Fresh direction for Aston Martin, as new boss does the same — but better
“All declared projects, from Valkyrie to Valhalla, will continue as planned,” says new Aston Martin boss Tobias Moers
Last August, Tobias Moers, the former boss of Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division, swept through the doors of Aston Martin’s Gaydon factory to take up his position as the beleaguered company’s new CEO. And promptly fell completely silent. Save the usual PR-scripted quote at the end of some press releases, he said nothing. Nothing that might provide us with any inkling of his vision for the company, how it would recover from the mistakes of its past and define its future.
My requests for an audience were if not declined, then politely postponed, so I was forced to fall back on what I knew. Which was that Moers’ character is about as far from that of Andy Palmer whom he replaced as it is possible to imagine. Palmer is approachable and affable, while Moers has the reputation of having a rather less collegiate approach and scaring motoring journalists in particular.
And yet I’ve interviewed him at least a dozen times and, while he may say otherwise, I always felt we’d got on. The only thing I want a CEO to do is answer the questions I ask. If some of those answers are ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I do know but I’m not telling you’ that’s fine. What I find difficult are those who use my time to answer the questions they’d liked to have been asked. And Moers never, ever does that.
Then, from nowhere, an invitation. I had an hour to fire as much at him as I liked – no areas off limits. Would I like it by Zoom or in person? I wasn’t going to not show up for that.
When I emerged from the boardroom what struck me most was not how different were his plans to those of his predecessor, but how similar. I thought he’d be culling model ranges, shutting one of its two factories because neither is remotely close to capacity and offering the company on a plate to his former employer which already owns a 20% stake and with whom he remains on extremely good terms.
Not a bit of it. Every car that exists today will continue from the Vantage, DB11 and DBS sports cars to the DBX SUV. All future declared projects, from Valkyrie to Vanquish with Valhalla in between, will continue as planned. St Athan and Gaydon will remain open. With so little change in vision, you might ask why the board felt Andy Palmer needed replacing.
For Moers however, the problem lay not with what Aston Martin was doing, but the way it was doing it. “So much money was being spent which could be saved. We had two assembly lines at Gaydon when all the cars built there are on the same platform. So we shut down one. In time it’s where the midengined cars will be built. We used to have 70 stations per car, now we have 23. When I got here we had more than 400 sports cars at some point in the process of being built, now we’re down to almost 100, yet we’re still delivering the same number of cars every day.
“We have a new paint shop in St Athan which is only efficient if it’s running all the time, so now all our cars, apart from those with special paint, will go there, not just DBXs. At Gaydon we had 70 people fixing faults on cars after they came off the production line. Now we build better-quality cars on the line but with that has come a 35% increase in efficiency, where in the world I come from 3-4 % is pretty good.”
“I thought Moers would be culling ranges and shutting a factory”
Moers has also drained the market of stock, reduced warranty claims “by a substantial double-digit percentage”, reduced discounting and seen residual values start to rise as a result.
On the product side and at least for now he is concentrating on improving and adding to what he already has. So expect more variants of existing cars soon, including a plug-in hybrid DBX by the end of this year and a V12 Vantage at some unspecified date in the future. All the sports cars will be re-engineered in time for their mid-life revisions with big power upgrades now that Aston Martin can have the pick of the AMG powertrain toy box rather than getting what it was given and being grateful for it.
But beyond that? Ah yes. Moers sees no alternative to all new production Aston Martins (so not facelifts of existing product) being fully electric after the middle of this decade. He insists that with a decent charging infrastructure reducing range anxiety and advances in battery technology, there is no need for an electric Aston to be overweight and soulless. On that point he describes the task of creating an Aston EV that is genuinely fun to drive as easy. “With the right battery, the right powertrain layout with an individual electric motor at the back and maybe two at the front, fun is easy.”
I struggle to see it myself, even if as Moers suggests his EVs synthesise the sound and vibration of an internal combustion engine. But those cars are a distance away. For now with the company cash-positive in the first quarter of this year for the first time in far too long, we should be pleased at his decision not to change the ship, but focus on pointing it in right direction.
Did anyone else share my disappointment when Audi announced it and Porsche were to collaborate on their new LMDh race cars for the 2023 season? Is it not enough that this category is already so tightly regulated that every significant dimension is preset, as is power output and downforce to drag ratio, that their hybrid system is off the shelf and their chassis choice limited to just four? What’s left? The same car with different styling. It may work for customers on the public road, but as a philosophy by which to go racing, I don’t believe for a moment it’s what fans want to see.
A former editor of Motor Sport, Andrew splits his time between testing the latest road cars and racing (mostly) historic machinery
Follow Andrew on Twitter @Andrew_Frankel