The past two weeks have been pretty interesting. First, I spent a few hours at Aston Martin’s Gaydon HQ with Aston’s design chief, Marek Reichman. I should admit that I know Reichman from way back in the late 1980s, because we did our first Industrial Design degree together.
Having had a good look at the new Lagonda ‘super-saloon’ I had to ask question about the Lagonda SUV concept shown five years ago. Will the company would pursue an SUV after the launch of the new limited-edition Lagonda ‘super-saloon’, but Reichman would only hint that any decision is some way off.
“I won’t say definitely yes and I won’t say definitely no,” he said. “But will Ferrari build an SUV? Probably not,” said Reichman. Which might be the best steer yet that Aston is cooling on the idea of launching into what will be a crowded market for ‘ultra-luxury’ SUVs.
A few days after meeting Reichman, I found myself with Rolls Royce. Rolls has admitted that it is actively investigating building some kind of SUV. Indeed, the first sketching started earlier this year and my source admitted that the designer’s first attempts were not too convincing. The latest work, however, is “showing much greater promise”.
In truth, entering the SUV market seems to make more sense for Rolls Royce than it does for Aston Martin. A company that builds luxury cars probably needs to cover off the marked shift in executive travel from low-slung saloons to high-rise SUVs.
Moreover, Bentley is well on with its own SUV and there’s an argument that Rolls Royce underpinned the birth of the original ‘shooting brake’, with Rolls’ engines and chassis in the 1920s and 1930s being rebodied to accommodate shooting parties.
There’s much less of logic behind Aston Martin entering what’s becoming quite a crowded market, even if it uses its Lagonda brand.
The Lagonda 4x4 concept showed by Reichman’s team at the 2009 Geneva auto show was dubbed a ‘LUV’ [Luxury Utility Vehicle], it was based on a Mercedes GL platform, but the unusual styling proved controversial.
More seriously, building an SUV would probably be far more financially and taxing for Aston Martin than the new Lagonda saloon project, which is related to the Rapide saloon. Any homegrown SUV would require a significant fresh investment in the brand’s aluminium VH architecture, as well as significant sums on substantially new interior design.
With £500m of investment going into future ‘core’ Aston-Martin model range, the British carmaker, which is a minnow in global terms, needs to secure its future in sports cars before branching out.
Although new partner Mercedes could provide a base SUV on which to build a future Lagonda ‘LUV’, the complexity of the task (Mercedes’ SUVs are built in the US) and the investment in time and resources when Aston is renewing its road car range, probably means a decision on an SUV has been kicked at least three years’ into the future.
My own view is that Aston Martin, like Ferrari, won’t bother with an SUV. Building better, more distinctive and more solidly profitable sports cars is enough work for such a comparatively small company.