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Aston Martin wants a 007 licence

2008-11-24 10:20

Kevin Krolicki

Sports car maker Aston Martin has made the investment needed to carry it through an uncertain 2009 and will review longer-term expansion plans as it watches for signs of recovery in the luxury market, the company's chief executive said.

"We have a financial crisis which now has gone all around the world. I think in some ways it started here in America but has now reached Russia and the Middle East," said Aston Martin Chief Executive Ulrich Bez.

"Even in the luxury market we see hesitation," Bez told Reuters on the sidelines of the Los Angeles auto show.

"Our dealers who used to just distribute cars and celebrate and open up the champagne - those days are over. We have to work harder."

Islamic investment firm Investment Dar owns a controlling stake in Aston Martin. The fund was part of a consortium that bought the automaker for about $950m from Ford in March 2007.

In May, Aston Martin opened a new engineering test centre next to the Nuerburgring race track in Germany. It has also opened up a new design studio and is pressing ahead with plans to build a new four-door Rapide model next year.

The Rapide is expected to compete with Maserati's Quattroporte.

Aston Martin will follow up by launching a limited series of 77 super sports cars powered by a 7-liter, V12 engine that it will sell at over $2m each making it a contender for the title as the world's most expensive car.

"Now we are talking about what we are doing after those things," said Bez, a former Porsche engineer who has run Aston Martin since 2000 and agreed to stay on for another five years under the company's new owners.

"We will see how this develops, this uncertainty and the volatility which is in this market," Bez said. "If this uncertainty keeps going over the next 24 months, we may have a different situation."

Lagonda plans

Sometime after 2012, Aston Martin plans to revive its Lagonda brand with a more rugged vehicle that Bez sees as key to opening up new markets in places like South America.

Bez said the launch of Lagonda could allow Aston Martin to sell in some 100 countries, up from 30 currently. It would also allow the company to expand its dealer network to about 200 stores from 128 now.

"This is the vision. We are working on the vision and we will see how fast we can go," he said.

Aston Martin sold a record 7 300 cars last year including its entry-level V8 Vantage, which sells for about $120 000.

The car maker, which supplies mythical British secret agent James Bond with his DBS coupe in Quantum of Solace, has set a goal of selling over 7 000 cars this year.

Ford struck a three-movie contract with Bond producers, to place its vehicles in the spy films starting with "Die Another Day" in 2002. Financial terms were not disclosed.

In his 2006 debut as 007, British actor Daniel Craig was flipped at high-speed in an Aston Martin, then still owned by Ford.

Bez, who has a cameo as a villain in the latest Bond movie, said Aston Martin would be interested in pursuing a tie-up in the next film to feature Daniel Craig as Bond.

"We have a love affair with Bond," said Bez. "I'm pretty sure that we will have a nice talk, particularly after the Aston Martin also survived this time."

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