For Nikki Rimmington, Vice President and Chief Planning Officer at Aston Martin, working in the automotive industry wasn’t just a choice; it was in her blood. “I’ve always been a bit of a car nut,” she confesses. “My father worked for Ford so I grew up around cars — some of my earliest memories are of going to see him rallying in the forest, or watching the Grand Prix on the TV,” she recalls. So enthralled by the speed, agility and the excitement of high-performance cars and racing, Rimmington decided, at a young age, that she would work in the industry. “It was always my dream. I never wavered from that.”
After securing a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Bristol, Rimmington’s career began at Jaguar Land Rover — then the heart of the British motor industry — where she spent five years fine-tuning her understanding of the engineering function, vehicle integration and safety. Realising that she wanted to pursue broader and more strategic interests, Rimmington took a year off to complete an MBA at Warwick Business School before spending a couple of years as a management consultant in London, which she describes as “a broad experience”. She then circled back to the car industry with a product marketing job at Aston Martin. “It is where my heart lies,” she says emphatically.
Fast forward just over 10 years and Rimmington is now Vice President and Chief Planning Officer at Aston Martin, heading up a team of 50 focused on product planning, strategy and delivery. “It’s marketing intelligence really,” she explains. “We chart market changes, the technology landscape and what is happening globally and in luxury, while also working to stay abreast of — and implement — legislative requirements such as on emissions.” With so many channels to monitor, it is no easy job. Add in the challenges of Brexit, the rise of electric cars and changing demographics and it becomes more complex still.
The string that threads it all together is data. “It tells you so much,” Rimmington says. “You can create really comprehensive pictures of what is going on in the world by understanding data. It shows you patterns and trends — even the forces that drive the trends. It is through understanding all this data that we can discover what the Aston Martin customer wants from us.”
Knowing what the customer wants and when is key to her role, helping her to figure out what Aston Martin needs to achieve, short and long term. “Going after these different wants and needs has been the driving force behind the expansion of the Aston Martin model portfolio. The data we gather allows us to appeal to different types of customers, but it also enables us to monitor public opinion and reception of our products.”
The strategic plan to enhance the breadth and appeal of Aston Martin’s portfolio began in 2016 with the launch of DB11. “We have continued to strengthen our core model offering through 2017 and 2018 and, with Vantage and DBS Superleggera now in full production, have substantially completed the refresh of the sports car portfolio,” she says. The ambitious plan will see the launch of seven new models over seven years.
“We had a very full year in 2018, which saw the launch of the Vantage, DB11 AMR, DB11 Volante and the DBS Superleggera. One of the big messages for 2019 is our future mid-engined sports car offering,” she says, pointing to the 2019 Geneva Motor Show line-up that included three mid-engined cars: the Valkyrie, the Valkyrie AMR Pro — made in partnership with Red Bull — and the AM-RB 003 concept.
You can create really comprehensive pictures of what is going on in the world by understanding data
Rimmington says these are a natural fit for Aston Martin. “Our historical presence in the sports car sector has centred on GT models so mid-engined cars will open Aston Martin up to a new customer segment while staying true to our DNA. These cars are about high performance — they will offer a very immersive driving experience.”
Also causing a stir is the Lagonda All-Terrain Concept. The all-electric car will be completely emission-free, benefitting from battery electric powertrain technology while retaining sleek design language, taking the electric car into the luxury sphere. Meanwhile, Aston Martin’s SUV, the DBX, is currently undergoing extensive testing, with its first production trial starting in the second quarter of 2019 at the company’s new manufacturing space, St Athan, Wales. Full production commences in the first half of 2020. “We have taken some of the sports car characteristics and have created something that is beautiful as well as meeting the customer’s needs for comfort, versatility and luxury,” she says.
With so many exciting projects in the pipeline, Rimmington plays a key role in ensuring they have a smooth path to fruition. “There is a huge amount of complexity in bringing all the various functions together — it’s not just about actually engineering and assembling the car, but managing the supply chain as well.”
And who does she imagine will drive the Aston Martin DBX or the Lagonda All-Terrain Concept? “We expect to draw a significant proportion of customers who are driving premium SUVs today, but also expect to attract those who may not necessarily be driving SUVs now — for example, they may be driving luxury sedans.”
In predicting automotive trends, Rimmington strives to be one step ahead of the game, analysing the market as well as micro and macro trends. “It’s about filling in the unperceivable gaps to stay relevant and to sustain a future,” she explains. “My job is to think creatively about what the world and the data is telling me.”