Aston Martin considers Macedonia for new car plant - sources

LONDON/SKOPJE (Reuters) - British luxury carmaker Aston Martin, which is deciding where to build a new plant to expand its product range and return to profitability, is considering a site in Macedonia, two sources familiar with the matter said.

People look over a 2015 Aston Martin Rapide S in the LeTV booth during the 2016 CES trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada January 8, 2016. LeTV designed the "Internet of the Vehicle" system for the sports car company. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

The firm, which began with a list of 19 possible locations several months ago then narrowed the list down to two British sites, one in the U.S. state of Alabama and a Middle Eastern location, a source told Reuters in December.

But in the last few weeks the former Yugoslav republic has made an improved offer to the carmaker, which has previously said that any potential financial support is an important factor in making its choice, according to the sources.

“Macedonia is a recent and late contender having been previously ruled out,” one of the sources said. “They came back with a stronger bid.”

The source also said there was not enough clarity in the Middle Eastern option being considered and that another candidate, the site in Sutton Coldfield, central England, “was a leading contender but has dropped a few balls of late.”

A senior government official in Skopje, who declined to be named, confirmed that Macedonia was in the running.

“We have made a good offer,” he said, without elaborating.

Aston Martin, whose owners include Italian private equity group Investindustrial and Kuwaiti group Tejara Capital, is due to make a decision in the next few weeks.

The Macedonian government and the firm declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

The automaker, famous for making the DB5 sports car driven by James Bond, is aiming to quadruple its total production volume to around 15,000 cars by the turn of the decade and will build its new crossover DBX model at the new plant.

It already builds a range of cars at its existing plant at Gaydon in central England but has seen its volumes plunge since the 2007/8 financial crisis, recording its fourth consecutive loss in a row in 2014.

Aston has said previously that it see advantages in locating the new plant in its home market but Macedonia is one of several countries to have sought to attract carmakers in recent years with the offer of generous subsidies.

The Balkan country's biggest success was getting British firm Johnson Matthey JMAT.L to open an emission control catalyst plant east of the capital Skopje in 2009.

Additional reporting by Matt Robinson; Writing by Costas Pitas; Editing by Greg Mahlich