x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Luxury takes a front seat in sales drive

Choosing to introduce a seven-figure car at the height of the global recession was a bold move at the very least. Aston Martin's Dr Ulrich Bez has more in store.

Choosing to introduce a seven-figure car at the height of the global recession was a bold move at the very least. Aston Martin's Dr Ulrich Bez has more in store. Armina Ligaya writes The chief executive of the luxury car maker Aston Martin made a choice last March, when the world was in the grips of the economic downturn. He decided to buck the market. Even though car owners were holding on to their vehicles longer, and just months before the US car giants General Motors and Chrysler would file for bankruptcy protection, Dr Ulrich Bez reckoned that the world had endured enough austerity and unveiled the company's most ambitious and expensive supercar yet, the One-77. The price tag: a cool £1 million (Dh5.9m).

"It's not that much," Dr Bez said at the Aston Martin stand during the Dubai International Motor Show. "If one buys these cars, these One-77 cars, in 10 years or in 20 it will still have the value. It may even double the value. It is like a piece from [the artist] Damien Hirst." Dr Bez, who has previously worked with the German marques BMW and Porsche, is taking the same bullish approach next year.

He is expanding the Aston Martin brand, which is half owned by Kuwait's Investment Dar, into new markets, unveiling a four-door sports car called the Rapide and is aiming to double the number of vehicles sold in the Middle East. Dr Bez sat down at the Dubai International Motor Show to discuss Aston Martin's sales, its target markets next year and why he keeps a BMW in his living room. It has been a tough year for car makers. How has it been for Aston Martin?

For the car industry, 2007 was the best year. We have gained market share in 2009 because relative to our market, we have grown the market share. But, of course, in 2008 we didn't have the Rapide, we did not have the One-77 and all these new cars. It will give us a higher volume than we have had in the past. This year we will make between 4,500 and 5,000 cars, and next year we will make probably between 6,000 and 7,000 cars.

What is Aston Martin's outlook for next year? We will definitely increase. We are not only growing with our models and with our cars. We are growing in the markets. This year, for example, we will open in Syria, in Jordan, in Morocco, in Sao Paulo and some other places in Europe or in Asia. We have started in Shanghai and Beijing, so by these alone we will have a higher presence in the global realm.

How important is the Middle East market to Aston Martin? In 2000, when I started, we sold 10 cars in the Middle East. This year we will probably sell about 200. And next year I would expect that we may sell 300 to 400 cars. Kuwait this year has outperformed all other Middle Eastern countries because they are a benchmark dealership. They give high attention, high support. And this is what we expect of course in the UAE, also in the next year. More attention, more concentration and more attention to customers to get the same market penetration that we get in Kuwait. In the UAE, we only sold about 40, not that much this year. It's probably the same [as last year] but if you compare it to Kuwait where I have sold last year 10 and this year 65, [sales in the UAE are] by far insufficient. Because from the market size, if I make 65 in Kuwait, I should make 200 here.

What are your company's plans for the UAE? We are not yet properly represented in Abu Dhabi or in Dubai for what we stand for. We have a dealership in Paris and it is centred in the middle of luxury goods stores, it is close to the Champs-Elysee. Very simplistic, very minimalistic but very high quality. It is our desire to have that kind of dealership in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the proper place with the proper representation. We are in talks and negotiations to get these things improved.

Which regions have been your top markets this year? This year it is Europe, then comes England and America. In 2007 it was America but since 2007 America has gone down and has not yet recovered. America came from 18 million cars in total down to less than 10 million. In the future, in 2011 and 2012, I would consider that the Middle East and Asia will represent about a quarter of our production, a quarter would be England, a quarter would be Europe and a quarter would be America. This is what we are working very strongly towards, here in the Middle East and in Asia, to access this population.

Which car do you currently drive? I drive all our cars, depending on the level of development. Or depending on what kind of mood I am in to drive. If I go and rent a car, I try to select a BMW or a Smart car. If I drive with a family and have lots of luggage, I can drive a Mercedes GL, a big one. But at home, privately, I have two of the cars I have been responsible for. That is the BMW Z1, but I don't drive it. It only sits there in my living room, and I have a Porsche 993, which was the last air-cooled car. So I'm not collecting old cars. I am only interested in cars I have been responsible for.

You keep the cars in your living room? Yes. Say I am sitting here having coffee in the morning, I want to see the cars. I think it is like a painting, like a sculpture. @Email:aligaya@thenational.ae