Aston Martin has a new chairman. David Richards, founder of Prodrive, heads a consortium which earlier this month paid Ford £480 million for control of Aston. Ford retains a stake worth around £40 million. Here, Richards reveals his aspirations for the 84-year-old marque.
How important is Aston Martin to you?
I’ve lusted after Astons since I was a schoolboy, and owned quite a few, so this means a lot. But it’s great business, too. Prodrive already runs Aston’s race cars, so I’ve already had a connection. From now on it’ll be closer still.
We say: Richards knows plenty about the pleasure and pain of Aston ownership, and shows a rare determination to keep quality going forwards.
Who’s in charge? You or Ulrich Bez?
Our jobs are different, but they match one another well. Ulrich has day-to-day control of the company like any chief executive. My job as chairman is to represent the shareholders’ interests. I’ll need to understand a lot about the company’s workings and help direct its strategy.
We say: Each of these strong-minded individuals is used to having the last word. Bez has run Aston his own way, but the new shareholders are unlikely to want him to be quite such a free spirit in future.
What are Aston Martin’s new priorities?
Although Aston is 84 years old, this is a young business which needs to mature. It’s important that we develop procedures and standards of our own. As far as new models go, the DBS, our Vanquish replacement, isn’t far away and we’ve also approved the investment that will bring the Rapide four-door saloon to market late in 2009.
We say: Neither Bez nor Richards want Ford’s cadences to dictate their plans any longer, though Richards does acknowledge Ford’s continuing importance in Aston’s future. Aston intends to make a virtue of its new independence.
Can Aston Martin fund its future models?
It has to fund them. If the company wasn’t in such a sound position, it might sound tough but we have a highly flexible manufacturing system and some great technology. We built 7000 cars last year, and with the Rapide investment we can go to about 9000. That should give us the freedom to engineer the cars we need for the future. Don’t ask me what they are, though, because we haven’t decided.
We say: Apart from the well-advanced DBS and Rapide, Aston plans are fluid. Don’t look for big deviations from Bez’s ideas, though.
What’s a ‘DBX’, then?
That was Ulrich’s teaser, something which appeared on a chart we showed. It was simply meant to represent the next Aston product, whatever it is.
We say: After DBS and Vanquish, there should still be life in DB9 and V8 Vantage. Wouldn’t bet against some low-volume special-bodied (Zagato?) versions, though.
How about calling the next model DR10?
That’s a very definite non-starter. Not even an ego like mine can be stretched quite that far…
We say: Why not? No one complained when David Brown used his initials, and none of his cars made a profit.
Lastly, we asked Richards if he had any plan to take Aston into F1. It's an appealing plan to some, apparently, but Richards insists his Prodrive F1 project for ’08 is a separate entity and always refers to Aston as a “sports car company”. Perhaps he agrees with those who say Jaguar would have been better spending its money on sports car racing instead of Formula One.
At least he’s confident he can cope with the workload. “People who wonder how I can be involved in two such demanding projects at once don’t realise how I work,” he explains. “You hire the best people, support them, and then you let them get on with it.”