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007's Auto Thrives in the U.S.

Ford Motor Co.'s Aston Martin upscale marque often gets overlooked among the auto maker's stable of global brands. Yet, the famed British sports car maker is thriving in North America.

Ford Motor Co.'s Aston Martin upscale marque often gets overlooked among the auto maker's stable of global brands.

Yet, the famed British sports car maker is thriving in North America.

To moviegoers, Aston Martin is the car of choice for Hollywood's super spy James Bond. But to those with a hefty disposable income, Aston Martin is the maker of highly desirable and elegant performance vehicles, each hand-assembled at the company plant in England.

While high-end sports cars are experiencing varying levels of success in all regional markets, they traditionally have been more popular on the East Coast. Aston Martin is no exception, “because we've had well-established dealers there for 25 years,” Walton tells Ward's.

“In the last four to five years, we've strategically placed dealers in Florida, Chicago and Texas, and now we're stronger on the West Coast,” he says.

A 3-product lineup, combined with a top-notch 36-dealer network, is the driving force behind the company's success in North America, says John Walton, vice president of Aston Martin North America.

Aston Martin is the quintessential niche auto maker, with North American sales of just 1,100 units in 2005, he says.

This year, the company is aiming for 1,800 sales in North America, and next year's plans call for as many as 2,700. The ultimate goal is for global sales to reach the plant's full 7,000-unit annual capacity.

But Aston Martin may not be in the Ford stable much longer. Ford expresses interest in selling the venerable U.K. brand.

Currently, Aston Martin boasts three models: The V8 Vantage, which retails for $113,200; the DB9 Coupe, which starts at $165,750; and the top-of-the-line DB9 Volante, which stickers for $179,250.

Not to be overlooked is the power of exclusivity, a long-standing Aston Martin trademark. As is with other low-volume niche brands, the auto maker's philosophy is to build “one unit less than consumer demand,” Walton says. “We have strong order sales, which is a nice problem.

All the same, the company draws the line at making customers wait the 12-18 months typical of niche vehicle orders.

“We don't want people waiting that long,” Walton says. “It's not particularly fair. We want to satisfy the demand without saturating the market. But if you walked into pretty much any dealership in the U.S., you would be placed on a waiting list.”

Having a global parent has its advantages, but also can compromise the integrity of a high-end marque, Walton says. A common question posed to Aston Martin dealers is, “Does that have any Ford parts in it?”

He admits that in the past Aston Martin did dip into Ford's global parts bin. But that no longer is the case. In recent years, Aston Martin has established a degree of independence apart from other Ford brands.

“Today, we're very much able to produce our own cars and own engines. Every part is selected for us by us,” Walton says. “There are certain things we use from (Ford) suppliers, like air-conditioners. But in terms of things important to our customers — things you touch, those are pure Aston Martin.”

Yet, Walton says that, were it not for its relationship with Ford, Aston Martin probably would not exist today.

Going forward, Aston Martin is expanding its product lineup. The unveils begin with the upcoming Los Angeles Auto Show, which runs Dec. 1-10, where the auto maker will introduce a roadster version of the V8 Vantage.

In early 2007, Aston Martin will debut the DBS, the car Bond will drive in the new movie Casino Royale scheduled for release Nov. 17.

Says Walton: “Our relationship with Bond continues. That's been the single best marketing tool that any manufacturer ever had.”

TAGS: Dealers Retail
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