Aston Martin is on a straight route towards the introduction of a pure electric model; the replacement of all its current sports cars, starting with the DB11 next year; the addition of a production version of its DBX crossover concept; development of an all-new V12 engine; and leveraging its relationship with Daimler. Hybridization is also on the development agenda.
“On average, there will be a new Aston Martin just about every year from 2016, and if you include derivatives of those models, the time line will average about every nine months. It is going to be pretty intense for us,” CEO Dr. Andy Palmer told Automotive Engineering.
The company is planning to series produce a Lagonda sedan that will compete with Bentley and Rolls-Royce, its design emphasis on the creation of a “low, sleek” sports solution. The limited edition Lagonda Taraf, revealed last year and originally conceived as a product for Middle East buyers, is now being engineered for global sales.
“All of this means that we are now in the midst of very heavy engineering development and manufacturing investments,” added Palmer, an engineer who took over as Aston’s CEO a year ago following 24 years with Nissan Motor Company where he was Chief Planning Officer and Chairman of Infiniti.
The company’s link with Daimler/Mercedes-AMG will include the supply of V8 engines and vehicle electrical architectures. Other Daimler components are likely to be used by Aston in the near to mid-term.
The company also plans to continue to have two very limited edition ultra-exotic custom models in build at any one time. At present, these are the £1.5 million (plus tax) track-only Vulcan (24 to be built) and the £250,000 GT12 Vantage (100 sold).
The production electric Aston will probably be a version of the DBX, which will be engineered for both gasoline and electric powertrains. The company has already built a one-off (so far) electric version of its four-door Rapide. But it isn’t a “skateboard” architecture, which Palmer regards as ideal. Nevertheless, it could be seen as a technology demonstrator and market tester.
The pure electric Aston Martin Rapide (designated RapidE) technology demonstrator was developed in collaboration with Williams Advanced Engineering. Aston Martin and Chinese investment Group ChinaEquity have agreed to explore the development of a production version of the RapidE concept. If successful, the car could be marketed in about two years. CEO Dr. Andy Palmer said: “We see luxury electric vehicles as an intrinsic part of our future product portfolio and welcome ChinaEquity into the next phase of study for the project development.”
For a long-term production EV, Aston would want a partner. “Tesla did the engineering integration for the Mercedes-Benz B-Class EV; we’d like to ‘shake the tree’ and see what falls out with regard to partners,” said Palmer. “It’s incredible the number of battery companies out there—Chinese companies coming to us (OEMs and suppliers) saying they want to do EVs.”
While Aston’s established VH (vertical horizontal) platform has steadily evolved, the next generation of the company’s cars will have brand new modular architectures.
The business plan is to replace all the sports cars, explained Palmer. The crossover will enter production towards the end of this decade/early 2020s and may retain the concept’s DBX nomenclature. Palmer describes the car as looking like a “sports car from the waist line up, crossover from the waist line down.”
Leaving aside projected production figures for the DBX, Aston aims to cap its annual sports car production at about 7000 units to maintain the marque’s exclusivity. There are no plans to produce a car below the cost/power level of the V8 Vantage. Certainly there will be nothing like the Toyota IQ-based Cygnet, which was given a very high specification by Aston and carried the company’s badge. With only 500 built, used examples are currently changing hands for sums greater than the car’s cost (around £30,000) when new in 2010.
As Aston’s range is renewed and the DBX approaches, Palmer and his Board are looking around the world for possible production facilities. The company’s HQ plant at Gaydon in the English Midlands has a maximum capacity of 10,000 units per annum. With the arrival of the DB11 next year, a second production line is being installed, together with a new composites tub shop.
With more space needed for the DBX, both greenfield and brownfield sites are being investigated, but there is no specific target to find somewhere in UK, said Palmer: “DBX will be a global car and is aimed particularly at China and the U.S. We will make a pragmatic decision.” But he admitted there was a customer “pull” to have it built in UK: “The Rapide was initially built in Austria by Magna Steyr and that wasn’t a problem. We will be judged on the product.”
While both hybrid and pure EV solutions for future models are being examined, Palmer’s preference is definitely for the latter: “The company needs to have very low or zero emissions models; consumers will expect it.”
A difficulty, though, is that almost all Aston Martin buyers expect an evocative aural engine signature to be savored in the cabin; a basic electric whirr would not be music to their ears. This is a subject for much discussion at Gaydon, but there cannot be any “fake” noise generated that would be akin to a dubbed road movie, said Palmer. Advancing technology in this area is expected to produce a solution.
Palmer is relaxed about appropriate technology links and partnerships with some equally appropriate companies to enhance Aston’s products and underlined the significance of its relationship with Daimler: “The Nissan-Renault Alliance has worked well with Daimler, and now Aston Martin has its unique partnership with Daimler.”
As well as series production model developments, Palmer wants to maintain Aston’s very low volume special vehicles operation custom car capability. The Vulcan, deliveries of which start in early 2016, is an extreme track car inspired by the exotic Aston Martin One-77.
The car’s price includes track-day driver training, race suits, and helmets. Engine output can be adjusted to provide owners with a gradated power introduction to the car. Maximum output is around 600 kW (805 hp).
Vulcan is built at a dedicated facility a few kilometers from Gaydon. Cars for the new James Bond film were also assembled there, the latest the DB10, of which only ten examples were built.
Aston is now developing a new, in-house designed V12 engine needed to meet lower emissions criteria. That'll be music to many ears.