Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The future of Aston Martin

Former Aston Martin chairman David Richards on hybrids, turbocharging and the future of the 101-year-old brand

David Richards stepped down as chairman of Aston Martin at the end of last year, but he remains both a shareholder and a vocal champion for the brand. Speaking to Telegraph Cars at one of two hotels he owns in the picturesque seaside village of St Mawes in Cornwall, talk was of little other than the 101-year-old British sports car maker.

One thing that quickly becomes clear is that anyone hoping for a plug-in hybrid DB9 when the replacement is unveiled in 2016 is going to be disappointed. While Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche have all recently launched petrol-electric supercars, Richards describes hybrids as merely a piece of “transitionary” technology.
“Why would you carry two engines around,” he says with no verbal question mark at the end of the sentence. “I certainly can’t see that in a performance brand. I can’t see the justification for a hybrid version at all.” So does this mean a continuation of the big, thirsty petrol engines?

“The link with Mercedes [announced last year] is going to offer Aston Martin access to all the new technology,” he stresses. “The main thing now is the economy we can get from the conventional combustion engine, and I think our next generation of cars will prove that. They’ll still have the luxury, the real values of an Aston Martin, but I’m sure you’ll see another step change in that direction.”

Asked whether this means smaller, turbocharged engines in the company’s cars, he tries to divert talk to more general terms, saying: “There’s a tendency now – you can see it already – for smaller capacity turbocharged engines, and the high performance vehicles of the future I’m sure will be of that nature.”

On hydrogen-powered cars he is enthusiastic but says they are not yet a realistic alternative, in part because of the technology, but mainly because of the infrastructure needed to support them. “We had an Aston Martin Rapide that did a full lap at the Nurburgring 24-Hour race on hydrogen, absolutely zero emissions,” he said. “We try all these things, with all sorts of things going on in the background. Are they practical today? Probably not, but we’re still experimenting, trying them out.”

Aside from his connection with Aston Martin, Richards is most famous for founding the motorsport company Prodrive, which has won six World Rally titles with Subaru, four British Touring Car championships with BMW and Ford and had a stint running the BAR Honda F1 team. Today, Prodrive runs Aston Martin’s motorsport arm.

Richards explains how the V12 Vantage S has essentially the same engine and chassis as the GT3 racer, and that the feedback from the racers helps develop the road cars. “You’ll see a product next year from Aston Martin that has a lot of those attributes that we’ve developed at Le Mans," he says, before the Aston Martin press officer interrupts and adds: “But we can’t talk about that now.”

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