New owners, new leaders, new product plans: in a year that has come with upheaval as standard, Aston Martin can perhaps uniquely consider the coronavirus as just another hurdle to overcome.
But for all the sense that the change (most notably its closer tie-up with Mercedes-Benz) might do Aston good in the long run, it’s hard not to ponder whether the need to survive has impacted on its ability to thrive.
Cast your mind back three years and you might recall chief designer Marek Reichman’s hugely swaggering assertion that Rolls-Royce and Bentley were the equivalent of “Ancient Greece” as he uncovered the first of two Lagonda concepts, electric-powered and built around sustainable materials.
A well-to-do rumpus ensued, as Rolls-Royce boss Torsten Müller-Ötvös fired back that Reichman had “zero clue what’s going on in the upper, upper segment”, pointing out that Aston sold cars to buyers several strata below its wealthy clientele.
Now the Lagonda concepts are on ice. It seems a perfectly logical decision; Aston faces enough challenges without having to invest huge amounts of resource in developing an all-new range of cars in a hurry.
Yet – theoretical though it may be, given executive chairman Lawrence Stroll’s lifelong belief in the value of promoting brands in Formula 1 and current emotional investment in his son Lance’s career in the sport – you have to ponder whether it might have been worth the gamble of pouring the money heading the way of the soon to be rebranded Racing Point F1 team into accelerating these electric ambitions instead.
Some will argue that the hundreds of millions an F1 team costs wouldn’t get you far down the road to launching a new electric car platform, but that equation has surely changed with Mercedes’ co-ownership. Marketing via F1 has never been clear-cut, whereas the returns on EV leadership are there, if not on the bottom line then certainly on the share price. Market valuations aren’t everything, but the stratospheric rises in the worth of BYD, Nio and Tesla in 2020 must surely have given Aston’s investors pause for thought (or tears).
Already you can sense the opportunity to lead is slipping away. Rival or not, Rolls-Royce is making noise about electrification and sustainable materials, while Bentley is so far ahead on these fronts that it threatens to leave everyone behind.
The tipping point won’t come until the first wave of cars are released, of course, and Aston may yet still be there. But right now, it appears to be focused on a different race altogether.
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