Aston Martin's marque is world-beating, with a little help from James Bond

In a British economy beset by gloom, the luxury sports car manufacturer's recent success stands out

James Bond's Aston Martin at the World Premiere of No Time To Die, at the Royal Albert Hall in central London in 2021. Getty
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Has there ever been a better product placement than James Bond and Aston Martin?

A friend in his late fifties has just replaced his old BMW with a brand-new Aston Martin. Wow, I said, when I saw it. He felt the need to explain. “I saved up for it, I thought, why not? I am owed it.”

Why did he want one so badly? “I always have, ever since …” I finished the sentence, “ever since you saw James Bond drive one.” He nodded. All his life, he’s craved to be the same as 007. How does it feel? “It’s great, it’s fantastic to drive.”

It’s certainly hard to think of a more lucrative relationship between brand and movie, not one that has sustained for so long, across different models. In all, of the 25 Bond films, half show an Aston Martin. The most recent one, No Time To Die in September 2021, featured no less than four iconic models from the past, present and future, the DB5, the classic V8, and the GT-DBS. Future was represented by the forthcoming Aston Martin Valhalla mid-engined hybrid supercar.

Strangely, in the Ian Fleming novels, James Bond’s first car was a Bentley. It was in Goldfinger, that Fleming, following a suggestion from a fan, not from the company, put the hero in an Aston Martin DB3. By the time Goldfinger was turned into a film it was felt he should be driving something more contemporary, so the spy drove a DB5 – albeit one with machine guns, an ejector seat, a shield against bullets and revolving number plates. My pal hasn’t got those but he now has an Aston Martin and he can dream the rest.

Down the years, the marque like its famous driver, has had its bleaker moments. In the same way not all the films, not all the Bonds, have been consistently good, so the manufacturer has suffered its rough patches. In fact, for all the association with glamour, Aston Martin has been a basket case in corporate performance. Eight times in its 110-year history it’s almost gone under. The most recent was in 2020, shortly before that last Bond was aired.

Since then, Aston Martin has undergone a remarkable transformation, culminating in the opening this month of a new “ultra luxury” showroom in a prime site in Manhattan, on the corner of 57th and Park. New Yorkers were treated to the sight of 10 Aston Martins parked together at rush hour along Park Avenue. It was quite a statement, as was the 2,100-bulb chandelier in the front window of the showroom.

For all the association with glamour, Aston Martin has been a basket case in corporate performance. Eight times in its 110-year history it’s almost gone under.

What happened was that Aston Martin had a loyal fan base but it lacked growth, and mounting costs coupled with poor management were ever presents. Try as it might, the firm rarely seemed capable of turning a profit.

A stock market flotation in 2018 afforded promise. All the public listing did, however, was to lead to share analysts focusing on a company that until then had been private. What they saw was not pretty. Initially, it was valued at £4.3bn but soon the shares slumped. Going bust was a possibility.

Then the Canadian billionaire and fashion tycoon, Lawrence Stroll, came to the rescue. Stroll, 63, led a consortium that injected £182m to save the firm. Since then, it’s received heavyweight financial backing worth hundreds of billions of pounds from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and Geely, the Chinese automotive group that also owns the Lotus sports car.

Stroll became executive chairman. He attacked costs, introduced the DBX sports utility vehicle (made in South Wales it accounted for more than half the Aston Martins sold last year) then led the marque on another type of brand placement, taking it into Formula One via his own racing team, which was renamed Aston Martin. The Netflix series Drive to Survive highlighted the Aston Martin team. Thanks to the documentary series, F1 suddenly reached a new, younger audience, and so did Aston Martin. That, plus Aston Martin’s steady showing in races and the sport's Constructors’ Championship, have driven sale.

After years of heavy losses, the carmaker produced a pre-tax profit of £16.3m in the last quarter of 2022. Next year, should see it stop losing money completely. F1, said Stroll, pushed an “incredible revitalisation” of the brand. “Our order book is the strongest in the history of the company.”

Last year, Aston Martin sold 6,412 cars; the goal now is 10,000. It’s determined to make more money from every car – hence the new type of showroom with the first in New York. After Manhattan comes Berkeley Square in London, followed by more across America.

Perhaps cognisant that the company has not always exploited the Bond connection as well as it should, the new showroom is named Q, after James Bond’s eccentric but brilliant quartermaster. The showpiece is a 10.5m high interactive screen wall allowing buyers to customise their purchases, choosing colours and material samples.

The bespoke service grew by 52 per cent in the US last year. Its users spend more than normal purchasers. The aim is for 100 per cent, which will also lift the average sales price of the car.

In a British economy beset by gloom, Aston Martin stands out. Oddly, luxury car manufacturing is something the country does well – also made in Britain, relying on British traditional craftsmanship, are Rolls-Royce and Bentley. Britain has lost much of its once great automotive manufacturing industry, but not the high-end. Bond, has served, and continues to serve, his nation well.

Published: June 20, 2023, 12:18 PM