For years we talked about evolution when it came to Aston Martin - evolution of design, evolution of the same engines and evolution of technology. No matter how good a new model might have been, it was easy to find oneself justifying its existence while other brands were introducing products that were even more exciting.
Aston has made good and bad models just the same as it has had good and bad times, but today it is on a mission, thanks in part to a new captain in the form of CEO Andy Palmer and the company’s Second Century plan. This plan has so far provided the stunning new DB11 and the impressive return to the sports car fold in the form of the new Vantage.
There’s more to come too and we were fortunate to get a rare look at the Pilot Line production line at the Gaydon factory in the UK where the first of just 99 Zagato Shooting Brake models were being produced. Some of the Zagato models, which also include coupe and convertible versions, already have owners awaiting their arrival in SA eagerly.
All this change must be good for Philip Eaglesfield, who took over as president of Aston Martin UK and SA in May having been in charge of client services worldwide as part of his 25-year career with the company.
Eaglesfield says there are similarities between the two markets, but Aston has sold 1,378 models in the UK so far this year. In SA in 2018, it has sold just 18. Maybe not so similar then, at least not in sales figure terms, but he says he expects the SA market to grow as the company expands its product portfolio further.
He says that Aston Martin has a loyal owner base in SA, extending to classic models. In fact, he told us that recently an owner in SA undertook a complete factory restoration of an old model at the specialist Aston Martin Works in Newport Pagnell, UK, an impressive and no doubt expensive exercise.
Where Eaglesfield and no doubt local distributors Daytona Group really expect to see growth is with the new SUV, the DBX, which is due to launch in the last quarter of 2019.
Eaglesfield admits that there are market pressures in SA, and that the current economic situation is not ideal. But he says the SUV will be a “hit” in SA. The DBX was billed originally as a crossover, but the company now says it will be more of a SUV.
“It’s moved to be a SUV - more usability,” he says. “It has resonance for us as a SUV.”
The DBX is likely to hit sales of the ageing four-door Rapide though, but the company will continue with the luxury model, so in line with the major changes for the other main models the Second Century plan must surely have a new Rapide waiting in the wings. Eaglesfield would only confirm that this would make sense, but the company has other plans for the Rapide too.
In the last quarter of 2019, Aston Martin will introduce the Rapide-E, its first full battery-electric vehicle (BEV). Initially it will produce 155 units with power outputs of 449kW and 950Nm of torque. The Rapide-E will be the first model to be built at a brand new site where the DBX will also be produced, but Aston is not doing it on its own.
The company has been working with Williams Engineering, which has basically designed the entire electrical drivetrain. Eaglesfield says the company values its supply partnerships and that Williams is in a position to help bring Aston to a vital level of expertise in electrification for the future. Williams is doing the same with other automakers too, including Rolls-Royce.
Is it the end of the internal combustion engine in the Rapide? Eaglesfield would not say, but the company continues to make the Rapide AMR with a petrol engine, at least until the next generation comes along.
“We have to reorientate as different people come into car ownership,” Eaglesfield says of electrification. The Rapide-E is designed to appeal to those people, but so too is the idea of reverse electrification. Last week, the company announced it is following Jaguar in making an electrification system available for classic Aston Martin models. The decision to do this comes as several governments, including the UK's, have made announcements on banning petrol and diesel engines.
It seems unlikely that these bans, should they happen, will include models already on the road, particularly classic cars, but carmakers are preparing for it just in case, and some owners have asked for it. Purists may hate the idea, but in a world where the internal combustion engine might be banned, owners want to know that they can still drive their old DB5 for example. Besides, the electric drivetrain can be swapped with the petrol one at any time whatever happens.
These are all signs of a company adapting to change. Eaglesfield admits that Aston is having to re-educate people on its cars. He says the company is working hard on usability and making sure that its cars are more comfortable in traffic, nicer places to be daily. We have already seen that with the DB11 and the new Vantage. The DBX should take things to another level completely.
- This article was originally published by the Business Day.