It all started when Aston Martin announced that it would be using engines co-developed with AMG, using a lot of AMG technology in its next generation of cars. When this happened, Mercedes got to take home a five percent non-voting stake in Aston Martin. More deals were later struck for use of Mercedes' next gen SL and SLK platforms, as well as for the GL's platform for the upcoming Lagonda SUV. That's in addition to the whole suite of Mercedes electronics, from active cruise control to collision prevention to nav systems that don't suck.
Because of all of this, we've been hearing regular rumors that Mercedes is considering a takeover of Aston Martin. Daimler CEO Dr. Zetsche has denied this, but if he is considering a takeover, that's exactly what he'd be doing until it were announced. It could very well be in the works.
The problem is that, if this does happen, we're still not quite sure whether it would be a good thing or not.
On one hand, we'd prefer that Aston remains independent. As it stands, Aston is making some of, if not the, most beautiful cars in the world, and we think that some of that probably has to do with the fact that it's not a massive conglomeration of automakers, but rather a single one. In huge corporations, every move has to be approved nine-hundred-thousand times, and this often pushes the concept of art out of the limelight. As it stands, Aston is still small enough that the artist isn't constrained by too much bureaucracy. It's a big enough company that there is still certainly plenty, but Aston represents a halfway point between the personality driven boutique automakers like Koenigsegg and Spyker and the powerhouses like Mercedes or Toyota.
Personally, as a guy of British decent, it is also nice to see one automaker still standing. Every other British company you can name is either very dead or has been sold off to a foreign company. The plight of MG is so horrible that we're all better off pretending it's dead.
Emotion and romanticism aside, it's not hard to see that Aston is struggling, and that ultra-high-end automakers do better with a parent company.
Emotion and romanticism aside, it's not hard to see that Aston is struggling, and that ultra-high-end automakers do better with a parent company; Rolls-Royce and Bentley are thriving under BMW and Volkswagen. Meanwhile at Aston Martin, money is in very limited supply, much of the technology the company uses is still from the Ford era, which ended in 2006. And because every car released in more than a decade has been built on the same platform, even the new cars don't seem terribly new, which is hurting sales. We think that the low tech nature of these cars does impart some of the charm, as there's very little electronic interference, but the fact that the company has to choose between integrating direct injection into its engines, adding features that are otherwise standard for the segment, and developing genuinely new cars isn't good.
Mercedes easily has the resources to do all of this.
Mercedes can share or develop platforms for all sorts of new Astons. AMG can develop engines that aren't just competitive, in terms of power and efficiency, but also are characterful and charming and engaging to drive. Mercedes can easily implement the cutting-edge technology that one expects in a $300,000 car. Most importantly, Mercedes can afford to weather financial losses from Aston for a year or two as new cars hit the market.
We'd just hope that Mercedes would have the good sense to let the Aston design team be. Don't even tell them that the company was under different ownership. Messing with them would be like whispering advice into Rachmaninov's ear as he was composing. At the same time, we'd hate to see Aston's corporate culture change too much. The company needs to keep to its British identity to continue being what it is. It needs to still treat its customers as individuals with specific tastes that are to be remembered.
All in all, we think we'd be in favor of a Mercedes take-over of Aston, but we'd still be worried that it might do some unrepairable damage to one of our favorite automakers. If we got a car that looked like a Vanquish and drove like the SLS AMG Black Series out of the deal, however, it would all be worth it.