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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Aston Martin delivers a car to the masses with £20,000 Cygnet

Aston Martin says the Cygnet will be engineered to the highest standards

Aston Martin says the Cygnet will be engineered to the highest standards, economical and very safe

James Bond screeches around hairpin bends in them with a beautiful woman at his side, while they are the car of choice for European royalty in which to parade themselves around the Continent’s more opulent capitals.

Now, at last, the opportunity to pop out to the supermarket behind the wheel of an Aston Martin will be opened to the more conventional motorist.

The Aston Martin Cygnet — a new “luxury commuter concept” car, according to its marketeers — is to be built on the base of Toyota’s existing iQ city car and is likely to be available for less than £20,000.

“Small is beautiful these days,” Ulrich Bez, Aston Martin’s chief executive, said yesterday. “We have to move on from the preconceived ideas regarding what Aston Martin is about.”

What the company has been about is high-end performance cars that sell for upwards of £100,000. Even its wristwatches sell for more than the proposed price of the Cygnet.

Mr Bez said that Aston Martin needed to diversify to cope with a sharp fall in demand for its sports cars. “For decades we have seen the big US car manufacturers stick to what they have always done and now they’re on the brink of extinction,” he said.

“This concept will allow us to apply Aston Martin design language, craftsmanship and brand values to a completely new segment of the market.”

It is thought that between 4,000 and 5,000 Cygnets will be built each year. Toyota, attracted by the cachet of Aston Martin, said that it would be the only car that it would make for another manufacturer.

The two companies began their unlikely friendship at the Nürburgring 24-hour race, where they shared garage facilities.

Akio Toyoda, the new president of Toyota and the grandson of the company founder, had raced a Lexus while Dr Bez was behind the wheel of an Aston Martin. Dr Bez said that their friendship grew into a business opportunity.

“When I saw the iQ,” Dr Bez said, “I immediately saw potential for our two companies to work together. Two days after I called Akio Toyoda to discuss this, Toyota’s people were visiting our factory at Gaydon. Just a few months later and we are making public our intentions.”

The chief executive said that he had initially encountered great resistance in his attempts to reform the luxury carmaker when he took over the helm in July 2000. The company, then owned by Ford, was sold in 2007 to a consortium of Kuwaiti and British investors.

He added that the company had finally adapted to the philosophies of car buying in a new greener age. “Aston Martin has reduced the CO2 emissions of its cars by 15 per cent in the past year but it has no real impact on anything,” he said.

“What the Cygnet will do is allow our customers to drive a car with all the hallmarks of Aston Martin’s design philosophy but one that is cheap to run, is environmentally friendly and, above all, extremely safe.”

One question does remain, however — would James Bond be seen in one? Time will tell.

Thousands of miles apart

Aston Martin

Founded 1913 in London

Employees 1,250

Vehicles made each year 7,000

Most famous for DB5, driven by James Bond in Goldfinger

The name Derived from that of the founder Lionel Martin and the Aston Hill speed climb track in Buckinghamshire


Founded 1937 in Toyota City, Japan

Employees 320,000

Vehicles made each year 7 million

Most famous for Prius, one of the first mass-market hybrids

The name “Toyoda” became Toyota after a Japanese designer left two lines out of the design in order to use eight “lucky” brush strokes