How English carmaker Aston Martin is set to become even more exclusive

Since 1913 Aston Martin has built a powerful brand (and some 80,000 cars).

But it's lost plenty of money doing so. CEO Dr Andy Palmer says Aston Martin has only made a profit twice in its 104 years.

Palmer refers to a "second century" plan, whereby Aston Martin can "close the book on that historical performance and turn the company into something…very profitable".

A new breed of luxury

Key to the 'new' Aston Martin is a broader focus on top end luxury, where margins are fat and demand growing.

"One of the conscious decisions that we made was that we want to stay in the area of luxury," says Palmer. "We don't want to expand our volume in a way of, say, Maserati or Porsche. We want to stay very small, bespoke and basically very exclusive and elusive."

Palmer nominates "high net worth" individuals with at least $1 million lying around as the target.

"There are 16 million of them in the world today and it continues to grow."

But there are challenges. Unlike Porsche, Maserati, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce and Bentley, Aston Martin is not part of a bigger car maker.

However, in the mix of shareholders is Mercedes parent Daimler, with a 5 percent stake. That share includes crucial access to knowhow and technology from one of the world's most successful car makers.


Beauty in the beast

Though not the fastest, not the most luxurious and not the most expensive, Aston Martin aspires to produce "the most beautiful cars in the world", something Palmer acknowledges is subjective.

Proportions are key, as is attention to detail. The distinctive winged badge, for example, are produced by a jeweller. Inside, if something looks like metal it is. And owners can create a bespoke machine with a vast selection of finishes, leathers and colours.

Exclusive and elusive

"We want to stay very small, bespoke and basically very exclusive and elusive," says Palmer.

To achieve that growth Aston Martin will soon open a new factory in Wales.

The controversial move – for more than a century Aston Martins have been exclusively English – will continue with the handmade approach and allow for the introduction of new models.

"You can't rely on robots … humans are much better as adapting to different specifications and that's why we rely on a workforce that is basically trained to make the vehicle by hand," says Palmer. "Every car we make is fundamentally different; it's specced to the customers spec."

The 007 factor

Despite being synonymous with the famous spy, Aston Martin has never paid a cent to producers to have its cars featured in James Bond blockbusters.

What if producers demanded money?

"We don't have the money!" laughs Palmer, acknowledging the relationship is important.

"The magic of Aston and Bond is that it's a natural yin and yang, so somehow or other it would seem a bit forced."

That said, 007 costs Aston plenty.

As well as supplying vehicles – many of which end up thrashed, burnt, rolled, or a combination – Aston Martin these days creates bespoke models for Bond.

The DB10, for example, was created specifically for Spectre.

DB11 … and more

Sports cars will continue to be at the core of the company, with the DB11 the first of a new breed.

The two-door replaced the DB9 and ushers in a new V12 twin-turbo and a new body sitting on a new architecture.

The $395,000 DB11 is more grand tourer than race track star, using its effortless performance to thrust the sleek four-seater along gracefully.

Come 2018 there will be a new Vantage, utilising the Mercedes-AMG 4.0-litre V8 in a smaller body.

By 2019 there will be a new Vanquish V12, the sports hero of the regular lineup.

And by 2020 there will be a mid-engined sports car that focuses more on speed than comfort.

Concorde of cars

Aston Martin plans to add larger cars to its range – with a twist.

The company teased one interpretation of an SUV with the DBX, set to give Aston Martin an entrant in a fast growing segment.

But it's the limousines – set to revive the Lagonda brand in 2021 – that Palmer is excited about.

To fight against Rolls-Royce and Bentley, he wants them to be sleeker and faster.

"A Rolls-Royce is like first class 777; give me a Concorde," he says of the brief he's given design chief Marek Reichman.

"That market's changing, sedans are declining and SUVs are increasing. We want to look for something that squarely sits in that market to a relatively conservative buyer but is different."

Australia key to Aston Martin's future

Australia is small for Aston Martin, but a crucial "showcase" market.

"Something is happening in the world in general where you have so much turbulence, whether it's Brexit or Trump," says Palmer. "But Australia and New Zealand is a bit of a safe haven."

Palmer also says the influx of tourists and migrants make it a market to be seen in.

"The Australian market for us is a lot more than just simply the Australian market. It's also a bit of a showcase for wealthy people."

Palmer says while Australia is following the general trend towards a higher uptake of luxury "the market is more important than just what the statistics show".

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