Aston’s chief sets his sights on growing sales on the stength of the brand.
|Ulrich Bez, chairman of Aston Martin, plans on expanding sales beyond the U.K.
The wraps came off Aston Martin’s new DB9 at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show while the company’s new plant at Gaydon in the British Midlands opened at the beginning of October — both making a clear statement regarding the future of the brand.
Chairman Ulrich Bez now believes Aston Martin is the only “exclusive understated” sports car in the world following Porsche’s move into different (sports utility) markets with greater volumes. Others, we are to assume, are overstated in his view.
Although the company will be closing its plant at Bloxham, Gaydon will give capacity of 5,000 cars a year “plus or minus, and that’s where we want to be,” Bez adds.
Gaydon gives Aston Martin its first purpose- built facility in its 89-year history. “We have always moved into places designed for something else. This does not send out the right message,” says Bez.
“The new factory, the introduction of the DB9 next year (’04), the Volante, which will be shown at the Los Angeles and Detroit Shows in January, plus the new V8 Vantage in 2005 will give us a consistent brand image and a clear message for the future.”
It is a strategy for which Bez has no fancy names. “It is Aston Martin, that’s all people need to know.”
Although Ferrari may be more overt in its supercar design, Bez uses the Italian company as a benchmark and sees similarities in the roots of the two brands. Ferrari struggled under Fiat ownership in the early 1990s until it put a man in charge — Luca di Montezemolo — and left him alone to focus on producing great cars and winning races; Fiat was there in the background only when needed.
This is clearly Bez’s vision for Aston Martin as he plans to boost production from just 850 cars a year in 1999 to 5,000. He even muses that, like Ferrari, Aston Martin could be one day floated on the stock market.
But that’s not to say it will happen, he hastened to add. “I want to make sure the company is in the right shape so the option is available to our owner Ford Motor Co. It will mean we will have achieved the objectives we set ourselves.”
Although appointed under the ‘old Ford regime’ of Jac Nasser and Wolfgang Reitzle, Bez says he has the full backing of Bill Ford and Nick Scheele. “Our strategy and vision is already developed. It is our own strategy and vision, there is nothing patchwork about it, it is clear and transparent and fully supported by Ford Motor Co.”
As well as a shake-up at the English production sites, there have been changes among the worldwide dealer network. Bez sees the number of outlets around the world increasing from 65 to around 144 by the end of 2003.
“We have identified the areas where we need dealers and in many cases we have also identified our partners,” he says. These are the capital cities in Europe and the United States as well as increased presence in the Middle and Far East.
Currently sales are heavily weighted towards the U.K. and North America. “I would like to see 30 percent of sales in the U.K., 30 percent other European markets, 30 percent U.S.A. and 20 percent rest of the world……I know that adds up to 110 percent but that’s where I would like our order book to be.”
Existing and new dealers will be largely paired with Premier Automotive Group partners Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover, but Bez says he did not rule out partnerships with other brands and he is particularly keen on small, family owned businesses.
“I don’t want to be with dealers who change their managers every couple of years. I want people who feel passionately about the brand, who will treat the dealership like their own home.”
One such recruit is Alain Aziza who, with his wife Astrid, has opened a solus Aston Martin outlet on the prestigious Rue de la President Roosevelt in Paris. “It is a superb location, amid the clothes shops such as Gucci and Versace. This is where we need our showrooms. In Italy, for example, we have dealers in Milan and Bologna but not Rome, in Austria we have no dealer at all. These are the issues we are addressing,” says Bez.
Dealers will also need to make an investment of around €200,000 to bring Aston Martin showrooms into line with a new image.
In return for the investment, Bez promises more cars and bigger profits. “We are looking at around 144 dealers because we would like to sell 40 cars a year on average per dealer — for some it may be a few more and others a few less. But it will be a better business for our dealers than it has in the past.”
He adds: “We are filling some vital open points. For example we have not had dealers in Washington D.C. or Silicon Valley and these are clearly important places for us.” A new outlet in Hamburg, Germany, will open before the end of 2003.
Bez adds: “We know what we want to do with the brand, produce exclusive, highly desirable, quality sports cars. It is a sound, clear and deliverable business strategy.”
At Frankfurt, the DB9 certainly won many admirers, Bez was even forced to reschedule press interviews to discuss an order with a prominent member of a European Royal family.
Bez says the frame of the car is the most structurally efficient in the world. Body panels are made of aluminium or other lightweight materials. Magnesium is used in the steering column and gear shifter paddles. Powered by a 450 hp V-12 engine, the car will be priced at around £100,000 or €144,000.
It is the first car to be built on Aston Martin’s new VH (vertical-horizontal) platform which will also underpin the Vantage V8 and eventually the next generation Vanquish.
This article was provided exclusively to Automotive Industries by Interchange, a U.K.-based automotive business agency and consultancy servicing media and corporate clients. Anthony Lewis is a partner in Interchange and can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.