Why does Aston Martin want to be Toyota?

Yes, it’s true.  One of the most respected and longest standing British marques is taking a note out of Toyota’s book and creating a car for the masses.  Is this a good idea or a bad idea?  Let’s hash it out.

Other companies have made similar moves in the past few years to kick up some extra sales.  Porsche of course comes to mind as they launched the Cayenne almost a decade ago.  When it broke cover everyone was shocked and appalled at the Beluga Whale that was this new SUV.  Flash forward nine years and, after the model was recently refreshed, the Cayenne almost looks cool.  The most recent ad for the whale has its owner returning to his house after enjoying a spirited Sunday morning drive.  Now, I think that’s a little far-fetched as it’s an expensive SUV, and if you can afford a Cayenne Turbo you can also afford something smaller and lighter for Sunday morning drives (hey, Porsche makes a few things that fit that mould).  But the point of the Cayenne isn’t to drive flat-out and enjoy the twisties.  No, it’s meant to be a cash cow, and it does that rather well. 

In 2008 the Cayenne accounted for nearly 50% of Porsche’s North American sales, and over the past nine years it has been the company’s top seller every year bar one.  What does this mean for Porsche? Is it now a purveyor of toys for rich soccer moms and the housewives of Orange County?  Well, to be honest, yes.  But that’s not the end of the story.  So the company’s lead stallion is fat and not particularly attractive, the important thing of note for us as die-hard petrolheads is that the Cayenne finances some of the best cars to come out of Porsche in a while.  The Cayman, GT3, GT3 RS, GT2, GT2 RS, Speedster, Sport Classic, and Boxster Spyder are just some of the übercars that have come out of Stuttgart since the Cayenne first breached the surface.  And these alone justify the existence of the Cayenne.

But back to Aston Martin, a purveyor of plush GTs that are meant to cruise the autobahn at 200km an hour.  The company has been making beautiful automobiles for over half a century, and will soon mar this tradition by building the Cygnet (seen at the top of this feature).  The Cygnet is based on the Toyota iQ, and will have a 1.3L straight-4 engine that produces a whopping 98hp.  I know, spine tingling stuff, right?  The Cygnet is expected to sell 4,000 units a year at a price of $50,000 CAD per unit.  

Let’s think of another Aston Martin that recently hit production: the One-77, which, as the name suggests, will be limited to 77 models.  This halo car from Aston costs $1.9 million and is powered by a 7.3L V12 that pushes out a mind-boggling 750hp, thrusting this über Bond car to 100kph in 3.5 seconds.  It is apparently the most powerful naturally aspirated engine ever put into a road car, and I believe it.  This is the type of car that Aston Martin should be making.  By hand.  Preferably out of carbon fiber.

So why on God’s green Earth is Aston also producing a mini car that seats three and can’t get to 100km any faster than I could walking? Elementary my dear reader, literally in this case.  By selling all 77 models of the One-77 Aston will generate approximately $146,300,000 in income from the project.  Given that this übercar is hand-made of exotic materials such as the tears of the Dalai Lama and whale penis leather just to name a few, and that to develop it Aston probably had to do a heck of a lot of R & D on top of sacrificing dozens of virgins to obtain the Gods blessing before production actually started; I think it’s safe to assume that a lot of that income will not be going to the bottom line. 

The Cygnet on the other, much smaller, hand will be generating boat loads of profit.  Aston is taking an existing product, in this case the iQ from Toyota, and covering some of the interior bits in leather, giving it a spiffy paint job and a new grill and sending it on its way.  Literally, they will be pimping the iQ and selling it as a piece of Aston history.  Which is utter tosh, as the Cygnet is not a true Aston Martin.  It’s a Toyota with a nice suit.  It’s a Toyota that will annually generate $200,000,000 for the firm.  Yes, you read that right.  Don’t believe me?  Do the math for yourself from the above numbers!  The Cygnet is, like the Cayenne, a massive (yet tiny) cash cow. 

Is the Cygnet a true Aston Martin?  Is it cool? Will it have a storied history as one of the greats of our day? No, no, God no!  But the Cygnet will generate a lot of actual profit that can be put towards creating more exciting Aston Martin GTs.  This has already started to happen with the company recently launching the Virage and Vantage S.  These are both niche cars that fit between two current Aston Martins.  The Virage has 20hp more than the DB9 on which it is based, but 20hp less than its big brother the DBS.  Similarly, the Vantage S is meant to fill that apparently massive gap between the V8 Vantage and the V12 Vantage (really, wouldn’t a V10 Vantage be nicer filler?).  But Aston is trying to do what Porsche has had a lot of success at: filling niches that no one saw.  Does the world really need 25 different 911 variants?  Probably not, but I can justify almost all of those variants by pointing out a unique aspect of the model that isn’t seen on another 911.  Except the bloody Targa 4.  Someone must have woke up one morning and said, “Boy, I wish that my 911 had a glass roof so I could see the bird crap as soon as it’s hit the car!”.  But I digress.

Aston Martin is following a proven model.  One that helps us petrolheads in the long run.  The Cygnet will most likely prove to be sold out every year, for reasons unknown to myself.  But with this model Aston Martin will be able to help finance their Le Mans efforts and create many more stunning cars like the DBS and Vantage.  But wait, it seems that Aston Martin’s CEO, Dr. Ulrich Bez, has just given the green light for a new model.  Oh no, it’s a Lagonda branded luxury SUV . . .

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~ by ubercar on March 14, 2011.

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