Reports yesterday evening from Reuters suggest that Indian commercial vehicle and tractor maker Mahindra and Mahindra may win the race to buy a 50 per cent stake in Aston Martin by the end of the week. This potential deal is causing much amusement in financial circles. What would a tractor maker want with a smaller supercar maker?
There is a lovely circularity about the Mahindra deal, as is being pointed out. Aston Martin’s post-war owner David Brown (who bought the company in 1948) made his money in designing tractors. Ferruccio Lamborghini started in tractor manufacturing in 1948 and started his supercar company in 1963. Ferdinand Porsche also designed a range of tractors in the 1930s, alongside his work developing the People’s Car.
According to the Reuter’s source, the Mahindra deal could see as much as £250m being exchanged for a 50 per cent stake in the company. While Aston banked £72m in profits on around 4200 sales last time around, it is clear that it cannot go on forever tweaking the VH platform and elegantly re-cycling the styling theme established with the 2003 DB9, especially with new pollution, emissions and safety laws on the way.
Such a small turnover and comparatively low profits – and ever-increasing legislative barriers – make it impossible to either take a radically new turn or expand the range into a booming segment such as luxury SUVs. Aston really needs the warm embrace of a global carmaker.
Common sense would dictate that Tata sweeps Aston up and merges it into its Jaguar division. The Aston factory and HQ is next door to JLR’s Gaydon R&D centre. To have two neighbouring British sports car makers making – in small numbers – aluminium platformed, front-engined, high-performance coupes and to be using different architectures and motors is plain stupid.
But Tata hasn’t made a bid. The other reported bid was from Italian investment house Investindustrial, who successfully bought up and sold on Ducati to Audi, tripling its initial investment. Press reports suggested that Investindustrial could have brought Mercedes’s semi-independent AMG division onboard. That would have made sense.
What worries me about the Mahindra bid is that it doesn’t seem to have any technology partners to bring to the operation. Sure it does own South Korean maker Ssangyong, but the maker of the Korando SUV and bizarre Rodius MPV is unlikely to be able to help Aston much. And vice versa.
The immediate big question will be how much of the rumoured £250m Mahindra bid will go into product development and how much will go back to the investment funds Investment Dar and Adeem Investment. I have no doubt that Mahindra will also need to spend a significant amount of money over the next few years on Aston, but to what end?
An analyst friend first got wind of this deal in September and told me that some bright spark had looked into Aston and figured 4500 annual sales or so was about the global limit for the marque. A sudden expansion and profits explosion is unlikely.
Aston is an odd case. It is known around the world and gets huge publicity with every new Bond film, but it seems to have a natural size as the maker of high-performance road cars. Unless an established big carmaker is involved in this deal to transform Aston’s product range, I just can’t see the value in it – prestige aside – for a new investor.