For many months it has been a matter of when, not whether, Aston Martin Lagonda’s president and CEO of the past six years, Dr Andy Palmer, would leave the job.
Things have looked bad for him since AML shares, newly listed two years ago in London at £19 amid much pomp, promptly halved in value and have since fallen lower.
They worsened when Canadian billionaire brand entrepreneur Lawrence Stroll entered the picture in January as executive chairman, bringing £540 million in rescue cash — especially given Stroll’s reputation for micromanagement and his avowed determination to correct what he clearly saw as mistakes on Palmer’s watch, such as an oversupply of cars and needless tinkering with Aston-badged submarines and Miami property.
However, the most pressing questions are raised by news that Palmer’s replacement will be Tobias Moers, chief executive of Mercedes-AMG, the performance arm of Daimler, which already holds a 5% stake in Aston Martin and provides engines, electronics and an increasing level of knowhow to the Gaydon-based company.
Moers, an ambitious 54-year old engineer who joined AMG 26 years ago and has held many roles in the company, is successful and widely experienced at making and selling high performance cars. The managing director’s role he has had for seven years is viewed as an important training ground for Daimler executives bound for bigger things: a previous incumbent was Ola Källenius, now chairman of Daimler and head of Mercedes-Benz.
Moers must already have a good working knowledge of the business after years as its most important component supplier, so his arrival begs plenty of questions questions about plans Daimler may have to increase its relationship with Aston Martin, given the British company’s value as a provider of economies of scale for AMG engines and hardware.
It may be that Moers will view the UK assignment with relief: insiders say their relationship at AMG wasn't all sweetness and light, with Moers pressing for ever-more sophisticated cars while Källenius was a cost-cutter in the Carlos Ghosn mould.
Moers’ arrival will also raise concerns among the faithful about Aston Martin’s ability to continue portraying itself as a British company, as well as about the fate of its sports car racing activities, given the recent announcement that Stroll’s Silverstone-based Racing Point F1 team will be rebranded as Aston Martin from next year.
Aston Martin’s and Palmer’s difficulties have been greatly compounded by the effects of the coronavirus – which has even prevented the company from staging an international launch for the new product on which it admits its success depends, the DBX SUV – although a decline in demand for luxury goods was gathering pace even before the infection took hold. No high-end car company, not even Ferrari, is doing well at present, and many are in dire straits.
Despite all, it would be deeply unfair to ignore the six-year contribution made by Palmer, who fostered a new atmosphere of optimism and creativity when he arrived from Nissan in 2014 and within months had drawn up a very credible 'Second Century Plan' that entailed launching a new model a year. Within three years, he had renewed Aston Martin's existing model range and found a convincing and evidently profitable role for the always-problematic Lagonda brand.