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Old 03-03-2005, 06:49   #1 (permalink)
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US:Aston Martin keeping a close eye on quality as volume grows to record levels

Aston Martin keeping a close eye on quality as volume grows to record levels

AUTOMOTIVE NEWS

Jeremy Main, director of product development and motorsport at Aston Martin, is overseeing an expansion of the British sports car maker.

In addition to building the DB9 and Vanquish, Aston Martin will challenge Porsche's 911 with its new, small V8 Vantage sports car which debuted this week at the Geneva auto show. Production of the three models is expected to rise to a record 5,000 cars a year in 2006, and 3,000 sales are expected to come from the V8 Vantage.

Main spoke with Automotive News Staff Reporter Richard Truett at Aston Martin's headquarters in Gaydon, England.

What's your impression of how British cars are perceived in the United States?

I've lived and worked in the U.S.A., so I am aware that there are some (negative) historical aspects to British cars. I think Britishness is actually a positive in the U.S. market. But that is not to say there can be any excuses at all.

We have to be more than just fully competitive, not only in terms of design and performance but also in terms of durability and reliability. We work extremely hard to make sure we are more than just competitive in those areas. One of the things that we really have changed in recent years is how we design, develop and test our cars and sign them off to make sure they are suitable for production. We are far more intensive about that now.

How do you monitor and improve quality?

Every single day I lead a quality meeting where we get feedback from customers, information back from dealer service operations, from the production line and from test vehicles. We make sure anything that comes up is immediately sorted out. Quality is very much a focus on what we do.

Will Aston Martin be able to retain its coveted exclusivity once it begins producing 5,000 cars a year?

Definitely. By any automotive standards, that's a tiny volume. And if you compare us with Porsche, which makes 60,000 or 70,000 vehicles per year and 25,000 to 30,000 911s per year, we are looking at 5,000 vehicles spread across three different variants. It's a tiny penetration across the market.

How have you been able to get so much new product when Ford Motor Co. has struggled financially in the past few years?

I think we are pretty efficient on the scale of delivering vehicles right now. We had an agreed business and cycle plan with senior Ford management. The opinion has been we should be consistent to that plan.

Does Ford or do other Premier Automotive Group members use Aston Martin for engineering work?

I don't have any spare capacity at this point. We are continuing to push very hard on our product launches. And we have more to come with the V8 Vantage coming very shortly.

We do, of course, have some value to Ford and the other brands. It is a relationship that works very well. We are able to pull in some of the advanced research work from Ford in the U.S. and apply it in a price range and volume range that Ford typically couldn't.

By doing this we can develop the technology and feed it back to Ford and make it more appropriate for their volumes. So, in a way we do pieces of engineering work for the home brands and our larger cousins.

Are ultraluxury brands such as Aston Martin immune to the weak dollar, currency fluctuations and other economic turbulence?

No one is immune. It hits us as well. In terms of currency fluctuations, we'll be paid in dollars from our U.S. sales, and if the exchange rates change and we are not fully hedged, we're going to be hit.

In terms of the capability of our customers to buy cars, it's not unusual to have the Aston as the fifth or sixth car. It's not exactly a distressed purchase. These sorts of people tend to be fairly robust to downturns, and so our market doesn't downturn in the same way as the general market does.
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