Proudly clutching the coveted trophy for Company of the Year at November’s BCCJ British Business Awards, Andy Palmer, chief executive officer of Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. announced to the assembled members of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan that the legendary carmaker intends to leave its rivals in Japan’s luxury sports car sector in its slipstream.
Given the firm foothold that a number of Europe’s best-known, high-end car firms already have in Japan, Palmer’s claim was a bold one. But already, just three months later, a brand that is synonymous with luxury, style, performance and, yes, James Bond is well on the way to doing precisely that.
Aston Martin’s profile in a market that the firm sees as critical to its future success has been raised by the opening in November of The House of Aston Martin Aoyama in Tokyo, its first global brand centre. And it will probably climb even further with the arrival in Japan of the new DB11 Volante and the first deliveries to customers of the new Vantage in summer.
The firm, which can trace its roots back to 1913 and is currently based in Gaydon, Warwickshire, has big ambitions for its cars—and also experiences associated with its vehicles.
“The House of Aston Martin Aoyama offers visitors the opportunity to learn about Aston Martin’s heritage, lifestyle experiences and design philosophies, with the latest range of products available in the adjacent dealership facility”, said Palmer.
“It also helps to strengthen brand awareness, ultimately leading to increased sales in the region, and is a touch point for those familiar and unfamiliar with what Aston Martin stands for”, he told BCCJ ACUMEN.
The investment in the spacious Aoyama-dori property is part of the brand’s £500 million trade and investment programme that was announced by Palmer during his visit to Japan in August as part of the UK business delegation accompanying Prime Minister Theresa May.
That physical presence seeks to build on the strong success that was witnessed last year when 321 Aston Martins rolled out of showrooms across Japan, a sizeable leap from the 186 sold in 2016, while a mere 121 cars were purchased in 2010. Those figures make Aston Martin the fastest-growing luxury auto firm in Japan, according to the Japan Automobile Importers Association, with demand for the DB11 spearheading the growth.
The numbers also mean it is closing the gap on its rivals.
Cool as ice
With the brand centre attracting attention and new models being snapped up, Aston Martin is devising some very creative ways of turning potential new clients’ heads.
For five days from 8 February, a select group of auto aficionados were given the opportunity to drive a flagship Vanquish S and a DB11 Volante in the demanding ice and snow of Hokkaido, all part of the “Art of Living” strategy.
Aston Martin’s “On Ice” programme has been hugely popular in New Zealand, Europe and the United States, but this was the first time it had been carried out in Japan. Participants were given instruction by professional drivers versed in the skills required to get the most out of their vehicles in sub-zero temperatures and on snow and ice surfaces. The firm believes that the experience will demonstrate the level of handling and weight distribution for which the marque is renowned.
Palmer said that his long experience with Nissan Motor Company Ltd. in Japan makes this his “second home”, and there are many reasons the fit between the brand and the country is ideal.
“We have a long and illustrious history in the market, with some of the finest pre-Second World War Aston Martins held by private collectors in Japan”, he said.
“The brand and our products are recognised for refined and understated British luxury”, he added. “There is a strong connection with Aston Martin and James Bond in Japan, as there is in most countries, but there are also a large number of high profile and high value heritage models in this country”.
One of the most recent additions to that list is the DB6 that was previously owned by Sir Paul McCartney CH MBE and was recently sold to a collector in Tokyo, he pointed out.
“Japan is an important luxury market and an important sports car market with highly knowledgeable consumers appreciating the rich heritage of the brand, the fine craftsmanship, beautiful design and the attention to detail that goes in to every one of our handmade cars”, Palmer said.
Aston Martin owners in Japan are a diverse group, he explained, although the majority are between 40 and 60 years old, hold sports cars and luxury goods in general in high esteem, and have an appreciation for “Britishness”. Japan is also home to one of the longest-running Aston Martin Owners’ Clubs in the world, with the current chairman having served in the post for more than 40 years.
Building for the future
But Palmer knows that the brand cannot stand still, with the Second Century Plan aiming to double the firm’s sales and make Japan one of its top five global markets by volume in 2022.
“We announced our Second Century Plan at the Geneva Motor Show in 2016”, Palmer said. “The plan is transforming our business and will deliver one major product launch each year between its announcement and the turn of the decade”.
After the release of the DB11 Volante and the new Vantage, the next carefully crafted vehicle to take to the streets will be the Vanquish replacement in late 2018.
“We continue to perform ahead of expectations, both in terms of financial performance and in meeting our targets for the DB11 and special vehicles”, Palmer emphasised. “This strong sales performance shows that our Second Century transformation plan is building momentum”.
And exciting developments are on the horizon.
Aston Martin makes sure it stays ahead of the competition “through innovation and hiring the best talent in the business—the Aston Martin senior team has been significantly strengthened, with recent hires from Ferrari, McLaren and Lotus”, Palmer said.
On wheels, the Valkyrie hypercar is another of the firm’s projects.
“The Valkyrie, which we are developing in conjunction with Red Bull Advanced Technologies, is an important part of our strategy as it will redefine the hypercar segment through its application of genuine Formula 1 technology”, said Palmer.
Only 150 road versions of the strikingly aerodynamic vehicle are to be built, with the 6.5-litre V12 engine and all-carbon fibre bodywork giving it an incredible 1:1 power-to-weight ratio and a performance akin to that of an F1 racing car.
A little further down the line is the first Aston Martin SUV and a new generation of electric vehicles, while the Aston Martin Meta Technology and Luxury Accelerator office is scheduled to open in Japan in 2018, to develop insights into luxury customer behaviour in Asia.
Clearly, as Palmer adds, “Japan is the key to Aston Martin’s future success”.
Custom Media publishes BCCJ ACUMEN for the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan.
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