When Opel said in January that it would skip the Geneva auto show this year, regular showgoers wondered: Which brand would claim the former General Motors subsidiary's prominent spot in Hall 2 at the Palexpo convention center?
The surprising answer was Aston Martin. Geneva has always been an important show for ultraluxury brands such as Aston Martin, but this year the UK sports car maker has a stand that would be big enough to showcase the entire range of a mainstream brand. Moving to a stand that gives Aston its biggest ever presence in Geneva is an expensive move for a relatively small, independent company.
Aston Martin's stand upgrade is an indication of the brand's turnaround in fortunes and its ambition for the future, CEO Andy Palmer said. "Of course, it's costly, but it's a statement of confidence," he told me.
Fresh from announcing record revenues for 2017 and a pretax profit, Aston Martin will show off its new Vantage entry sports car -- making its auto show debut -- as well as the new DB11 Volante convertible. It will also host the Red Bull Formula One car along with team boss Christian Horner and technical director Adrian Newey.
It's now time to make a big splash, Palmer said. Three years ago at Geneva he announced his "second-century plan" to reverse years of losses and revive the fortunes of a brand that had lurched from owner to owner without ever finding stability. "At that stage it was all about turnaround. The turnaround is done," he said. "Now's the time to talk about the portfolio expansion, where the company is going and how it's going to appeal to the spectrum of luxury customers."
Palmer didn't say it, but the new grand stand might also be a way for Aston Martin to show off its successful turnaround to potential investors. The sports car maker is targeting a valuation of as much as 5 billion pounds ($6.8 billion) in a potential initial public offering, Bloomberg reported in January.
In 2015, at Aston Martin's former Geneva stand (now taken over by Volvo's Polestar brand), Palmer showed the DBX off-road coupe and announced that Aston would build an SUV. The company is building a factory in Wales that will build the car starting in 2019. The SUV will be revealed next year.
This fulfillment of promises gives the brand credibility to show radical new ideas to the wealthy buyers Geneva attracts, Palmer said. "If we did it before, nobody would take us seriously. Now people are taking us seriously. And we'll be able to get the people across to our stand knowing this is not the dream, that in some shape or form it will become a reality."