If you are a sports car manufacturer that wants to compete with Ferrari and Porsche, what do you need in terms of brand equity? Quality, Style, Heritage, Performance…
Aston Martin certainly has three of the four. The quality, I am told, has improved significantly over the past 5 years and the cars are certainly stylish – helped in no small part by their association with Mr Bond. They have undoubted heritage, but would you traditionally associate performance with Aston Martin? Maybe, but it certainly wouldn’t be as high on your list as it would with M, AMG or even Nismo.
The management at Aston Martin have gone some way to address this by linking up with AMG, a deal which crucially involves Daimler taking some shares in Aston Martin, to ensure top quality engines with pedigree and performance – if it’s good enough for Pagani…
Much of Aston Martin’s brand is based on heritage products and the problem is that while this may equate to style, quality and tradition it doesn’t necessarily resonate with the modern consumer who is looking for something a little more dynamic. So, to rectify this, Aston Martin goes motor racing. The problem is that it doesn’t appear to have the enormous budget required to compete in the top echelons of motorsport, so has to rely on its existing brand value to buy its way into the club. The GT deal with Prodrive has been enormously successful for Aston Martin, off the back of a tiny investment they have won numerous 24 Hours of Le Mans and the brand has been at the forefront of endurance racing for a decade.
However, Aston Martin’s ambitions rely on significantly increasing the number of cars sold and while endurance racing is an excellent way to reach the knowledgeable enthusiast it does not have the broad reach of F1 – particularly in critical new markets such as China and the Middle East. The problem is that the cost of entry into F1 is obscenely high, £100m a year will see you languishing at the back of the field. So what can Aston Martin do to break into the club? On the face of it, there are two options; become a chassis builder (team) or an engine builder. The cost of building and developing a power unit is probably higher than the cost of designing and manufacturing chassis, so that would appear to be out; and F1 teams are now far from the self-sustaining entities they were 15 years ago, so running a team will inevitable come with a high price tag.
The answer, it would seem, is to return to the tried and tested brand equity argument. Find a team that isn’t particularly precious about what it is called and rebrand it as Aston Martin, creating a virtuous circle whereby the lure of the glamourous name will bring other sponsors to the table. It was the theory behind Virgin F1, but unfortunately that experiment didn’t quite work out for a number of unrelated reasons. It is worth noting that the current CEO of Aston Martin was the force behind the hugely successful Red Bull/ Infiniti deal.
The question is, who to partner? Well, bearing in mind the AMG road-car link, a Mercedes powered team would seem to be the only option, which means Manor, Williams, Force India or Mercedes itself. We can probably rule out Mercedes (!) which leaves us with Manor, Williams and Force India. Manor would be an obvious choice as they would probably be most flexible, but they lack the infrastructure to be competitive from day one and are a team in flux following the arrival of new owners and departure of old management. Williams is a team with heritage, proven performance, a good brand in itself, but I doubt they would be interested in renaming the team – the best that could be hoped for is Aston Martin Williams which is a bit half-hearted and of course the chassis would still be classified as a Williams. Which leaves Force India, not the obvious choice but perhaps the best one. The team that was once Jordan has decent, if ageing, facilities, good people, strong current performance, an owner who has enough distractions to keep him busy without F1 and a relatively weak existing brand. It looks like a decent match if the details can be agreed.
Changing a team name in F1 is both very difficult and very simple. If all the teams agree, it can go through without any issues, as happened with Brawn in 2009, but if it does not get unanimous support, the team in question faces a loss of historic prize money from FOM. Teams are free to add sponsors’ names in front, so we might see Aston Martin Force India in the next couple of years while friends are being won to ensure a painless change to Aston Martin Grand Prix.
If it comes to fruition it will be a beautifully elegant solution that shows the remarkable value of the Aston Martin brand and is genuinely win-win for all parties. Watch this space.