Aston Martin Promises 7 Cars in 7 Years – And Profits
With a show-stealing launch of the new 2017 DB11 sports car, Aston Martin has finally launched its “Second Century.” The plan, to recast the British luxury automaker, took shape after former Nissan executive Andy Palmer was hired to turn around the struggling brand in October 2014.
We spoke with Palmer at the Geneva show for the latest details on the DB11 and for details on a future range of seven vehicles to be built in the next seven years–and for details on Palmer’s plans to turn the company into a perennial profit-maker, something that’s eluded it throughout its 103-year history.
“I should be able to bring in my 77-year-old mother, she should be able to point it out.”
When you arrived at Aston Martin in 2014, in what state was the DB11 project?
The design was originally sketched out by Marek [Reichmann] originally in 2012. Directionally, the surfaces were good.
What wasn’t good was the spend profile, the plan, the money. It hadn’t really gone a long way. What it needed was a plan, financing, a very clear commitment to a start-production date.
The second thing I wanted to do was to make sure the ride and handling was exceptional, and aligned with the look of the vehicle.
[It had] to look different. I should be able to bring in my 77-year-old mother, she should be able to point it out. That was an issue with the current vehicles.
he DB11 gets a new twin-turbo V-12; the AMG V-8 appears in its first Aston Martin late in 2017
You signed an engineering cooperation with Mercedes-AMG to supply V-8 engines and an electrical architecture. What’s the current state of the deal with Mercedes-AMG? Will it expand?
The relationship’s very good, but we haven’t expanded it. We don’t feel any particular need to expand it.
If I come back and take a hard, cold look at the company as it was, we had issues with differentiation with the cars, with the transmissions, and with the navigation. Those were basically solved [by the AMG deal].
What does Mercedes give us? it gives us a darn good electrical architecture, perhaps the best in the industry, and access to the V-8 engine. We’re stable with that, we’re comfortable with that.
If we had launched the DB11 with the AMG V-8, colleagues would have been talking about how it’s really a Daimler. I wanted to make the first launch as pure as possible.
Is it possible to do a V-8 in the future? It’s possible.
[We’re looking at] late 2017 for the first appearance of the AMG V-8. The most obvious car to get the V-8 is the Vantage.
Where possible, we’ll do one car, one engine. It reduces complexity, improves the quality. It makes the differentiation between the offers more obvious.
You absolutely do have autonomous driving in the case of Lagonda. He’s called James, usually.”
What’s the future of autonomous driving at Aston?
We’re not doing autonomous driving. It will be able to park itself, but I’m very reluctant on autonomy. I would choose not to do it.
We believe we’re a driver’s car. There’s a point when your daughter’s Fiesta is capable of doing something, that’s the point where you have to start, but we’ll be dragged to the party kicking and screaming.
You absolutely do have autonomous driving in the case of Lagonda. He’s called James, usually.
The Lagonda brand is expected to return as Aston adds three new vehicles to its lineup
What does the future Aston Martin lineup look like?
In the past, why the company is where it is today, is we’ve only ever raised enough cash to do the next car. We never had any view beyond that so we’d go into a panic. Raise the money.
We’d launch the car, the launch of the car would go initially very good, then guess what, there’s no money left to do a facelift, and no money left to replace it. So as a consequence the car got old, the sales went down, we went bankrupt. That’s like 103 years of history.
The difference this time is we’re putting into place a product plan for seven cars. The first four of those cars are financed. There’s no question about disturbance…irrespective of what happens around us, we’ve got the cash for the first four cars.
Once you do that you’ve got seven cars, seven years, seven-year life—copy-repeat, copy-repeat, copy-repeat.
[That’s] not counting Rapid-E in that because it’s a derivative of Rapid-E.
The cars in the forecast are DB11, Vantage, Vanquish, DBX. Beyond that, three new car types, which, obviously, we’ve got a Lagonda brand which we want to do something with.
When I try to create what the company looks like, I have in mind the sportscars we look a little bit like Ferrari [NYSE:RACE]; the crossovers we look a little bit like Porsche without the volume; and the sedan we look a little bit like Rolls-Royce.
You’ve got a company that can pretty much cover the full scope of the entry-lux segments. Then you have a valuable company, a sustainable company.
How does your new factory in Wales fit into that plan?
Gaydon is capable of 7,000 units a year and we want to cap sports car production at 7,000 units a year. The Welsh plant is more or less a copy of Gaydon. It could do Lagondas in the future.
Let’s round it up and say we’ll have 15,000 units of capacity, which would cover the three lines— the sports cars, the crossovers, and the Lagondas.
We’re very much making the decision that we don’t want volume. We’re a luxury maker and our profitability is defined by that volume.
The DBX crossover is set to emerge at the end of the decade.
With the DBX crossover, you explored using other automakers’ architectures but have since said you’ll go it alone. What’s the current state of development of the DBX, and who will buy it?
[If] you’re trying to put an aluminum hover body on a steel platform, from my experience that doesn’t work very well.
In making the sourcing decision to go to Wales, prior to that we confirmed internally that we would go with an aluminum body structure. It’s kind of core to what we do, it’s authentic. In doing that it eliminates the need for a roller-skate from anybody.
The DBX [will be] heavily conquest. We don’t have one at the moment. Buyer types? The Aston Martin owner that has Cayenne in the garage.
The way we designed the car, we want a younger buyers. We’re prioritizing style, timeless style.
You can make a pretty SUV, a fashionable SUV, but you can’t make a beautiful SUV. [To make a beautiful SUV] you can’t make a box.
We’re making trade-offs. We’re not prioritizing vehicle space or 4×4 capability.
Electrification is “as inevitable as death and taxes.”
You’ve built a Rapid-E electric car with new partners LeTV and have discussed a DBX EV. What’s the outlook for future electric Aston Martins?
I haven’t sourced the DBX EV yet. There’s an awful lot to learn in getting into battery technology, and you need to go through a full cycle with not too many changes. The idea of being able to put electric drive into an existing car, reduce the number of development variables, is a major benefit. You learn particularly about battery chemistry, and the management of batteries, and the safety of batteries.
If you go to the end game, which is electric, you learn everything you can about the batteries.
At the risk of sounding arrogant, the benefit of going through EV development by yourself, without a parent holding your hand, is that you learn quickly. You learn how to ask the right questions. So even if you choose to source in the future from a partner, you know what questions to ask them.
In 20 years I’m sure that everything has an electric motor associated with it. It’s as inevitable as death and taxes. In the short term, the plans that we have are for Rapid-E and DBX EV.
I think we’re going to end up skipping over the hybrid generation and are probably going to end up directly in the plug-in hybrid generation.
What drives it is a continual desire to build the V-12 engine and the need to meet CAFE regulations, first and foremost.
You’ve set up Aston Martin Consulting–does it fill the void Lotus has left behind?
Exactly. I don’t know why they left it behind but it looks pretty attractive to me.
We really don’t compete with anybody and we’re not a threat to anybody. We’re in our own niche. We’re pretty good at ride and handling, and we’re pretty good at V-12 engines, pretty good at aluminum and carbon fiber. So basically we’re offering those services to the industry.
Do you feel the need to build faster or less expensive Astons to compete across the board in the sportscar world?
I don’t feel the need to stretch. If any of the competitors want to try to come into our space, they’re more than welcome. I certainly don’t feel the need to go down.
Our cars are handmade. The whole of that platform downstairs has been designed with that intention that you can Q it up to the eyeballs.
The reason to buy an Aston is different from just out and out, it’s a bit quicker. It’s a bit quiche, isn’t it, if all you’re looking for is just a bit quicker? You’re buying a piece of art.
We don’t market the car as the fastest, but we do need to be competitive.
In the future it is my intention to do cars that are the fastest–just the most elegant as well.
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