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Forward march: Vantage leads Aston's new model charge.

No longer under Ford control, Ulrich Bez outlines Aston Martin’s promising future

Aston Martin logo4 Apr 2007

ASTON Martin will remain a small and independent luxury sportscar manufacturer and is likely to become a consultancy that sells its engineering expertise to other marques, according to the chief of the hallowed British brand following its sale last month to a consortium led by UK motor racing icon David Richards.

Company chairman and CEO Ulrich Bez, who remains at the helm of Aston Martin after Ford announced in March that it would move from full ownership to a 15 per cent shareholding, said the company is rapidly approaching a position where it could undertake specialist engineering consultancy work.

"It may not be tomorrow, but we can do it," he told GoAuto and other Australian media in France last week at the international launch of the Vantage Roadster.

Dr Bez added that there were no restrictions imposed on Aston Martin by Ford in terms of sharing technology with other manufacturers.

"We are very independent in what we are doing... We are not dependent on the Ford Motor Company.

"(Regarding the Vantage Roadster)... the engine is our engine, the aluminium structure is our structure, the suspension part is our structure... the brakes come from Brembo, the gearbox comes from Graziano, the same as Ferrari and Maserati... we have lots and lots of suppliers.

"The real parts, the real technology, which comes from the Ford Motor Company, is literally nothing.

"We use parts from other companies, we use parts from suppliers, we ask them to use (them) ... and this is what has changed in the last 10 years as well, that suppliers are very strong in their development and their research, and basically all which you need today is (supplier-developed)." In contrast, Ford Australia president Tom Gorman said last month that the Blue Oval brand would continue to have both a financial and operational interest in Aston Martin.

He also said that Ford would maintain connections through Prodrive – the David Richards-run British firm that provides specialist engineering services for vehicle manufacturers across the world, including Ford, Toyota and, possibly, Mitsubishi in Australia. His comments come despite the fact that Prodrive claims to have no financial involvement in the Aston Martin deal.

"We’re still keeping an ownership percentage in that, which is 15 per cent that we’ll continue to own in Aston Martin, so although it’s not controlled by Ford any longer we’ll still have an interest in what goes on, both financially and, more importantly, operational," Mr Gorman said.

"You’ll also notice the lead buyer of Aston Martin is David Richards and, as you know, we have a relationship with him through his company Prodrive, which we’re JV (joint venture) partners in FPV here in Australia. Prodrive owns FPV, too, so it’s not as if it’s going to someone we don’t know and who doesn’t know Ford, so I think those are the good points about it.

 center imageFrom top: David Richards (left) and Ulrich Bez the official hand-over and the current Aston Martin line-up (from left: DB9, Vanquish S, DB9 Volante and V8 Vantage).

"From a business standpoint, what our new CEO (Alan Mulally) is doing is the right thing. That is we have to focus our management, talent and resource energies on where it needs to be focused and that is the Ford brand and primarily at the moment in North America.

"What I think Alan Mulally is doing is reducing the distraction, strengthening our balance sheet and allowing us to attack our core problems." On the retail front, Dr Bez said that stand-alone dealerships such as the five Aston Martin-appointed outlets in Australia underlined the company’s independence from Ford. It currently has a "fast-expanding" retail network of 126 dealers across 27 countries.

"Our dealer network in the world is an independent dealer network," Dr Bez said. “And it is to be more independent in the future... We don’t need anybody.

"So I am very confident that this is the right move, and I am very sure that we will be seen in five years with the success that we will have as a leader in the development in the car business.

"I do believe that small is not only beautiful – small can be very successful and very profitable and this is what I think Aston Martin will be in the future.

"We will be small, we will be a very exclusive, prestigious brand and we will be profitable." Aston Martin’s Asia-Pacific regional manager Henning Rosted has also reiterated to GoAuto since the sale announcement last month that the change in ownership will not alter its operations in Australia.

"There are really no, or very few, changes to the business in Australia and New Zealand," he told GoAuto. "We have dealers appointed by Aston Martin and they will remain Aston Martin dealers. There will be no change whatsoever in our operations." Mr Rosted denied Aston Martin’s expanded association with Prodrive made it logical for the brand to enter Formula One under Mr Richards’ stewardship, following the sale of Ford-owned Jaguar’s F1 team to Red Bull. He said Aston Martin would remain involved in international GT sportscar racing via Prodrive.

"I’m not qualified to comment on Prodrive or F1... (but) we are committed to sportscars with Prodrive. I wouldn’t expect there would be any connection there. Our commitment lies in GT, in which we’re very successful." As reported last month, Ford agreed to sell Aston Martin to the Richards-led consortium for $US925 million. The investors include two Kuwait-based Islamic investment companies Adeem Investment and Investment Dar.

Read more: First drive: A topless Vantage point from Aston

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