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Aston Martin hoping to woo new customers one by one, starting with DB9

MARK RECHTIN | Automotive News

To boost sales, Aston Martin plans to venture outside the realm of hard-core Aston loyalists.

The company wants conquest sales from owners of the Mercedes-Benz SL 600, Bentley Continental GT and Porsche 911 GT3.

But that doesn't mean Aston Martin is about to advertise on the TV show "ER." As the brand adds products, Aston Martin is concentrating more on one-on-one marketing.

"We still sell cars one at a time," says John Walton, general manager of Aston Martin North America Inc. "We are looking for people who add value" to the Aston Martin brand.

For instance, during a break during a recent press preview, the brand hosted a weekend getaway for just six Aston Martin loyalists to test drive the new $156,350 DB9. Not only did it make the owners feel special, but it gave the automaker feedback.

Aston Martin also returned to the world of endurance racing, winning its class at the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 20.

And there is James Bond, who drove Aston Martins in movies in the 1960s. Bond is scheduled to return in 2006 in Casino Royale, in which he will drive an Aston Martin.

The automaker also has entered into marketing partnerships with watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre and champagne vintner Jacquesson.

"Our new corporate identity is that of selling luxury goods that happen to be automobiles," Walton says.

That's why dealerships are designed to look as if, were the cars removed, they would be boutiques selling high-end art, watches or handbags, Walton says.

Some dealerships even have created separate clubs inside the showrooms for owners only, with key-card access, wireless Internet connections and giant plasma screen TVs.

DB9 gives Aston Martin cutting-edge product

Ford Motor Co. has given Aston Martin enough investment capital to build a gleaming factory and develop a high-tech platform that only Aston Martin will use.

The first vehicle off the new platform and emerging from the new Gaydon, England, plant is the DB9. Deliveries in the United States started in December.

The basics: The aluminum and composite body panels are joined to an aluminum body frame. As a result, the DB9 is nearly 1,500 pounds lighter than the rival Bentley Continental GT.

The V-12 engine gets the DB9 from 0 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds (4.9 seconds with the automatic), and it delivered 15.7 mpg during a press drive here. The six-speed transmission features shift-by-wire technology with paddle shifters mounted on the steering column. The prop shaft is made from carbon fiber.

The doors open upward and hold their place no matter where they are positioned.

Notable features: For all the talk about Ford Motor synergies, one must try hard to find anything borrowed from another brand. The DB9 is all about Aston Martin, with some safety-engineering assistance from Volvo.

About 85 percent of the vehicle's mass is between the axles, resulting in a 50-50 weight distribution and composed handling at high speed. This will be the first Aston Martin with cruise control, satellite navigation and cupholders. The convertible version's top folds away flush with the body work.

What Aston Martin says: "The DB9 delivers everything a sports car should while still maintaining GT traits," says John Walton, general manager of Aston Martin North America Inc.

Compromises and shortcomings: The DB9 lacks one-touch windows, seat memory and two-zone climate control. The rearview mirror could be ripped from a Ford Focus - no electrochromic vision here. Also, while the DB9 is allegedly a four-seat vehicle, interior space is more like two seats and two sunken parcel shelves.

Nuts and bolts: You would think a car that costs $156,350 including destination wouldn't charge extra for cruise control and heated seats, but the DB9 does. The convertible Volante will cost $169,350 when it arrives in June. This year Aston Martin hopes to sell 800 Volantes and 300 coupes in North America. There is a steady nine-month wait list for the coupe and an 18-month wait list for the Volante. That's if you want one custom-ordered.

For the "gotta have it now" crowd, about 20 percent of sales are built for dealer stock, in popular color schemes such as black-on-black and silver-on-black.

The Skinny: The DB9 may not be enough to make people forget about Ferrari. But it should be enough to make rich folks reach for their checkbook when looking to add to their stable.
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