With seven bankruptcies in its first 100 years, you can forgive Aston Martin, the British bespoke carmaker, for wanting to focus on its “Second Century.” That’s the name given to its strategy promising a wholesale reinvention of 007’s favored marque. With new leadership, the storied luxury brand has been running at breakneck speed, looking to launch seven models in seven years, including electric cars and its first-ever SUV.
“You’re going to see quite a lot of us this year,” marketing chief Simon Sproule said in March at the global launch for Vantage, Aston Martin’s $150,000 “entry-level” car and the second model in its turnaround plan. The brand hasn’t always been a safe financial bet, but after a record performance last year, the carmaker is talking about an IPO, a move that would test investors’ interest in British companies ahead of Brexit next spring.
Owned by private equity groups in Kuwait and Italy (Daimler AG has a 5% stake), Aston Martin reported 2017 revenues of $1.2 billion, up 48% vs. the prior year. And cars sold surpassed 5,000 vehicles for the first time since 2008. The jolt is due in part to the DB11 grand tourer, Aston Martin’s first new nameplate in five years, which also has helped lift the company’s average selling price by 9%.
Spearheaded by CEO Andy Palmer, who joined Aston Martin in 2014 after a 23-year career at Nissan, the Second Century plan upends the company’s conservative approach to grand touring cars in a bid to double global sales.
The new lineup, the arrival of an SUV, and a technology-sharing partnership with Daimler “make an IPO more appealing than probably any other time in Aston Martin’s history,” says Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book. “The Brexit factor adds a variable that might give potential investors pause, but the brand’s potential has never been greater.”
Following the DB11 and the Vantage, the third model to undergo the Second Century treatment will be a $300,000-plus replacement for the Vanquish Super GT, followed by Valkyrie, a mid-engine hypercar coming in 2019. “Valkyrie is the start of a mid-engine dynasty,” Palmer says. “The reason we’re doing it is to create a halo car, but also to create DNA for a mid- engine sports-car range.”
That’s a tall order for a company that takes more than 200 hours to build one car (mass-produced cars can be built in 20 hours or less).
But Aston Martin is committed to continuing its tradition of hand- stitched leather seats, bespoke paint jobs, and handmade engines, even as it aims to roll out a succession of unorthodox vehicles, beginning with a limited production run next year of its first battery- powered model, the RapidE sedan.
Starting in 2021, Aston Martin will relaunch its Lagonda sub-brand with a battery-powered sedan and SUV designed to disrupt Tesla’s dominance in the luxury electric segment.
The Lagonda models will be priced “north of the Tesla Model S,” closer to Bentley and Rolls-Royce territory, and will serve as “a place for Tesla buyers to go if they want to spend more money,” Sproule says.
But the true test of Aston Martin’s ambition will be its DBX SUV, set to arrive late next year. The company is opening a factory in Wales and pinning its hopes on a new, more female customer base, a challenge considering the luxury SUV market has become crowded with entrants, including the Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus, and forthcoming Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Says Sproule, “We’re last and best dressed.”