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Pendragon invests in Aston Martin

By the end of 2004 the number of dealers bearing Aston Martin's winged motif should reach 140 worldwide as annual sales rise towards 5,000 units from the current 1,500.

This represents a quantum leap for a company which, since its foundation in 1914, has built 17,500 cars and has a global network of only 61 dealers.

It also marks an act of faith from Ford's Premier Automotive Group in particular, and Ford Motor Company in general. Ford took full control of Aston Martin in 1993, one year after the marque's sales fell to a record low of 62 cars.

At the heart of this rapidly growing retail network will be a third model in its range, code named AM305. Priced between £70,000 and £80,000 it is likely to go into production during 2004 at a new plant in Gaydon, Warwickshire, and compete with Porsche's 911.

It will be a two-seater coupe and roadster, using Aston Martin's traditional front-engined, rear-wheel drive layout.

Bill Donnelly, Aston Martin's sales and marketing director, plans to develop the brand after vigorous pruning from the previous total of 93 outlets. Pendragon, the UK's biggest dealer group, is enthusiastically going along for the profitable ride, at home and abroad. Ford has a 49% stake in Pendragon's Ford dealerships, and the retailer has a substantial investment in PAG marques in the UK, Germany and US.

Through its five Stratstone, P J Evans and Paramount outlets Pendragon accounts for 260 Aston Martin sales a year, or 65% of the UK total of 400 cars generated by the brand's 18 dealers.

James Brearley, Pendragon's Aston Martin and Jaguar franchise director, said the group's figures were underpinned by solus London Mayfair and Wilmslow (Cheshire) Aston Martin operations exploiting Britain's two major supercar markets, Surrey and Cheshire. Wilmslow is pioneering Aston Martin's new corporate dealership format. This abandons the traditional wood and leather gentleman's club atmosphere, for a brighter, more minimalist “gallery” look, including extensive use of marble and light wood.

Pendragon's German and Stateside allegiance to PAG mirrors its UK strategy which extends to Aston Martin and Jaguar having Volvo next door on the Birmingham site.

Its Aston Martin footprint is found in Frankfurt (with Jaguar at the Autohaus Kronberg facility) and Munich (where it joins Jaguar and Land Rover in the Automobile Vertreib operation) plus an imminent double move into lucrative California, again in conjunction with fellow British PAG brands.

Earlier this year Pendragon took over Bauer in San Juan Capistrano, south California, retailing Aston Martin and Jaguar, while it is finalising a deal to represent both marques and Land Rover in Hollywood.

While the existing UK dealer headcount of 18 outlets will remain virtually unchanged, Mr Donnelly outlined major growth in representation in the other two major Aston Martin markets.

US retailers will rise from 12 to 43 within four years. High profile signings include the former chief executive of Jaguar's Grand Prix team, Bobby Rahal, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and automotive magnate Roger Penske, near Los Angeles.

Germany, which accounts for 12,000 luxury sports car sales a year, or 50% of the sector's continental European volume, is ripe for expansion.

Mr Donnelly explained: “It is well within reason to sell 600 Aston Martins a year within five years, or five times this year's likely German record.”

He believes that keeping the owners of older and classic examples of the marque “within the family” is instrumental in a new heritage parts initiative. Around 85% of all the 17,500 Aston Martins ever built are still classified as “runners”.

Initially, seven specialised non-franchised and franchised businesses will provide a company-endorsed component manufacturing and supply system for models including the V8 cars, and earlier Astons.

Price and availability must be “sensible”, said Mr Donnelly. Surprisingly there is no company-owned collection of classic models.

Frequent ownership changes between the 1960s and when Ford took its initial 75% stake in 1987 caused this lack of a heritage focus. It is something Mr Donnelly is committed to rectifying “over time”.

Racing success is part of that legacy, including winning the 1959 Le Mans endurance classic and world sports car series.

A feasibility study by engineer Graham Humphreys has just been completed on a possible return to racing, using the V12 Vanquish as a platform for GTS class racing.

Mr Donnelly said: “We are having discussions about whether or not it can work. Endurance racing is in our DNA and at some stage we would like to get back. It is the sensible thing to do.”

  • History note: Aston Martin is one of five Ford-controlled brands to win Le Mans. The others are Ford, Jaguar, Mazda (the first and only Japanese winner in 1991) and Lagonda, in 1935.
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