Monday, November 20, 2006

Aston Martin's renaissance continues

In a very rare event, I stepped foot in a movie theater on Saturday evening. Typically I despise going to the cinema, with the long lines, overpriced food and drink and lack of beer (except at The Parkway). However, I'll never miss a Bond movie....

Casino Royale proved to be an exceptional example of the genre, and in my mind the best Bond movie of them all. In much the same way that Batman Begins showed the humanity behind an action hero, Casino Royale exposed Bond as fallible, reckless, sensitive and human. The character has shaken off all the ridiculous debonair baggage and is no longer a cartoon: best line of the movie is when Bond orders a vodka martini and is asked by the bartender "shaken or stirred sir?" His response: "Do I look like I give a damn?"

I highly recommed it.

So why am I writing a movie review on a racing blog? Once again, Aston Martins feature prominently in a Bond film. In this case it's a DB5, and the new DBS high-performance variant of the DB9. The DBS was staggeringly attractive and the perfect car for the role, and got me thinking about Aston Martin. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that in addition to making gorgeous cars, Aston are experiencing a bit of a purple patch at the moment.

Time for some Googling... we're after some sales figures for Aston:

1992: 42
1999: 622
2002: 1551
2004: 2400
2005: 4000
2006: 7000

That is an amazing growth cycle, which I reckon can be attributed to four major factors: management, product positioning, new cars and racing (see, there had to be some racing connection).

Aston is currently owned by Ford, as part of its Premier Automotive Group, alongside Jaguar, Volvo and Land Rover. Ford's takeover in 1993 heralded major reinvestment, including a new factory in Bloxham. The arrival of the hugely-experienced Dr. Ulrich Bez as CEO in 2000 and the opening of the new Gaydon headquarters in 2005 further reinforced the company's stability, providing expert leadership and state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities respectively.

Interestingly enough, Ford has chosen to sell Aston Martin to raise capital, and is expected to make between $600 million and $2 billion from the sale. Bez is reportedly putting together a deal to make a bid, which would perhaps be the best long-term bet for the security of the company.

It would be impossible to put a value on the marketing exposure achieved from the positioning of Aston Martins in James Bond movies. Aston's darkest days in terms of sales were the period during which none of their cars were featured in Bond movies (1987-2001). The return of Aston Martin to the 007 franchise was in 2002's Die Another Day, and coincided with the release of the exceptional new Vanquish. The Vanquish is seen by many as the first of the great new Aston Martins and it was only fitting that it should be James Bond's car of choice.

Following the Vanquish, Aston Martin went on to release the DB9 and the V8 Vantage. Moving away from the Ford switchgear found in the Vanquish, both cars succeeded in being something truly special. Exhibit A: the clocks on a DB9 are pure art. Exhibit B: the first time I saw a Vantage up close I was blown away by the quality of craftsmanship and componentry. Thankfully, complaints from sportscar anoraks, who rue the day that Aston stopped building cars by hand at Newport Pagnall, can finally be silenced.

Finally, there's Aston Martin Racing. Nothing imbues a brand with performance cache more than racing success. Compare a brand like Lamborghini with Panoz. Panoz have consistently gone racing since they started making cars in the mid 90s, whilst Lamborghini (despite their deeper history) have very little racing heritage. People who Panoz cars can never really be labelled posers. Lambo owners on the other hand can. Was I impressed by the bloke who drove past me yesterday in a white Diablo roadster? Not really. If it had been a Panoz, that would have said much more loudly that the owner was a "car person". Thankfully, Aston Martins have that racing heritage, and it's no longer a dusty 50s heritage or kooky 80s Group C piece of history. It's bang up-to-date, with road-car derived racers that look and sound fabulous, and that actually win.

For quite some time there haven't been any new exotica that I've truly wanted in the same wayI wanted a Lamborghini Countach when I was ten. The new Ferraris are a little odd, Lamborghinis are big, pointy and really just overgrown Audis, Porsches continue to be boring and ubercars like the Pagani, Koenigsegg and Bugatti Veyron are just ridiculous. But an Aston... well that's classy, cool, fast and somewhat impervious to the attention of NBA stars and platinum-selling rockers who'd sooner buy a Bentley Conti GT with 20" chrome rims.

You need to know about cars to want an Aston Martin. I'll take a V8 Vantage in British Racing Green please.


Reel Fanatic said...

This Bond was indeed a great one ... I winced when I first saw him driving that Ford, but then laughed out loud when he so cleverly traded up for the Aston Martin

Qwerty said...

Make mine a DB9. Proper cars should have 12 cylinders!