‘I’ve found that most of the terminology and processes are the same as a big company,’ reflects recently installed Aston Martin boss Andy Palmer. ‘But the difference is that everyone in this company loves cars – even the accountants. That’s not the case in a big car company!’
So what’s his blueprint for what makes an Aston Martin? ‘It must have beauty – it must be the most beautiful car in its class; it’s got to sound great, and it must have luxury.’ But he’s careful to define that hand-built luxury in a modern sense, citing the slight variations in a seam of hand-stitched leather – versus the perfection of a robot – as acceptable craftsmanship, but the rattle of poorly fitted wiring as absolutely not.
Post-Geneva, there’s been much interest in Aston’s DBX Crossover concept, its recent confirmation of production and a £200M boost to the company finances. ‘My mandate [on coming to Aston Martin] was that we need the DBX.’ It’s a case of selling the cars the market wants that will, in due course, allow for the enthusiast supercars to flourish. Palmer doesn’t want to sell ‘hats and mugs’ like Ferrari to boost revenue, but knows that small volumes do not make a sustainable business. The comparison with Porsche and the Cayenne is obvious, but Palmer is keen to stress the DBX is a crossover, not an SUV. ‘I have said to Marek “make the most beautiful Crossover in history”’.
Although by no means exclusively aimed at overseas and female buyers, Palmer knows Aston must – and can – capture many more of these than it currently does. Here the ‘big’ car company experience shines through: he’s constructed a persona for all future models, and while they aren’t exclusive, nevertheless they embody the essence of the car. The DBX is ‘Charlotte’ (Californian, wants to put the kids in the back, feel safe, sit up higher and so on), the forthcoming DB9-replacement is ‘Phillipe’, apparently; ‘Marcus’ is our man for the next Vantage, ‘Richard’ is the Vanquish, and ‘Yang’ the Taraf. Each persona is meticulously crafted in terms of lifestyle, location – the lot.
Our conversation inevitably turns to the Taraf. Was the car really only ever intended for the Middle East? ‘Yes, that was how it started; there’s a passion for the original car over there, in fact, most of those cars live there now. But by bringing it into Europe and elsewhere, even China now, we can sell the car more quickly, and that’s great for me from a business perspective. This car seeds the Lagonda story around the world,’ he continues. ‘The Lagonda name isn’t known globally – only really in the Middle East and the UK. So it (the Taraf) is a marketing tool, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that brand become ‘Lagonda by Aston Martin’.’ But just what is the Lagonda brand to him? ‘I would say if a Rolls is 1st class in a Boeing 777, then a Lagonda is Concorde. We may not have, say, the perfect ride, but the car has got to look and feel fantastic.’