Aston Martin owners plan to build luxury brand
DUBAI (Reuters) - Aston Martin could co-operate with Daimler AG's Mercedes on ventures ranging from engines to new models, the British luxury carmaker's majority shareholder, Kuwait's Investment Dar, said on Tuesday.
Adham Charanoglu, business development manager for Investment Dar, which bought Aston Martin from Ford Motor Co last March, said it had held talks with Mercedes and with LVMH's Louis Vuitton and PPR's Gucci on branded merchandising.
Charanoglu told the Reuters Islamic Finance Summit that plans to overhaul Aston Martin merchandising had yet to be finished but included opening new centers dedicated to the marquee -- made famous by James Bond -- in the UK, the Gulf and possibly the U.S.
Any brand development would need to be at the top end of the luxury market, with opportunities stretching from apparel, owners' events and track racing to real estate, Charanoglu said, adding Aston Martin's merchandising revenue would rise from $100 million in 2006 to more than $300 million by 2009.
Investment Dar and its partners in Aston Martin, former Benetton and BAR racing boss David Richards and financier John Sinders, were looking to increase production to up to 8,000 cars in 2008 to 2009, from 7,000 a year in 2007, Charanoglu said.
This would begin to approach capacity levels of 9,000 at the Gaydon plant, where the Aston Martin is built, and Charanoglu said it was possible that new models or components could be produced in the future at factories elsewhere.
But Charanoglu said production would continue in the UK.
"Whatever has been produced in the UK will continue to be produced in the UK," said Charanoglu, sporting a pin-badge of the famous Aston Martin wings on his lapel.
"(It) has to be UK handmade," he added of the Aston Martin, whose models sell for upwards of 190,000 pounds ($375,200) and whose customers have to wait more than a year for delivery.
"If you have the money, you have to wait. Otherwise you will not feel attached to your car," Charanoglu said.
Aston Martin sales in the Middle East would be increased from around 300 as the new owners overhauled the dealer network, ending contracts with existing dealers in the region and working with new partners who would be asked to become shareholders in a new company, with merchandising and branding rights in the Gulf.
Charanoglu said anyone wanting to become a dealer as part of the venture had to be a "believer" in Aston Martin, sharing the passion that the new owners held for the iconic carmaker.
Other plans to increase sales included the recent opening of a dealership in China and plans to open another in Russia during 2008, with others also in the works.
Asked whether Investment Dar would consider selling its 50 percent stake in Aston Martin, Charanoglu said it could reduce the holding but that like its other investments, Dar's involvement with the carmaker was for a minimum of five years.
"It's not only an investment; it's a passion."
Time magazine named Pope Francis as its Person of the Year, crediting him with shifting the message of the Catholic Church. Slideshow