limited run for a million-dollar car without a roof or windshield. Asked how dealers decide who gets these odes to race cars in days gone by, Moers says there is always a list for sought-after cars. “It is always related to how many Astons are in your garage, when you bought the last one, things like that.” All 88 Speedsters have been spoken for and about a dozen have been delivered to customers.
The first pure electric Aston won’t be until 2026, Moers says. Before they debut, Aston needs to do a round of facelifts for its current front-engine cars: the Vantage, the DB11 and the DBS supercar, by 2023. The refreshes won’t include new powertrains, but the Mercedes infotainment system and interface will be replaced with a bespoke Aston Martin ecosystem. The updated vehicles need a few years to pay for themselves before they are replaced by cars on the new electric sports car platform.
As a small brand, Aston Martin would find it hard to survive without the partnership with Mercedes which it relies on for the electric backbone of its new vehicles. Aston and Mercedes will never share a platform, Moers insists, but Mercedes supplies powertrain elements including battery technology and modules. For the Valkyrie, Aston turned to Rimac for the battery. Ultimately Aston would like to create its own battery.
Aston and Mercedes will never share a suspension or body-in-white or platform. “I cannot use Mercedes body-in-white so I have to create my own,” Moers says. The build process at the two companies is very different. “We don’t weld, it’s a bonded structure.”
James Bond and Aston Martin
Some things won’t change, like the relationship the brand has with James Bond films. There will be four Aston Martin cars in the next film No Time to Die, slated for release in October. The collaboration is a big part of the history of both the automaker and the film franchise. “We need each other,” Moers says.
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