Without a doubt, Aston Martin is one of the most quintessentially British automakers of all time. Its cars are the ride of choice for James Bond, it enjoys a Royal Warrant of Appointment to sell its cars to the royal family, and its models look like they were designed to be painted in British Racing Green. Unlike the Mini, an Aston would never need a Union Jack painted across its roof to advertise its Britishness – it just is.
And that’s why recent developments at its Gaydon headquarters have proven so confusing for Aston loyalists. At this year’s Geneva Motor Show, the company introduced the DBX, an electric five-door crossover slated to enter production in 2019 (as a plug-in hybrid) and take on the upcoming Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus. While the DBX keeps the classic Aston proportions and is a damn good-looking design, the idea of an Aston Martin SUV has predictably ruffled some feathers. And in a move to further confound the traditionalists, the company is looking to build a new factory, and it’s prime candidate is in the United States – specifically, in Alabama.
This may seem like an uncharacteristic move, but it’s no mere flight of fancy. Speaking with Automotive News Europe, Aston Martin chief executive Andy Palmer said the company plans on increasing annual vehicle sales to 15,000 a year (up from 4,000 last year) by 2021, and sees Alabama as the “obvious choice” for its next factory site. The Brits have already secured $300 million in capital to build the plant and develop new models, and have begun to focus their search on center state Alabama, right next to some nice German neighbors.
While the idea of an Alabama Aston may be hard to imagine, it actually makes a lot of sense. Last year, Aston entered into a partnership with Mercedes-AMG to develop engines and assist with the engineering of future models. Close proximity to the Mercedes plant in Vance, Alabama could help the much smaller automaker meet its production goals, especially if Mercedes is manufacturing powertrains. European and Asian automakers have been building factories in America for decades, and because of competitive incentive packages and lack of a union presence, they tend to gravitate toward Southern states. Aston’s budget will go a lot further in Alabama than if it decided to set up shop in Detroit.
While the fear is that Alabama-built Astons could lose their inherent “Britishness,” there really isn’t much real cause for concern. Because of global trade agreements throughout the auto industry, companies are building cars thousands of miles outside their home borders, and none of them have lost their national heritage yet. In 2014, the Toyota Camry and Honda Odyssey, ranked second and third on the list of “most American” cars in terms of manufacturing and origin of parts. Volkswagen Jettas are built in Mexico, Bentley Continentals are built in Germany, and Cadillac CT6s are built in China. If the DBX rolls out of a plant in Alabama, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t feel as British as any model coming out of Gaydon.
And while the leap from the British Midlands to Alabama seems like a stretch, consider this: it wouldn’t be the first time an Aston Martin was built outside of Britain. From 2010 to 2012, the Aston Martin Rapide was built in Graz, Austria by Magna Steyr, a contractor which also builds the Mercedes G-Class, Mini Countryman, and until 2010, the BMW X3. If the idea of a British luxury sedan being built alongside a truck designed for the German military don’t seem incongruous, then an Alabama Aston shouldn’t either.
With luxury sales skyrocketing worldwide, it’s only natural that Aston would want to get in on the action, and that means getting away from building a limited run of sports cars under one roof. As Porsche has shown, luxury crossovers can reverse the fortunes of struggling niche automakers, and fast. It’s still not official that Aston will break ground in Alabama – several states are pursuing the project – but Palmer says a decision will be made by the end of the third quarter 2015, and from here, it looks like Alabama is the clear favorite. There’s still a lot in the air with the DBX, but we do know this: Aston Martin is getting a crossover, and it’ll be built in America.