The life of a car company is not an easy one; as Tesla CEO Elon Musk has often noted, “[a]s of 2016, the number of American car companies that haven’t gone bankrupt is a grand total of two.” Aston Martin isn’t American, but it has gone bankrupt in the past—more than once, in fact. Founded in 1913, it has at times been owned by industrialists as well as the Ford Motor Company, but today it finds itself publicly listed on the London stock exchange, trading at a much cheaper price than its initial offering in 2018.
At the same time, it has a product portfolio that now includes that must-have—an SUV—as well as an increased presence in Formula 1. Perhaps more importantly, it also signed a technology transfer agreement with Mercedes-AMG that gives the small marque access to the latest and greatest in powertrain technology. And the British company has a new CEO: German businessman Tobias Moers. Moers joined the company in 2020 after more than two decades at Daimler AG, most recently as head of… Mercedes-AMG.
Recently, Ars met up with Moers (via Zoom) to talk about electrification and the future of James Bond’s brand of choice.
I was curious whether Moers thought that his job might have been easier had Aston Martin not gone through its IPO in 2018?
“It’s still a hangover, which is surprising,” he said. “It was not a story of success, as everybody knows; especially in some areas, you’re always facing that kind of burden when you have what the company was back in the days or what happened back in the days. We have got to overcome that. It is [our] obligation to fix the business and the company to get on a much more efficient level to produce and manufacture cars.”
Do we need two paint shops?
An example of this is rationalizing the company’s paint shops.
“We’re going to paint the cars in future in one paint shop and not in two, like happens at the moment,” Moers said, referring to the company’s two production facilities at Gaydon in England and St Athan in Wales. Moers isn’t planning on closing either factory, though. “We still keep on plants. St Athan, which is in Wales where we build the DBX, is an example. There is a brand-new facility for the paint shop. Aston Martin invested in a brand-new facility in regards to paint, and the capacity of the paint shop is really good; you can paint more than 10,000 cars a year. So we put all the cars now into that new paint shop, which gives us a better quantity and gives us a more efficient process,” Moers said.
“At Gaydon, we had two assembly lines to do all the cars. Now on one assembly line, we can build more cars that way than the company built before. If there’s a need for and we can adjust our capacity much more flexible, always on the same efficient level,” he told Ars.
Despite having the capacity to paint 10,000 cars a year, Moers doesn’t think Aston Martin will produce anywhere near that many vehicles every 12 months. “The natural demand for front-engine-driven sports cars—it’s for sure not 6,000 cars. It’s more in the 3,500-4,000 region [annually]. If you’ve built more than that, you end up in a huge volume of stock—what we faced last year. We started into the year close to 3,000 cars in stock, partly dealer stock, partly company stock. And this is not good,” Moers said.
“We move the company now into a demand-driven supply chain, not the wholesale-driven supply chain. But I think Aston Martin was always obliged to push wholesale. In regards to the inefficiency on the manufacturing side, on the production-operational side—it is what we face on one hand. But on the other side, now we see a recovery of residual value at the moment, as we lower down the stock. This is not good, but what happened in the past, but it’s getting far, far better,” he said.
“Oh God, it cannot work”
At this point, I asked if that meant more very low-volume, very expensive hypercars (like the forthcoming Valkyrie and Valhalla) rather than cars built in bigger volume like the Vantage or DB11.
“Even a Vantage could give us a good margin, but we have to fix the business around us. For example, there is no discount on a Vantage Roadster, because it’s not spread about in the markets and the stock level is not high. The Vantage is a far-underestimated sports car at the moment, but you have to reach it, and you have to form it in a precise way. I think our sports cars are great, but they need a lot of refinement. For the future, we’ve got to do that. And then DBX is the best-handling SUV I personally ever drove,” Moers said.
“Initially, when you see a DBX, this being a bespoke platform, you think ‘oh God, it cannot work,’ because everybody else has one platform, and a Lamborghini and a Bentley and a Porsche share the same platform. And this was my learning curve so far. You know, Aston is a great company to bring a platform to life. It’s reasonable; investment is not through the roof. Even the cost is OK. There’s a reason why DBX is such a great-handling car, because that platform has a lot of compliance regarding stiffness and torsional stiffness and dynamic stiffness and torsional direction as well. So it’s really great car, and that platform delivers a lot of opportunities for the future, and we are really getting creative regarding that platform for the future,” Moers explained.
As a follow-up, Moers was asked specifically which aspects of the cars needed refinement. “For the future, you need everything. Properly up-to-date technology regarding the nav system and connected car and things like that. Probably better handling as well. So to put everything on a new level. And this is what we are working on,” he said.
Working with AMG
Unsurprisingly, Moers thought that the technology deal with AMG was a very big deal. It means that Aston Martin can use AMG’s modern 4.0L V8 engine (as in the Vantage and DBX), as well as giving the British OEM access to modern infotainment and advanced driver-assistance systems.
“It was very important last year to achieve that technology transfer agreement. Because at a company like Aston, you cannot run your own electrical powertrain department. It’s impossible. You never are able to pay the bill for that,” Moers told Ars.
“For the powertrain side regarding engines, what makes a difference for the future? Now we have access to a whole calibration, we can calibrate every single ECU in that powertrain also. And, therefore, we can do that then as part of the journey for the future. We’ve got to create, you know, a bespoke Aston drivability. It makes no sense to just copy-paste AMG. It should be bespoke, because Aston is a different brand. We can use that toolbox, and we can create a more bespoke, Aston Martin engine out of them. And that’s good; the company was never in a situation to do that,” Moers said.
Ars asked Moers if the technology sharing meant we’d see AMG’s new power-dense hybrid battery pack in future Astons.
“The batteries is really capable,” he replied. “I know that battery inside out. It is clear that Aston has to go on a path in the direction of electric and electrified powertrains, purely electric and electrified powertrains, and as you may know, part of the technology transfer is access to a hybrid electrified powertrain. And yes, for sure, you just recently saw an announcement of AMG about their technology. So it makes sense that we probably use the same technology for us in the future as well. For sure, with bespoke drivability and an Aston Martin interpretation of that technology, but you do have access to that performance-oriented hybrid technology that fits, not so bad, into the DBX,” Moers said.
On the other hand, Moers’ arrival at Aston Martin should not be seen as a prelude to the company being bought outright by Daimler AG. “There is no hidden agenda. I’m not here because they’re going to buy the whole company, that’s not the reason I’m here,” he said. “We are in the middle of a facelift for Vantage, DB11, and DBS, so we are in an engineering exercise to bring these cars to life in a new level. It takes time because, when I came into the company, nothing was defined. There was nothing going on. So we’re going to have a good future for sports cars,” he said.
As for going forward? Moers wants “to get the confidence and the trust state again into the brand, and I see that potential increasing now in Europe. I see an increasing demand in Europe and more confidence in Europe in Aston as a brand. And defining the brand for the future. For sure, it could truly be a Ferrari competitor, but I don’t want to talk about being a competitor of Ferrari. We have to define our own path.”
Listing image by Aston Martin