BIRMINGHAM, England - Aston Martin CEO Ulrich Bez will not hurry to push the growth of the British super-luxury car brand. He knows the best things are often worth waiting for.
That is why 57-year-old Bez and his boss, Premier Automotive Group Chairman Wolfgang Reitzle, decided earlier this autumn to delay the launch of the new Aston Martin V-12 Vanquish. The reason? Small details of the car, particularly the interior, didn't measure up to their idea of what an Aston Martin should be.
The prototype Vanquish had Ford Ka air vents - something Bez and Reitzle felt didn't belong in the top sports car in the Ford Motor Co. empire.
Aston Martin is part of Ford's Premier Automotive Group that also comprises the Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo and Lincoln brands.
'We can afford not to launch [the Vanquish] now,' says Bez, who joined Aston Martin in July. 'We don't have 5,000-10,000 employees and an investment of a few hundred million dollars. If the team feels ready, we go. If not, we don't.'
Look for Vanquish to appear at the Geneva auto show in March 2001 - if the team feels ready.
Aston Martin currently builds two models - the DB7 and V-8. Both are available in two-door coupe and cabriolet forms. The company is not making money at the moment, due to factory refurbishment, development of the Vanquish and other costs. But the DB7 program itself is now profitable, and Bez believes it is only a matter of time before Aston Martin turns a profit and can fund its own engineering programs without loans from Ford.
Bez also has ambitions for Aston Martin's distribution network. He wants to more than double the number of dealerships around the world.
'We have 65 dealerships now,' says Bez. 'That's a very, very low number. There are huge areas with no coverage.'
Bez says the number of Aston Martin dealerships could grow to about 140. Most of those new dealerships would likely be in North America and western Europe, and some of them could be attached to Jaguar or Land Rover franchises. For example, Germany only has six Aston Martin stores now, and there is one in Paris and one in Monaco. Bez believes there should be a few more.
Bez won't name a number, but he believes Aston Martin could increase production from fewer than 1,000 cars a year to 3,000-5,000 without diluting the exclusivity of the brand.
The home UK market currently accounts for 40 percent of all Aston Martins sold. That number will be reduced in the future. The V-8 models, made only in right-hand drive, will be replaced by the Vanquish, which will be made in right- and left-hand drive. Eventually, Bez believes Aston Martin sales will break down as follows: 30 percent UK; 30 percent western Europe; 30 percent USA; and 10 percent Far East.
A third Aston Martin model, priced below 100,000 (E170,400) would make the brand more accessible to buyers. If there is a third car, Aston Martin will need a third factory. Its two English plants at Newport Pagnell and Bloxham are already at capacity.
Aston Martin has applied for planning permission to build a third English factory at Gaydon, adjacent to Land Rover's headquarters and development center.
Program approval for a third Aston Martin model will probably come from Ford late this year or early next year.
Bez is aware people want to compare Aston Martin to Ferrari or Porsche, his former employer.
'I don't think we need to make Aston Martin as popular as Porsche,' he says. 'Aston Martin lovers will buy Aston Martins, Ferrari lovers will buy Ferraris and Porsche lovers will buy Porsches.'
In the past, Ford officials have said Aston Martin will be a breeding ground for new technologies. But Bez is sensitive about the idea.
'Aston Martin is not a proving ground for customers,' Bez says. 'It is not a laboratory or a test bed. It is a small volume, high technology brand.'
Bez knows all about technology. He has had a varied career in the auto industry, having worked for Porsche, Daewoo, BMW and Ford.
During his time at Porsche, Bez directed the design, development and introduction of the 911 Turbo, Carrera RS, 968 and 993.
He was born in Bad Canstatt, on the outskirts of Stuttgart. He gained his engineering degree from the University of Stuttgart and has written more than 40 scientific publications related to the auto industry.
Bez says: 'Aston Martin is a very promising and desirable brand. It has a very promising future. Otherwise I wouldn't have decided to come here [to England].'