In case you haven’t heard, Aston Martin has been on a bit of a tear lately. This certainly hasn’t always been the case for the venerable British automaker. The 106-year-old company has seen its fortunes rise and fall with great vicissitude, reaching dazzling heights under legendary owner David Brown in the 1960s and then experiencing a series of peaks and dizzying lows in the latter part of the 20th century. In all, the company has filed for bankruptcy no less than seven times in its turbulent existence.
When Ford sold off the badge in 2007 to an independent investment group, its future was in question. With the era’s global financial collapse, Aston’s sales plunged; the marque needed to regroup or perish. By 2014, Aston was in the midst of a slide, hemorrhaging a pretax loss of around US$100 million. So that year, it plucked one Andy Palmer, Ph.D., then chief planning officer at Nissan, to take hold of the reins and lead Aston to the golden land.
It’s not hyperbole to suggest the iconic British brand was languishing at the time. Its cars were dated, its line-up confusing and seemingly redundant, and its electronics and user interface so obsolete they bordered on medieval. The brand seemed to lack direction, lost in a state of limbo. “It wasn’t just one issue; there were several challenges the company faced,” recalls Aston Martin vice president and chief marketing officer Simon Sproule. “There was a lack of new product, lower than necessary brand awareness, etcetera.”
A mere 150 days after joining Aston Martin, Palmer took the stage at the 2015 Geneva International Motor Show to announce what he dubbed the Second Century Plan. The blueprint was transformational. But a plan is just words on a spreadsheet; the entire company needed to execute. And execute Aston Martin has, recently releasing the third vehicle in its seven-year, seven- car blueprint: the Vanquish successor DBS Superleggera.
Another Aston power play just preceding Palmer’s tenure was its technical partnership with Daimler AG (of which Mercedes-AMG is a subsidiary) in 2013. The German powerhouse has a 5 percent stake in the company and agreed to supply Aston with electronics and its superb hand-built V-8 engines. The partnership not only cleaned up one of the ugliest blemishes in Aston’s portfolio (the archaic infotainment system) but also allowed it to concentrate on refining its luxurious V-12 engines and upcoming electric powertrain.
The results speak for themselves. Since the traffic-stopping DB11 hit showrooms in early 2017, Aston has posted profits every quarter. That year also saw the highest-percentage growth in the brand’s history, with profits rising by more than US$300 million as sales eclipsed 5,000 cars for the first time since 2008. When valuation business consultant Brand Finance published its report in 2018 highlighting a 268 percent increase in brand value (up to US$3.6 billion), skyrocketing Aston Martin from number 77 to number 24 in the overall rankings, it revealed Aston Martin as the world’s fastestgrowing automotive brand.
Channeling this momentum, Aston Martin made an IPO last October on the London Stock Exchange, becoming the first U.K. automaker to do so since Jaguar, several decades ago. After floating 57 million shares (about 25 percent of the company) at US$24.60, the offering valued Aston Martin Lagonda (AML) at US$5.6 billion: another milestone in the journey of Aston Martin 2.0.
The esteemed British marque still faces many challenges in reaching its lofty goals, but there’s no question it has fortified itself for the battle ahead. In 2019 Aston is ready to tackle its second century of existence with renewed confidence, a stellar line-up of next-level vehicles, the allure of peerless design and groundbreaking electric powertrain technology — all of which could help motor Aston Martin into a third century of prosperity.
Spanning more than half a century, the partnership between Aston Martin and the James Bond franchise has a storied history of iconic vehicles that began with the legendary Silver Birch–hued DB5 featured in 1964’s Goldfinger. But when Spectre, the most recent and perhaps most stylish iteration of the 007 story, was released in 2015, Aston Martin had to come up with something equally bold yet refined, without repeating itself: a seemingly impossible request. The company’s response was the jaw-dropping, scene-stealing DB10. Designed and fabricated solely for the film, ultimately only 10 units were produced by the British automaker. Eight of these were used in the filming of Spectre, highlighting a truly spectacular chase scene through Rome, while two were held as show cars. The vehicle was partially based on the then forthcoming Vantage, which at the time of filming was still a closely held secret. So the Aston Martin design team, based in Gaydon, England, created a unique exterior for the limited run of DB10s, and the result is one of the most eye-catching designs in the history of the brand, with sleek yet aggressive lines and a thematic paint colour, Spectre Silver, to finish it off.
The vehicle’s form truly evokes the feeling of forward motion, even when the DB10 is parked outside a casino or waterfront villa. By creating the exterior from carbon fibre, designers shaved pounds and increased the vehicle’s structural rigidity, while their choice of fine leather, aluminum, and more carbon fibre for the interior ensures the balance of comfortable, uncompromising luxury and extreme performance that Aston Martin’s customers have come to expect from the brand. Powered by a 4.7-litre V-8 engine paired with a traditional six-speed manual gearbox, the DB10 is more than capable on a racetrack (or a film location), where it can reach up to 190 mph. At speed, it devours the road ahead, growling through a stainless steel–enhanced exhaust. A sports suspension keeps the platform flat through turns and carbon ceramic brakes provide on-a-dime deceleration.
Only one of the 10 cars has ever been offered for sale to the public, as part of a charity auction of Bond memorabilia in 2016. When the gavel fell, the winning bid was more than US$3.4 million, an impressive sum for a machine that can’t even be used legally on public roads. But for all the racetrack thrills one could experience in the driver’s seat, perhaps the DB10’s greatest gift is to the fortunate bystander as it passes by. Not only is it one of the most breathtaking cars created by Aston Martin and driven by 007, but also one of the most truly beautiful in modern automotive history. A worthy successor to a lineage of iconic vehicles, the DB10 shows respect to its ancestors while also helping to establish a future design philosophy for both Aston Martin’s production vehicles and those it will continue to create for its most famous secret-agent client. —Keith Gordon
SECOND CENTURY PLAN
To revive and rebuild the brand, newly minted CEO Andy Palmer knew Aston Martin needed a clear, bold vision for the future — both for its own identity and for potential investors and customers. So less than half a year after joining the brand, Palmer revealed what he dubbed the Second Century Plan. The blueprint was as ambitious as it was simple: a seven-year plan with seven cars (one per year), each enduring a seven-year lifecycle. Copy and repeat. With it, Aston plans to double sales to some 14,000 units per year. “I think the Second Century Plan is Andy’s management art at its finest,” notes Aston VP and CMO Simon Sproule. “It’s really easy to understand, and it’s what’s been driving our business ever since.” The first three vehicles in the plan — the DB11, the Vantage and the DBS Superleggera — have already been released. The fourth, an SUV called the DBX, arrives later this year, and the highly anticipated mid-engine supercar is slated for sometime in 2020. Next up are two offerings from Aston’s ultra-luxe Lagonda sub-brand: first an SUV, then a sedan. All Lagondas will feature a fully electric powertrain.
THE ASTON LIFESTYLE
Beyond its core mission of handcrafting the world’s most beautiful automobiles, Aston Martin aims to be perceived as a global luxury brand — the “British LVMH,” as Palmer puts it. To accomplish this goal, the brand is expanding beyond vehicles to embrace an entire lifestyle portfolio. There’s the requisite line of gentlemanly apparel and motorsport accessories, including a TAG Heuer Formula 1 watch and carbon-fibre Storck bicycle. But there’s so much more in development, including an Aston Martin–designed 66-story luxury residence on the Miami waterfront and a global partnership with Waldorf Astoria. A slew of nonautomotive transportation is taking the Aston badge as well, on the water (the AM37 speedboat with Quintessence Yachts), underwater (a personal Triton submarine) and even into the skies (a mind-blowing Volante Vision Concept VTOL [vertical takeoff and landing] aircraft).
Supply and demand. Whether it’s Nike sneakers, bottles of single- barrel scotch, or Marvel action figures, shrewd brands are taking Adam Smith’s capitalist principle to its logical conclusion, boosting profits by releasing limited-edition products to foment demand. Naturally, automakers are learning these tricks as well. Aston has shown great success with this model, recently releasing an entire family of Zagato-bodied Vanquishes (325 units at US$700,000-plus apiece) and limited-edition tweaks of its own cars (only 24 units of the just announced DBS 59).
They’re even releasing brand-new factory-built facsimiles of classic cars as “continuation” models. Twenty-five new Continuation DB4 GTs are tempting collectors for about US$2 million each, which is noteworthy volume, considering that only 75 DB4 GTs were originally built in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Although low volume, these vehicles post eye-watering profit margins, further solidifying Aston’s long-term viability.
Aston Martin is going electric. For a brand best known for the luxurious, deep rumble of its beefy V-12 lumps, the pivot is heartbreaking for purists but absolutely necessary for the company to meet increasingly stringent Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. Development has already begun on the Rapide E, a fully electric version of its Rapide highperformance sedan. It will act as a limited-production proof of concept, helping Aston navigate the challenges of developing an electric powertrain and battery technology. They will sell 155 units, starting at around US$250,000.
In the spring of 2017, when we visited Aston HQ in Gaydon, England, staff allowed us to jump inside a Rapide E (then confusingly called the RapidE) and zip up and down the driveway to experience the instant torque rush of their powertrain. That afternoon we learned two things: The short drive distance meant development was far from complete (the delivery date was, even then, slated for 2019); and secondly, the power rush the EV will offer could have Tesla Ludicrous mode potential. The company has already announced that its electric architecture will boast 602 horsepower, 700 lb-ft of torque, a 155-mph top speed, and over 200 miles of range. The technology — Rapide E was developed in collaboration with Williams Advanced Engineering (an offshoot of the Williams F1 team) — will form the basis of all Lagonda vehicles. Within Aston’s ultra-luxe sub-brand, the use of EV will tie the brand more closely to new tech darlings like Tesla while gaining earth-friendly bona fides. Palmer’s former role at Nissan guiding development of the LEAF should pay dividends here. ■
By NICOLAS STECHER
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