In the premium corner, we have Aston, an ultra-desirable brand being sold at the height of its powers, while in Blackpool struggling TVR was bought last month to save it from the clutches of the administrators.
This dichotomy illustrates neatly the changing fortunes of the UK’s specialist manufacturers: a handful of premium marques (Aston, Bentley, Rolls) owned by foreign multinationals are profiting very nicely, while many smaller domestic companies continue to lurch from one financial disaster to the next.
Aston’s new owners will enjoy a company in the ascendancy. Ten years ago, it built 662 cars a year, but that has leaped ten-fold to 7,000, helped in part by the continuing 007-cool that pervades the brand, but mainly by the shrewd stewardship of ex-Porsche CEO Ulrich Bez. Under his watch, he’s expanded the model line-up to a three-strong range, with plans for a fourth.
Not that Aston’s new owners won’t face stern challenges. They must forge a deal to ensure supply of components from the Ford empire, or seek partnerships elsewhere, and they will no longer enjoy the engineering resources of one of the world’s largest firms. Beware also the ‘green’ lobby, turning their attention to big-polluting sports cars soon.
If Aston Martin is small fry, then TVR is microscopic. It sold just 175 cars in the UK last year and collapsed into administration in December, before being bought by former owner Russian Nikolai Smolenski in February. He’s now pressing ahead with plans to switch production from Blackpool to mainland Europe, and he may yet sell to Florida-based businessmen.
He wants to build a four-car range and increase sales overseas. Sound familiar? It’s the same plan as Aston Martin’s. I know where my money lies.