DBX, Valkyrie, RapideE lining up for NZ

Good reason why the new Aston Martin showroom that opened in Auckland yesterday has lots of room – there are plenty of new products incoming, from the brand’s first sports utility through to special project models including the Valkyrie hypercar.

WORLD record market share is just the start for Aston Martin in New Zealand; what’ll really get its wheels turning locally is the brand’s first sports utility.

This expectation is shared in discussion about how much stronger this marque will conceivably in 2022, when all six new model lines presently under development could well be on New Zealand roads.

While the new Vantage this year, the Vanquish next year, a mid-engined supercar in 2020 and a Lagonda saloon in 2021 are going to be important, the big mover is expected to be the DBX all-wheel-drive crossover proposed for release in 2019, three years before the marque’s SUV stable doubles, with addition of a super swanky Lagonda high-rider.

Patrik Nilsson, President of Aston Martin Asia Pacific, and Greg Brinck, Aston Martin Auckland general manager, agree the DBX, pictured right in concept form, is the true ace card.

A car that will arrive with V8 and V12 petrol engines, and also a hybrid drivetrain – but no diesel, because that’s not in keeping with customer expectation – is considered a foil for the Bentley Bentayga and incoming Lamborghini Urus. Customers will find comparision easy: Giltrap Group also has distribution rights for this brands and those models which will also, ironically, be sold from the same Grey Lynn building that houses the Aston Martin outlet.

Asked how much volume potential the DBX alone proposed, Brinck agreed it was entirely possible it could become the linchpin, given the strong Kiwi SUV desire already means this vehicle type dominates new registrations.

“I’d be bold enough to say 50 percent plus.”

That conforms with global and regional prediction, Nilsson adds. “Most likely half the cars will be SUVs. The growth here in New Zealand has been fantastic … we already have a world-beating market share (here) being 41 percent year to date. That’s one percent higher than the UK.”

Release by the factory this week of details of the DBX synched neatly with Nilsson coming here from Singapore to open a smart multi-million dollar showroom, within distributor Giltrap Group’s new nine-level, headquarters in Great North Road, Auckland.

Big enough to display the entire Aston Martin range over two floors, along with a collection of pre-owned Aston Martin vehicles, the new facility is cited as being New Zealand’s largest and most prestigious combined automotive showroom and office development.

For yesterday’s opening the brand pulled out all the stops, bringing together cars with a total value exceeding $12 million.

Past and present classics included examples of two of its highly-prized Vulcan and One-77 supercars, plus a DB5, a Vanquish Zagato and the newest car it sells, the DB11, a $365,000 coupe that in achieving 11 local orders this year is the brand’s best-selling model here.

The big spending is about the get a lot bigger, though, with Nilsson (at left in the photo here, with Brinck and Giltrap Group's Michael Giltrap) suggesting to MotoringNetwork that several examples of the super-exclusive Valkyrie (below), a no-limits V12 hypercar developed with Red Bull Racing and designed to offer Formula One performance, are coming to New Zealand.

“Yes, there are Valkyries coming to New Zealand … we see a very strong demand here for our special projects so we’re happy to see them coming here. You’re a country of petrolheads.”

Nilsson would not provide the exact count of cars from a run limited to 150 editions, 25 in purely track format, co-shaped by the world’s most successful F1 designer of the modern era, Adrian Newey and likely to price well above the $4.5m Vulcan.

“I do not want to comment on that because, of course, they are so few and far between that the number of cars in a market can actually affect the resale values, but there are cars coming here.”

As for their locale? Brinck says the recipients are based in the North Island.

That doesn’t necessarily preclude the prime suspect, business magnate Tony Quinn, who as a Vulcan owner – the only one in the Southern hemisphere – has first rights of refusal on a Valkyrie. In addition to owning Highlands motorsport park in Cromwell, Quinn has a North Island address – his other track, Hampton Downs south of Auckland.

The opening also celebrated the arrival of the first Aston Martin V8 Vantage S Red Bull Racing Special Edition delivered to New Zealand. This starts at $199,000 drive away, with a V12 Sportshift alternate from $320,000. Those prices preclude on roads.

There’s more: Another special on the radar is an electric version of the Rapide four-door saloon. Conceived primarily for the high-interest Chinese market, with development shared with a division of the Williams F1 team, the RapideE in fact has global availability, Nilsson says, and so will very likely be considered here.

What is the perceived interest in a model expected to have price parity with the V12? Says Brinck: “We’re in an interesting transition period toward electric cars but the passion of these (Aston Martin) vehicles is all about the driving experience … I’ve driven electric vehicles, I understand why they build them and why they are exhilarating to drive.

“It’s the way things are going and Aston Martin are embracing that. We’ll see variations of hybrid and electric vehicles in time.”

Also, expect to see Kiwis vie for ownership of the remaining two shapes in the 325 Zagato line, based off the outgoing Vanquish S V12. A coupe is already here and the Volante is now in production. Still to come, and also unveiled this week (see photo below), are a Speedster - the rarest, with a production run of just 28 cars – and a Shooting Brake. The latter enter production in 2018.

So, plenty to think about, though both men suggest that regardless it’s probable the DBX will be even more of a talking point over the next two years.

Aston Martin chief Andy Palmer reckons the radical move to enter the SUV segment will transform the fortunes of a firm that has lasted 104 years and, having come through seven bankruptcies, is now making money again.

The production DBX’s design has just been signed off. It is a development of a concept – pictured today - by the same name unveiled at the 2015 Geneva motor show, but with a higher roofline and four doors.

The luxury SUV segment also conceivably includes top-end Range Rovers and Porsche Cayennes, however Palmer says the DBX will stand apart from them “because it has not sacrificed any beauty to achieve its practicality or performance”.

Nilsson concurs: “The luxury SUV segment current has only one player but it is a development segment for luxury cars. We see that there has been a strong tendency for sedans but also recognise that more people are migrating to SUVs.

“It’s quite exciting. We will be in the forefront, if not the first ones out, which means we will look closer to how this market develops, what works and what doesn’t.

“Yes, we see them (Bentayga and Urus) as rivals but we also see strong demand emerging from the medium part of the luxury segment … Porsche, Land Rover, Mercedes and BMW owners who have not had the opportunity to move up.”

He is sure the resultant car will wow: “Our absolute conviction when it comes to everything we do is that we do beautiful things. We are quietly confident about being the first to bring a beautiful SUV to the market.”

When will that be? Production is cited for 2019.

“We always do global launches but the only difference is when they might be market-specific requirements that require cars to be certified plus shipping times … so it could be the tail-end of 2019 or the front end of 2020.”

Britain’s Autocar magazine reported this week that the SUV project was envisioned by Palmer before he took up his role at Aston Martin in 2014 and it was officially kick-started on his fourth day in the job. The concept was a fast track that achieved massive public adulation.

The production design has now been signed off and the build of pre-production test mules is under way and Palmer says the final car will carry much of the DNA hinted at by the concept, saying: “… I terms of the pure lines and the fundamental core principles of the car, you’ll recognise them.”

The DBX will be built on a new bonded and riveted aluminium architecture that is closely related in principle to that used by the DB11. Part-owner Mercedes-Benz will provide some sub-systems and V8 power, as it will do with all of its next-generation vehicles. The DBX will of course be the first Aston to be sold with four-wheel drive, although it’s not clear if every model will have the function.

Autocar says range-topping power will come from Aston’s 5.2-litre V12, which will be retuned from the 447kW and 700Nm unit found in the DB11. There will also be an AMG-sourced 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 that makes 375kW and 675Nm and — in time — an all-electric powertrain, with speculation it might employ the high-performance powertrain from the Mercedes-AMG GT Concept that was revealed at the Geneva motor show this year. Its hybrid unit combines AMG’s twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 with an electric motor to deliver a combined 596kW.

Aston Martin’s fortunes are on the up. Earlier this year, the firm posted a first-quarter profit (of around $14 million) for the first time in a decade, boosted by sales of the DB11.

Expectation is that DBX and the Lagondas can double Aston Martin production but, of course, we’re still talking small counts.

Of the 3687 cars the brand built in 2016, just 22 came to New Zealand, NZTA figures, but that count has already been exceeded this year, with 41 sales so far and Brinck having taken 27 DB11 orders.

There’s talk about production volume rising by as much as 30 percent this year and Palmer has cited annual sales of around 7000 sports cars within five years.

Full growth potential here is hard to call, Brinck says, but adds “we’ve been blown away by the reaction to the DB11. None of us would have picked we would be in the position with that car …. It’s unprecedented in a market like New Zealand.”

Whether Aston Martin seeks to ultimately expand retail and servicing representation to other parts of New Zealand is a wait and see, Nilsson suggests. At the moment, an Auckland-based operation is perfect.

Aston shies from setting out volume targets, he adds.

“The one key ingredient when it comes luxury sales is not have any oversupply. Although it might sound unbelievable, we do not work to a set volume to each market. That gives us opportunity to ensure we don’t oversupply to specific markets.”

Nilsson knows this sector well: He joined Aston Martin in 2015 from McLaren Automotive, where he worked most recently as operations manager for the European region. Prior to that, he spent time in sales with sports car brands Porsche and Koenigsegg.