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Aston Martin's Australia and New Zealand boss, Kevin Wall, sat down with CarsGuide at a sneak peek of the new Vantage in Sydney, five weeks before last night's global reveal.
Having worked with a range of brands like Hyundai and Daewoo, Alfa Romeo and (most recently) Ferrari, he's well placed to put Aston Martin, its products, and customers into context. So, we hit him with 20 questions:
JC: The new Vantage is clearly an important model for Aston Martin in Australia. What’s the level of interest from current owners and prospective customers?
KW: High is the answer. There’s a pent-up demand world-wide for this car, particularly in the Australian market, because such a high percentage of our cars over the last five years have been Vantage.
So, we have a healthy car park of Vantage owners, and the majority of those are showing good interest in this car. The current edition came out in 2005, so it’s been a little while between drinks for us. We’ve got good interest.
JC: How did this Australian preview arrive so early in the Vantage’s launch schedule?
KW: This is one of five vehicles in various parts of the world, being presented in confidential events in each of our six regions world-wide. This will all culminate on November, 21, and for us in Asia-Pacific, the city will be Tokyo, where the car will be revealed simultaneously.
The interesting thing for us is that it was revealed to clients in Melbourne, first. It’s just a vaguery of timing, but that we started on a Friday, and the UK guys opened on a Monday.
JC: Andy Palmer has said Aston Martin will be “100 per cent hybrid by the middle of the 2020s”. Will there be a V12-powered Vantage this time around?
KW: Not to my knowledge, but can I go back. You said something about Andy Palmer saying [Aston Martin] would be 100 per cent hybrid by the mid-2020s. You might want to check that. I don’t believe that’s accurate.
Note: CarsGuide was referencing an August, 2017 story in the Financial Times where Palmer was quoted.
JC: Will there be a competition GTE version of the new Vantage? Or GT3 or GT4?
KW: You’ll be getting some mail on that. Le Mans 2018 is going to be a very interesting time for us. Racing is part of our DNA, and whether it be Formula One now, or endurance car racing, or whatever, it’s part of our DNA, always will be, always has been. And it would be reasonable to expect that we’ll be going into that area with this car, for sure.
JC: Will this car be available with a manual gearbox? Where do Australian customers stand on that prospect?
KW: There’s much discussion about a manual gearbox option, but it’s not on the product plan at this stage. If and when it comes out, it’ll be world-wide.
Andy [Palmer] said when he was here last time, that for all time, or at least the time he’s in charge of the company, there will be a manual variant within the product line-up.
JC: Aston Martin sales are up around 25 per cent so far in 2017. How has the Australian market responded to the DB11?
KW: It’s been great, and has performed to target, and we set fairly heavy goals for DB11. Evolution of DB11 for us in the near term is a V8 variant, which is on its way, and we’ve done a Volante release, so that’s around the corner as well.
JC: What’s Aston Martin’s current strategy or philosophy when it comes to self-driving cars?
KW: I don’t know if we have one. It sounds like a bloody heresy to me, but never say never. Obviously, Aston Martin is in tune with the way the world is going, but at this point in time I’m certainly unaware of any autonomous vehicle plans, and if Andy was sitting here he’d give you a very direct answer, and it’s got two letters, and starts with N. But I won’t speak on his behalf.
KW: It doesn’t extend beyond the engines and infotainment technology at this stage, and I’m not aware that it will.
JC: Is the special models partnership with Zagato set to continue?
KW: Absolutely. It’s been going on since… forever, and it’s been very successful. And yes, we do have Zagatos coming to this market; we’ve already delivered some. Yeah, really successful program here and in New Zealand. We’re batting above our weight, or whatever the cliché is, for those.
JC: The Rapid-e is on the horizon, with other full-electric vehicles to follow. How does full electrification sit with the Aston Martin brand?
KW: We think in time it’s going to sit very well. But there’s more work to be done.
JC: [FCA CEO] Sergio Marchionne has confirmed Ferrari is “dead serious” about producing an SUV. How important is the production version of the DBX to Aston Martin, and will it be more of a Maserati Levante or Bentley Bentayga competitor?
KW: I don’t ever see us being a Maserati competitor in that segment. It’s higher. It’ll be a Bentayga competitor. We’re not going down [into] that territory.
JC: What does the “innovation partnership” between Aston Martin and Red Bull Racing mean beyond the Valkyrie?
KW: I’m not the appropriate person to ask, and I wouldn’t give you a fictional answer. I think we better reserve that one, and you’ll get an answer in time, but I’m not the right man.
JC: Aston Martin’s already developed the AM37 power boat, and now there’s a “creative collaboration” with Triton Submarines. A limited-edition sub… what’s all that about?
KW: You’ve got to take a step back with this merchandise stuff, and we’ve got people far better qualified than I to talk about our merchandising program, but, the target for the brand is to solidify or to increase the luxury appeal of the brand.
So, we’re not running a merchandise program selling caps and t-shirts, and whatever. That’s not the way we do it. I’m not saying that with the Formula One collaboration there won’t be a few caps and t-shirts going around, but we’ll be giving them away, we won’t be selling them.
So, whether it be an up-market submarine, AM37, or the Aston Martin Residences, an upmarket condominium complex in Miami, all designed to leverage off the brand, and create a super-luxury brand, known as Aston Martin.
JC: It appears Aston Martin is standing on an increasingly firm financial footing. Where does the company want to be in 10-15 years’ time?
KW: Ask the financial controller, not Kevin Wall. I would be speaking beyond my rank to answer financial questions. Suffice it to say, the basis of your statement is totally correct. The company is on a very firm financial footing, and has not always been so, let’s be honest. The company’s trading extremely well.
JC: Daniel Craig has signed on for the next James Bond film. Are we safe to assume Aston Martin has as well?
KW: Not to my knowledge.
JC: How would you describe a ‘typical’ Aston Martin owner… if there is one?
KW: Oh, no. Don’t ask that question. That’s the worst question. There is no such thing as a typical Aston Martin owner. They’re young, they’re much older. They’re male, they’re female. Perhaps not enough females, but they are female. Really, I would refuse to pigeonhole them.
They’re beautiful people. They wear their brand on their inside, and they love everything that Aston Martin stands for.
When we do research, and you get research companies in trying to, you know, portray the typical client… there is no typical client.
We had 28 people here, last night [to see the Vantage]. They were all individuals, and we’ve got to treat them as such.
JC: Can Australian owners of classic Astons tap in to Aston Martin Works? Things like the ‘Assured Provenance’ program.
KW: Yes. Yes, they can. I’m glad you asked that question, because we’re not doing enough to promote that here. The last time I went through Works there were two or three DB5s from Australia/New Zealand going through full restoration.
A large percentage of our clients that visit Gaydon [Aston Martin HQ] go down to Newport Pagnell [Aston Martin Works]. They love it.
JC: You’ve worked with and for numerous automotive brands, here and overseas. What stands the Aston Martin experience apart?
KW: Oh, it goes back to the answer to your previous question. It’s the clientele. They are [laughs] different to the previous brand I worked for. It’s the clientele that makes the brand.
Plus, the team in Gaydon is genuinely fantastic to work with. They are really talented, and so committed. It’s the culture I think. Not only of the company, but of its owner body.
JC: Besides an Aston Martin what vehicle or vehicles sit in your garage?
KW: [Laughs] I have the world’s most beautiful 1964 MGB, and of course it’s British Racing Green, and I love it. I don’t get to drive it enough, but it is the most magnificent car.
JC: What’s your ideal car and road recreational drive combination?
KW: Any Aston Martin, around the Otago region of the South Island of New Zealand. Travelling from Queenstown out to Wanaka over The Crown Range, then back through Cromwell and stopping off at Highlands for a blast around Tony Quinn’s track. It doesn’t get any better than that, honestly.