With an electric and autonomous car revolution looming, the global automotive industry is facing one of its most challenging periods. Add Brexit negotiations and the demonisation of diesel in the UK into the mix and things look even more uncertain. Yet for Aston Martin the future has never looked brighter, which is why Chief Executive Andy Palmer is upbeat when he talks about his expectations for 2018. “2017 represented the end of the turnaround plan and 2018 represents the start of the growth of the brand,” he says, revealing some astonishing sales figures: 3,600 in 2016; up to 5,100 in 2017. This year, sales are expected to rise close to 7,000.
Aston Martin’s continued sales success depends on an unprecedented seven new models being introduced by 2022 to dramatically extend the breadth and appeal of the brand and attract new customers. Andy’s confidence is heavily based on each new model being given its own distinct identity: “Each model has a set of attributes that will appeal to different customers, but all will be instantly recognisable as coming from Aston Martin. Differentiation is the key to our future success and to attracting new customers to the brand.”
And Aston Martin’s boss says he is determined to secure a “long and sustainable future” for the brand to end the “highs and lows” that have dogged the business throughout its long history. He believes that Aston Martin’s demographic is changing fast, as the company becomes more inclusive and appealing. “We also need to get away from our reliance on the UK market, although it remains a very important market. Everything we are doing now is linked back to creating a sustainable business based on luxury cars. By redefining and extending our portfolio of products we will mitigate the risks and ups and downs of the past.”
Andy has no doubt that the new models will dramatically extend the appeal of Aston Martin by taking the company into new sectors, including the fast-growing SUV and electric car markets. Aston Martin’s first SUV is due to go into production at the new manufacturing facility in St Athan, Wales, in late 2019 and will go on sale in 2020.
He reveals that the finished production car has had “excellent feedback” from Aston Martin’s Top 200 customers, who have been given a sneak preview of the new model (the name of which will be decided nearer its launch).
The SUV has also been given the thumbs up by Aston Martin’s own internal Female Advisory Board, which supports Andy’s belief that it will attract a high proportion of new female buyers to the brand. Another model that is earning very positive reaction from female buyers, as well as traditional male buyers, is the new Vantage. “It is a very rewarding car for enthusiastic owners to drive,” he says. “It will be comparable with the Porsche 911 to drive, but our
car is hand built on a unique platform with unique parts.”
The other new Aston Martin model that is turning heads this year is the DB11 Volante, which is set to build upon the sales success of the Coupe version. “Aston Martin is all about making the most beautiful cars and the DB11 Volante is a very beautiful convertible that is already sold out for 2018.
With electric cars one of the automotive world’s hottest topics, Aston Martin is taking the lead in the luxury sports cars field with the Rapide E, due in 2019. The company already has a list of customers for the 155 Rapide E models that will be produced. Andy wants the customers to become real-world testers for Aston Martin and become deeply engaged in giving regular feedback, both positive and negative on the experience of owning a luxury all-electric sports car.
Aston Martin is taking the lead in the luxury sports car field with the all-electric Rapide E, which already has a list of customers
Such is the attention to detail for this eagerly awaited debut that Aston Martin is still debating the sound the Rapide E will make. His own personal view is that “absolute silence” is needed. “The current mainstream electric cars have too much wind noise and motor whine. This is not a luxury car experience. I believe we need to isolate the driver and passengers and eliminate the noises, and that will accentuate the feeling of luxury, speed and performance.” These important final decisions are still to be made.
What has already been decided is that the next all-electric version from Aston Martin will be the first new Lagonda due in 2021. “A 100% luxury Lagonda will make the perfect electric vehicle,” Andy says, pointing to the firm’s offering at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show as a sign of things to come. All new Lagonda models will be pure electric — including an SUV — for Aston Martin has decided that they will not be offering plug-in hybrid models. “I don’t see the point,” says Andy. “You have the complexity and costs of an electric engine and the complexity and costs of a plug-in electrified system. I’d rather spend our money on pure electric vehicles.”
But he is concerned that the UK government is so committed to electric cars that it has announced a ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040. “There is no one silver bullet solution to the environmental issues. There are environmental issues if we have all-electric cars and the infrastructure is not ready. There are still environmental issues if we have all-electric cars and the infrastructure is not ready. Politicians should not try to engineer cars — they should take advice from the motor industry."
On the subject of autonomous cars, Andy says the company has made a “conscious choice to be the drivers’ car company”, although Aston Martin will adopt some autonomous measures, such as self-parking, and continue to monitor new developments.
When it comes to that other hot topic currently absorbing the government, Andy wants politicians to make a decision as soon as possible on Brexit, in particular trade negotiations that will affect the car industry. “Trade talks need to be a priority for the government, not only with the EU but the rest of the world. If we are leaving Europe, the rest of the world is even more important.”
Regarding autonomous vehicles, we’ve made a conscious choice to be the drivers’ car company
Although confusion over Brexit is making life difficult for the UK car industry, Andy does not regret the decision
to locate Aston Martin’s new factory in Wales. “The location is proving to be even better than we expected and we have had great assistance from the Welsh government. The factory is really starting to take shape now and there has been a tremendous reaction from the local community.”
Whatever the political climate, Andy Palmer has a real confidence in the year ahead. Although he admits that after nearly three years in charge the “honeymoon period” is over, he quickly adds: “I love this job even more.”