NEWS: Q&A: Aston Martin's John Sinders and Ulrich Bez

By - April 25, 2007
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American John Sinders backed a Speed World Challenge team that ran an Aston Martin DBRS9 in 2006. This year, along with Prodrive's David Richards and a Kuwaiti-based investment company, he bought Aston Martin from Ford.
How did a guy from Houston become partial owner of one of Britain's favorite car companies?The short answer is that I like Astons. I collect and race Astons, and, at my day job, I'm an investment banker. When I saw that the company was up for sale, two things struck me. One, that it would be interesting to try to buy it, because if anyone could figure out how to uncork Aston's value, it would be someone who knows the brand well. And, two, that the brand deserves to be owned by someone who loves it.
What's the significance of having David Richards running more than just the racing arm of Aston Martin?David and Ulrich [Bez] are two of the best car guys around. It's a blessing to have them. They are very dissimilar talents and personalities, but they're both incredible human beings and motoring geniuses.
What is your plan for Aston Martin?Not much different from Ulrich Bez's plan: to make the best sport GT and luxury GT cars in the world. Ulrich has done a phenomenal job from an engineering and product perspective; he has helped turn out some very good cars. We are here to help him take it to the next step-to get better engines, develop the dealer network, and increase brand awareness. Our plan is pretty much what any enthusiast would want. We're talking about having a single-make racing series like the Porsche Cup or the Ferrari Challenge. We're looking at ways to better sustain resale value, broaden brand awareness, and support merchandising. All of this works together.
Tells us about the forthcoming Rapide.The Rapide is very important. The plan at Aston, rather than go downmarket, is to stay upmarket by broadening what we can build off the VH [Vertical Horizontal] architecture. We feel there's a good market for a four-door luxury GT that has more of a sporting character than what is currently offered in the market. You can't imagine the number of calls our dealers get about the Rapide. It's going to be a fantastic car and the most beautiful four-door in the world. It will also be a proper sporty car. Aston has a history of four-doors, and the Rapide gets us back to this history.
What else can we expect from Aston?We'll continue to refresh our product line. What you'll see is what you see now: a sports car, a luxury GT, a sport sedan, and the halo car (the DBS). We have a whole set of plans featuring different things that will help the cars develop further. We want to build the best sports car in the world. We fully intend to go straight at the Ferrari F430 and the Lamborghini Gallardo. Over time, it would not shock me to see a broader range of engine choices to appeal to a broader range of buyers. Ulrich prefers naturally aspirated engines, so I think you will see us stay away from turbos and superchargers. Certainly, we won't do an SUV.
How important is it for Aston to be British?I think an essential part of Aston is its English character. Just as I cannot imagine a Ferrari not being Italian or a Peugeot not being French, I cannot imagine an Aston not being English. The essential nature of an Aston-how it's stitched together, how it's hand assembled, how it's designed, how it feels and smells-is English and will remain English.
What about racing?Sports car racing at Aston Martin is critically important. One of the top things on my personal list is to bring Aston back to the American Le Mans Series. Sports car racing will be an even larger part of Aston pushing forward. I like that you can recognize these race cars as the car you can drive on the street. This is the racing that Aston Martin will do. I don't think we are going to race in Formula 1.
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Of all the players in the Aston Martin sale, it may be Ulrich Bez who got the best deal. Bez, Aston Martin's chief under Ford, helped to put together the deal that made Aston an independent company, and he's staying on with the new owners. Not only will he be able to run the company exactly the way he wants to, he'll likely make more money out of the thriving sports car business.
What are your midterm plans?Carry on and make as few mistakes as we possibly can. We shall, for instance, definitely not compete in Formula 1. We are not going to build a small, cheap sports car. And we won't expand for the sake of expansion. When you're profitable, 5000 units can be as healthy as 20,000. The next twenty-four months are pretty much cast in stone anyway. Later this year, we'll have the DBS, which is superior to the Vanquish in terms of performance and drivability. But character-wise, it's a different car. And we have the Rapide, which is an important step on our way to becoming the number-one prestige car company in the world.
What more can we expect?The VH [architecture] has a lot of life left in it. It will still be around in 2015. But it will become a lot lighter, a lot more versatile, and a lot more efficient. I don't think Aston needs more than two basic car lines, but I believe that within these lines, proliferation will offer big opportunities. We can do one-offs, we can do limited editions, we can do lightweight specials--we can do all sorts of things with VH.
How might Aston evolve as an independent carmaker?We are talking total theory here, but when you're looking into the future, you must also look at alternative scenarios. It is, for instance, possible to run a car manufacturer with a greatly scaled back engineering crew. You could have your engines developed by AVL in Graz [Austria] and built by Mahle in Stuttgart [Germany]. You could pay Porsche to do the body and chassis development. You even could farm out the final assembly. I'm not saying that this is the plan. But it is one possible alternative. What you can never do is farm out brand development and marketing. You must always control the brand, its content, and its mission. That's the secret of success, and that's the intellectual property we have to define and execute with total dedication.

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