Feature: Aston Martin gears up for motoring revolution

It’s been a pretty bumpy stock market ride for Aston Martin Lagonda since its London flotation last October. Shares that had been priced at £19 a pop at the time of the iconic sports car brand’s initial public offering have since reversed to trade at around a tenner, erasing more than £2 billion in market value.

The Aston Martin DB11 AMR, pictured outside the Trump Turnberry resort, Ayrshire. Picture: Kevin Stewart
The Aston Martin DB11 AMR, pictured outside the Trump Turnberry resort, Ayrshire. Picture: Kevin Stewart

Sceptical investors have fretted over the heady £136 million costs linked to the company’s market debut, as well as concerns that some UK and European buyers may be holding back from committing to big-ticket purchases amid the continuing Brexit uncertainty.

Against this taxing backdrop, bosses at the 106-year-old maker of 007’s car of choice remain sanguine, as the firm gears up for a flurry of product launches under its Second Century Plan. The first car to roll out of the Warwickshire factory as part of this expansion strategy was the stunning DB11 grand tourer in 2016 – a model that now comes in V8 and muscular V12 AMR flavours – followed by the new Vantage sports coupe.

The DB11 has proven to be a game-changer for Aston, both in its design and technology, and its ability to bring new customers into the fold. That widening of appeal is likely to accelerate with the forthcoming launch of the DBX – the firm’s take on the ubiquitous sports utility vehicle, or SUV. Production will take place at the firm’s new St Athan facility in Wales, which will be home to some 750 people when fully up and running.

Factor in the verging-on-bonkers Valkyrie hybrid electric hypercar – a product of collaboration between Aston and Red Bull Racing – and recently revealed mid-engined concept cars, the AM-RB 003 and Vanquish Vision, and evolution would appear to have given way to revolution at the historic marque.

Philip Eaglesfield, Aston’s president of UK & South Africa, acknowledges the “strong tradition and heritage” at the car-maker but stresses that the firm is “certainly not playing it safe” as the motoring industry hurtles towards an electrified, autonomous, but speed-limited future.

“I’ve been in the business some time now and it’s easily the fastest pace of change,” he tells The Scotsman.

“From an Aston perspective we are going through a major portfolio expansion and making progress with our second factory where we will be doing the DBX.

“All of that is breaking new ground for Aston. Times are changing and markets are evolving globally.”

The firm has just pressed the button on its first all-electric car, the Rapid E, which made its public debut at this month’s Shanghai motor show.

Powered by two rear-mounted electric motors, the four-door super saloon promises a 155mph top speed, blink-of-an-eye acceleration and a 200-mile range on a single charge. While production will be limited to 155 examples, the Rapid E – built at the new Welsh plant – paves the way for future electrification projects and the re-introduction of the Lagonda brand.

“This is our first step into electrification,” says Eaglesfield. “We recognise the changing character of automotive globally – the different legislations and the different customer tastes.

“When you speak to people that have made the move across to electric vehicles they are quite evangelical about them. It’s not something any automotive manufacturer can sit out, whether it’s entry level, volume level or at the premium/luxury level.

“Electrification is coming right across the market. You can also see the catching on of hybridisation as a short-term means to unlocking more power and performance in a car.”

Eaglesfield says the company’s partnership with Red Bull Racing has “helped us to up our game” and open up a raft of cutting-edge technologies. Those developments are feeding through to the Valkyrie hypercar, with the trickle-down know-how set to benefit more affordable products within the range. “It’s engineering led,” Eaglesfield adds, “but that is combined with design, which remains at the heart of everything that Aston Martin does.”

If everything goes to plan, by 2023 the company will have doubled annual output to some 14,000 vehicles, much of that driven by the new SUV model and growth in key overseas markets such as China.

“Combustion powered, front-engined sports cars are a very successful niche for Aston, but as we go forward these new products open all the global markets to us,” asserts Eaglesfield.

“It’s quite complex, to say the least, bringing a car to market on a global basis. It’s a major challenge for everyone in the automotive sector.

“It’s also about engaging with different demographics, whether that’s younger drivers, female drivers, trying to stretch out the portfolio of people that traditionally would have bought our cars.”