History repeats, first as tragedy, then as farce.
In a week where the massed ranks of the world’s motor business and the press pack who report upon them were to have crammed themselves into three preview days at Geneva’s Palexpo, they have instead been required to stay at home with nothing to show for themselves but a sick-note bearing two portentous words: Force Majeure.
We’ve been subjected to this term rather a lot throughout the week; so much so, it has become somewhat tiresome. But it’s easy to understand why writers have employed it so liberally. As a piece of terminology, it has an pleasingly ambiguous, yet portentous ring to it. Anyway, mere Acts of God have become embarrassingly passé.
It has been said that those the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. Therefore, spare a thought if you will for troubled upper-crust carmaker, Aston Martin. While you’re there, consider for a moment whether there has been a period in its recent past (which lasted longer than five minutes anyway) when that adjective was not superglued in front the storied Newport Pagnell nameplate. Certainly, alongside Alfa Romeo, has there ever been as pedigreed a brand that has as consistently failed to reward its backers by making a buck?
The current situation is doing an excellent impression of dire. Sales of the core product have stalled. The DBX crossover, which management are counting on to reverse the sales slump is not due to go on sale until later in the year and is, like everyone and everything else currently at the mercy of, you guessed it, Force Majeure.
Earlier this year it was announced that in time-honoured Aston Martin tradition a Canadian billionaire businessman is set to become a good deal more impoverished by injecting large amounts of liquidity into the embattled carmaker’s sorely depleted coffers. Mr Lawrence Stroll, he of the large bank balance and racing ambition, has through his Yew Tree Overseas consortium, taken a 16.7% stake in the cash-strapped AML business.
Meanwhile, the majority of Aston’s shares remain held by the Kuwait-based Adeem/Primewagon group, while the Strategic European Investment Group, part of the Italian private equity group Investindustrial, maintains around a one-third holding. All of which sounds like an awful lot of chiefs for such a small business.
Given the current state of the AML finances, the less than rapturously received product actions of late, not to mention the brace of limited-run models said to be in the pipeline (going by the names of Valkrie, Valhalla and Vanquish), one might have imagined Mr Stroll might have decided upon a more gimlet-eyed focus on core competencies and the jettisoning of unicorns, but it appears not.
And so to Geneva that wasn’t, where Aston Martin’s leadership remains not only committed to the errant Dr. Palmer, but also to its full cohort of mid-engined V-bombers. But the madness doesn’t end there. It was also announced that the cash-burning carmaker will enter the 2021 F1 championship as a full works equipe, under a rebranded version of Stroll’s own motor racing team. Success, one imagines, will duly follow.
But given that it’s showtime and important to (a) show up and (b) have something sexy to show, a new model was an imperative. Hence the world debut at Gen… sorry I mean Gaydon of the Aston Martin Speedster, a puristic (their words) V12-engined Vantage-based two-seater, inspired, it seems by jet-fighters of which, in the hyperbole-free words of AutoCropley staff writer, Lawrence Allen, “Just 88 models will be forged by British firm’s ‘Q by Aston Martin’ bespoke arm, each costing £765,000.”
Finally, the source of Aston Martin’s travails emerges into sharper definition. And to think that it was so simple – after all, forging cars is not only hugely time-consuming but considerably more costly than simply building them like most people – even at over three quarters of a million quid a pop. What on earth was Andy Palmer thinking – or was it a case of Forge Majeure?
In perhaps the most unlikely and irrational of brand tie-ups ever, Aston Martin has, well, let’s allow them to explain: “the V12 Speedster has been shown in a conceptual specification that is inspired by the legendary F/A-18 and will be available for customers to order. Born from an exciting new collaboration with Boeing and created by the brand’s bespoke customisation service ‘Q by Aston Martin’, this striking livery takes the legendary fighter jet for inspiration and is finished in Skyfall Silver, with contrasting satin black on the exhaust tips, vent grilles and vanes.”
Leaving aside the whole Boeing nonsense, isn’t all this Bond iconography starting to wear a tiny bit threadbare? Q by Aston Martin. Skyfall Silver. How much does the average Aston Martin customer need to be beaten across the face and neck by her majesty’s secret service’s best known fictional operative? Is not this the primary rationale for buying one in the first place?
There might have been a time when the Bond franchise could have existed without Newport Pagnell’s finest as product anchor, and indeed for a period it did. But the inverse has never been the case at Aston Martin – its continued existence being inextricably linked to 007 and his exploits. However, a case can be made that now, the two franchises are entwined in a mutually dependent death-grip.
Yet if Aston Martin was a superspy, he would be the most costly, dipsomaniac, failure-prone, chaos-inducing secret service operative extant. Yet one who almost despite himself, prevails. Sound familiar?
Force Majeure. It’s almost a plausible title for a Bond movie – possibly a superior one to that of the forthcoming episode, which I read has now been delayed until the autumn. Why? Surely I don’t need to spell it out for you?