Andy Palmer: Beautiful Aston Martin to become luxury goods conglomerate, take on Bentley and Rolls-Royce

Andy Palmer: “Our brand purpose is ‘For the love of beautiful.’” (c) Bertel Schmitt

“We don’t want to be just a luxury brand like Chanel, or Tag Heuer. We go to the group level, we aim to be a little bit like Richemont, or LVMH,” Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer told me yesterday in Tokyo.

Richemont is a Swiss-based luxury goods holding with brands such as Van Cleef & Arpels, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, and many more. Its French pendant is LVMH. Born out of the fusion of Louis Vuitton and Moet Hennessy, LVMH is known in affluent circles for brands like Dior, Fendi, Bulgari, Moët & Chandon, or Kenzo.

Aston Martin is well on his way to achieve the goal of becoming a British Richemont, or LVMH. Those who possess the funds can already reside in Aston Martin branded luxury apartments in Mami, tie up their Aston Martin AM37 speedboat at the pier (possibly as a stylish tender to the $4 million Aston Martin luxury submarine) and dress for the occasion in Aston Martin Racing by Hackett sportswear. More luxury deals appear to be in the works. “We are assembling an air of luxury around Aston Martin,” Palmer said.

Used Aston Martins sell for millions, (1937 15/98 Tourer) (c) Bertel Schmitt

Aston Martin makes the perfect center of a new luxury universe. Its lowest cost offering, a stripper Vantage GT, has an MSRP of slightly over $100,000. Aston Martin’s flagship Vanquish allegedly starts at $270,000, but when customers are done sniffing leathers, and ticking boxes, the price can double. The most expensive Aston Martin is a used one. A 1959 DBR1/1, driven by Stirling Moss, sold for $22.6 million.

“When you buy an Aston Martin, you don’t buy a car,” said Palmer, “you buy a piece of art.” Only 90,000 Aston Martins were built in Aston Martin’s more than 100-year-long history, all by hand, “and 95% of them still exist,” a line Palmer loves to repeat as often as possible.

Japan is the world’s second-largest luxury goods market, home of affluent and demanding customers known to occasionally shell-out a few hundred dollars for the perfect melon. Andy Palmer returned to Tokyo with the plan to double his company’s sales from the 186 registered new in 2016 to some 400 next year. With an annual production capacity of only 5,000 hand-built cars per year, that’s all Aston Martin would be able to send to Japan anyway. To sell the cars in befitting surroundings, Aston Martin opened its own brand center in Tokyo, called, with the appropriate British understatement, “House of Aston Martin.” At Volkswagen, it would be a “center of excellence,” at Tesla, at least a gigastore.

No frowzy flat screens on this DB11 dash (c) Bertel Schmitt

Located just across the street from Honda’s high-rent headquarters in Aoyama, and stone-throws away from Ferrari, Bentley, and Lamborghini stores, the center wants to become “Aston Martin’s largest selling dealer in the world,” Palmer said at the opening festivities. The center will reach the goal when it moves 200 Aston Martins in 2018, half of the 400 Palmer has penciled-in for all of Japan for that year.

Contrary to Detroit’s strident “closed market” propaganda, Japan is the perfect place to sell the luxury cars Detroit doesn’t have. Mercedes, followed by BMW, are the best-selling import brands. Maserati and Ferrari outsold Chevrolet last year in Japan.  (In this British context, we use “luxury” the European way. Lowly Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, and Audi cars would be “premium cars.”)

Today’s fix: Simon Sproule is addicted to chocolate-covered potato chips. (c) Bertel Schmitt

Palmer likes to say that Japan and the UK have more in common than being islands, and that Nissan’s first car was based on an Austin. “Japan doesn’t have a luxury car company, and I hope that Japan would adopt Aston Martin as its luxury car company,” Palmer said, and he meant it.

A few paragraphs above, I wrote that he returned to Japan. In 2014, Andy Palmer left Japan after a 23-year career at Nissan, to go back to his Shakespearean home, live in a manor house, and become CEO of Aston Martin. He was quickly followed by his former Nissan comms chief Simon Sproule, who had done an unhappy, and 8-months-short detour to Tesla. Both have very strong ties to Japan, courtesy of their Japanese wives, and many years in the country.

Palmer put Masahiro Toi in charge of the Meta-Technology and Accelerator Office. (c) Bertel Schmitt

For a little island-to-island know-how transfer, the Tokyo brand center will also be home to Aston-Martin’s Japan-based “Meta-Technology and Accelerator Office.” To run the office, and to assist with “advanced product planning,” Palmer installed an old Nissan cohort, Masahiro Toi.

Usually, car companies play their future product plans close to their swollen chests. Palmer laid them on the table: “Aston Martin will launch 7 cars over 7 years, each with a life of 7 years, one launch every year, copy, repeat, copy, repeat.”

In a few months, the new Vantage will be launched simultaneously at six locations globally, with Tokyo one of them. In 2018, the mainstay Vanquish will receive a new model. In 2019, Aston Martin will launch its SUV, followed in 2020 by a “mid-engined sports car to compete with the Ferrari 488.” In 2021, Aston Martin plans to take on “the duopoly of Bentley and Rolls-Royce,” and bring back the Lagonda marque for a line of sedans. A second Lagonda will follow in 2022.

After that, it will be time for a new Vantage, a year later a new Vanquish, copy, repeat, copy, repeat, and you now have Aston Martin’s model plans for the next 14 years, or longer.

Frau Schmitto-san moonlights as DB2 DHC campaign girl (c) Bertel Schmitt

In between, Aston Martin will launch two sets of low volume specials per year, such as the Valkyrie, which “will be the fastest road-legal car in the world,” as fast as a 2016 F1 race car, said Palmer. He already pronounced it “the defining hypercar of this decade.” At the other end of the spectrum will be the all-electric RapidE, coming in 2019 with a limited run of 155 cars. These specials usually are sold-out long before production begins.

Won’t spreading out to SUVs and sedans, along with condos, boats, and submarines, lead to dilution of the storied marque? Not in Palmer’s book:

“Our brand purpose is ‘For the love of beautiful.’ It provides a singular focus for all our employees, suppliers, partners, and dealers.

Our past is defined by always making beautiful cars.

That doesn’t stop us doing a car as radical as a Valkyrie, we just have to make sure that it is beautiful.

It doesn’t stop us doing an SUV. It just needs to be the first-ever beautiful SUV.

It doesn’t stop us doing a sedan. It doesn’t need to be a classical sedan, it needs to be a beautiful sedan.”