TOKYO (Bloomberg) -- Aston Martin is preparing to introduce a vehicle that will replace the flagship line of DBS automobiles. An announcement will soon be made and production will begin at the end of the year, Michael van der Sande, the automaker's chief commercial officer, said in an interview in Tokyo on Saturday.
The prototype vehicle shown at last month's Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este in Italy may preview "something that might be to come," he said, declining to provide details.
"We really see it as our 100th anniversary car that kind of spells out our direction for the next century, in terms of design, in terms of technology," van der Sande said. "It's an important car for us."
Closely held Aston Martin is counting on new models to compete against Volkswagen AG's Lamborghini and Fiat S.p.A.'s Ferrari in luxury sports car sales.
The 99-year-old Gaydon, England-based carmaker is also seeking to bolster its dealership network in China after lagging behind other automakers in the world's largest automobile market.
While Aston Martin, which has had its luxury sports cars featured in James Bond movies, periodically makes limited-edition vehicles such as the 1.38 million-pound ($2.1 million) One-77 supercar and the 330,000-pound Zagato, the DBS successor is important because the vehicle is among the company's more mainstream models, whose prices range from about 80,000 pounds to 200,000 pounds, van der Sande said.
In China, Aston Martin is seeking to catch up to other luxury sports car brands after starting a wholly owned unit in the country last year, van der Sande said. The company plans to double its number of dealers in the country in the next six to 12 months after tripling the number to nine last year, he said.
"We were very late to the party in China," he said. "It's early days yet but we're growing fast."
The company is selling between 20 and 30 vehicles a month in China, with the four-door Rapide being the most popular model, putting Aston Martin "head to head" with Ferrari and Lamborghini, said Matthew Bennett, regional director for Aston Martin in the Asia Pacific.
The company participated in 14 auto shows in China in the first half of the year to promote its brand, he said. China sales will lead to higher second-half earnings results for Aston Martin, whose debt is rated below investment grade by Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investors Service, Felix Fischer, head of research at Lucror Analytics in Singapore, wrote in a report last month.
Fischer estimates earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization will increase 13 percent to 80.6 million pounds in 2012 as the number of vehicles increases to 4,500.
'Sex on Wheels'
Van der Sande declined to provide financial forecasts, discuss the status of any possible partnership negotiations or say whether the company has made any progress in pursuing an initial public offering of its stock.
He was in Tokyo to open a showroom in the city and to talk to prospective buyers of the limited-edition Zagato. Aston Martin, which will feature a vintage DB5 in the next James Bond movie, is about to deliver its 77th and final One-77 and has four to five ideas for its next supercar, van der Sande said.
Still, that will have to wait until after the Zagato, which will probably be sold out by the end of the year, he said. "Zagato is an Italian-English definition of sex on wheels," van der Sande said.