As­ton Martin keeps its eye on the fu­ture

IN­TER­VIEW/ Mark Smyth spoke with Philip Ea­gles­field, pres­i­dent of As­ton Martin UK and SA on the brand’s plans

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

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, 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 at the Gay­don fac­tory in the UK where the first of just 99 Zagato Shoot­ing Brake mod­els were be­ing made. Some Zagato mod­els, which also in­clude coupe and con­vert­ible ver­sions, al­ready have own­ers await­ing their ar­rival in SA.

All this change must be good for Philip Ea­gles­field, who took over as pres­i­dent of As­ton Martin UK and SA in May af­ter 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 in 2018. In SA, in 2018, it has sold just 18. Maybe not so sim­i­lar then at least not in sales fig­ure terms. But Ea­gles­field told us that he ex­pects the SA mar­ket to grow as the com­pany fur­ther ex­pands its prod­uct port­fo­lio.

LOYAL OWNER BASE

He says that As­ton Martin has a loyal owner base in SA, even 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 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.

Orig­i­nally billed as a crossover, the com­pany has now said the DBX 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 hurt 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 bat­tery­elec­tric 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. Wil­liams is do­ing the same with other car mak­ers too, in­clud­ing Rolls-Royce.

Is it the end of the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine in the Rapide? Ea­gles­field would not com­ment 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 a num­ber of gov­ern­ments, in­clud­ing the UK, 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 car mak­ers are pre­par­ing for it just in case and some own­ers have asked for it.

In a world where the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gines might be banned, own­ers want to know that they can still drive their old DB5 for ex­am­ple and be­sides, the elec­tric driv­e­train can be swapped with the petrol one at any­time what­ever hap­pens.

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 its cars are more com­fort­able in traf­fic on a daily ba­sis. We have al­ready seen that with the DB11 and the new Van­tage and the DBX should take things to an­other level in this re­gard.

IN Q4 2019, AS­TON

The com­pany has high ex­pec­ta­tions for the up­com­ing DBX SUV in SA.

Philip Ea­gles­field, pres­i­dent of As­ton Martin UK and SA.

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