Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Aston Martin and Long-term Investments

Aston Martin today released pics of its new DB9-based model, the Virage and, somewhat surprisingly (for me at least), there’s been a huge amount of negativity thrown at the car.

Why? Because it doesn’t look “new” enough.

So, let’s pause for a minute, take a look at a side-by side comparison of a the original 2004 DB9 and the 2011 Virage and make up our own minds. Then read on.

Now there’s the cynical argument that says that since Aston Martin went independent under Prodive it hasn’t had the money to develop a completely new car. And it’s probably a perfectly valid argument at that.

But “big whoop!” I say if it means the company takes one of the most arresting pieces of automotive design seen in decades and continues refine it. It’s not as if this approach is without precedent.

There was a time when premium and luxury car brands made long-term investments in their products, making sure that they got things right in the first place, startling as it may seem. Brands like Mercedes, Volvo and even Citroen could then spend up to 25 years reaping the benefits of doing it right first time ’round.

Take a look at the Mercedes SLs below, 1971 and 1989 models respectively, and you’ll see what I mean.

Feel free to correct me if you think I’m wrong (that’s what the comments are for) but it’s these long-running models -like the Mercedes SL, Volvo 240 series and the Citroen DS and CX- that really helped cement the reputations of the respective brands in the consumer’s mind. They came to represent a dogged adherence to core brand values.

Now, of course, you can argue that times have changed. We live in a neophiliac world where we’ll see 6 fashion weeks in 2011 and Apple feels the need to change the world on an annual basis. Car makers naturally -desperately- feel the need to match the pace of the consumer’s march to the mall. For until we, the consumers, change our rhythm, car makers sure as hell wont.

But perhaps Aston Martin still lives in a world slightly apart. Perhaps there’s a core customer group -outside of the UAE- which is still looking to purchase an investment piece, not a bit of throw-away tat.

Think of it this way: for the owner of an ’04 DB9 it must be pretty reassuring that his car, nipped and tucked, is still pulling at heart strings in ’11. For the prospective purchaser of an ’11 Virage, she knows that she’s buying a car with 7 years of development under its skin.

And at the end of the day, it must be very reassuring for Aston Martin to know that this same car is still opening wallets all these years later. An investment well made it would seem.

Just don’t get me started on the Cygnet.

Category: Design Strategy

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4 Responses

  1. Brian Driggs says:

    I suspect those who would decry the Virage as not being “new enough” are likely the vacuous herds of buffet-fed auto writers, whose opinions are largely as biased as they are inconsequential.

    You, sir, are spot on with this piece. This is subtle refinement of a storied design, adapted over the long term. Aston Martin DBs are not the hypercars of addlepated sycophants; we’ve another Lamborghini for them.

    Aston Martin represents sophistication, style, and grace. It’s a higher order of motoring evolution. The DB does not need the radical overhauls of other, lesser inherently valuable vehicles in order to attract buyers.

    They are power, beauty, and soul realized.

    (Which is what makes the Cygnet so damning.)

  2. Drew says:

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks so much for stopping by to comment. It’s great to hear your perspective on what Aston Martin means to you. It’s all the more interesting when you contrast it against Lamborghini and their new Aventador. A more coma-inducing supercar I cannot imagine!



  3. Yuri Vanetik says:

    These comments resonate with me – specifically in connection with Aston Martin cars. Vehicles of Aston Martin caliber have broad, longer term appeal, and inherent significance. They are, indeed, not the fungible, mass-produced low-end luxury or hype…

  4. Drew says:

    Hey Yuri!

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. It’s great to know that 2 years later, there’s still some resonance left in this piece.

    In the time since, Aston Martin has launched the Vanquish (still based on the DB9 platform) and outlets like Pistonheads have also dissected Aston Martin’s platform strategy.

    One could argue that they’re cash-strapped and milking the platform for all it’s worth. But, it has to be said, they’re doing it in a pretty masterful way, demonstrating how solid their approach was way back when they were designing the first DB9.



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