News Aston Martin has recently done what many thought was unthinkable and announced plans to build a small city car.
Aston thinks small - the result could be very big
Aston Martin has recently done what many thought was unthinkable and announced plans to build a small city car. Called the Cygnet, it shares its basic design and build technology with Toyota's groundbreaking iQ and enthusiasts of the marque are bewildered to say the least. Aston Martin's CEO, Dr Ulrich Bez, granted The National an exclusive interview the day these plans were made public and he was unapologetic about his intention to diversify the brand's carefully crafted DNA with a car that could alienate a high percentage of the company's fanatics.
"Nothing could be cooler than this," said Bez. "Small is beautiful in these times and we must think outside the box and constantly look to change if we are to survive these challenging times. "Just think of the big American manufacturers who have resolutely refused to change their working practices and their model line-ups: they're on the verge of extinction." With the Cygnet, Aston Martin intends to supply a small, efficient, environmentally friendly and safe mode of transport for customers of its existing line-up as an accessory of sorts - initially at least.
There is, according to sources within the company, the possibility of opening up the order books to anyone interested in just the Cygnet at some stage too. Sixty-five-year old Bez took the reins back in July 2000 when Aston Martin was in the hands of the Ford empire (which sold it in 2007 for Dh2.9 billion to a consortium of Kuwaiti and British investors) and has been widely credited with saving the company by insisting that it changed the way it operated.
"When I took over and tried to change things, I met huge resistance from people who insisted that what I wanted to do would forever damage the brand and its values. "Today, those same people are grateful for cars like the V8 Vantage and DB9 - cars that could never have been built if we had stayed in our ways." As a former Porsche and BMW boss, Bez has an impressive history in the prestige motor industry but he also was vice president of engineering at Daewoo between 1993 and 1998, closely involved with the development of small cars like the Matiz. He says he had been thinking long and hard about bringing a small Aston Martin to fruition but it wasn't until Toyota's iQ was launched that he found the right basis for such a car.
Aston Martin's garage facilities at the Nurburgring 24-hour Race have, in recent times, been shared by Toyota while racing the latter's Lexus LF-A supercar. Toyota's new boss, Akio Toyoda (grandson of Toyota's founder), has himself raced the Lexus while Dr Bez has campaigned his own cars at the gruelling race. It was here that a friendship was formed. "When I saw the iQ," recalls Bez, "I immediately saw potential for our two companies to work together. Two days after I called Akio Toyoda to discuss this, Toyota's people were visiting our factory. Just a few months later and we are making public our intentions.
With projected figures of just 4,000 to 5,000 units a year, it will indeed be an exclusive small car and, when you consider that it is likely to retail for less than the price of some of Aston Martin's wrist watches, perhaps it makes more sense than we at first thought. The car is expected to be priced at around £20,000 (Dh119,000). firstname.lastname@example.org