Aston Martin CEO hopes Italian cash to drive sales up

DUBAI Fri Jan 18, 2013 1:53am IST

Ulrich Bez, CEO of Aston Martin, speaks to Reuters during the company's centenary celebrations in Dubai January 17, 2013. REUTERS/Nikhil Monteiro

Ulrich Bez, CEO of Aston Martin, speaks to Reuters during the company's centenary celebrations in Dubai January 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Nikhil Monteiro

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DUBAI (Reuters) - Aston Martin hopes its new minority private equity shareholder will bring resources that will help the British luxury carmaker launch the next generation of sports cars and expand its market presence, its CEO Ulrich Bez said on Thursday.

The maker of sports cars, made famous by James Bond spy movies, plans to invest $1 billion in new products and technology after Italian private equity fund Investindustrial bought a 37.5 percent stake last month via a capital increase agreed with majority Kuwaiti owner Investment Dar.

"First of all it brings the money to the company, which we can use for the next generation of products from 2015 to 2025," Bez told Reuters after a helicopter lifted a red Vanquish to the top of Dubai's iconic sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel in a stunt to celebrate the centenary of the brand.

"And of course I would expect that they also have know-how and feeling for products for five years or 10 years into the future. I expect that the Italians bring a lot of experience."

The fund, owned by Italy's Bonomi family, beat Indian tractor maker Mahindra and Mahindra (MAHM.NS).

The 100-year-old maker of the DB9 and Vanquish sports cars has struggled in recent years. It sold 2,340 cars in January-September 2012, 19 percent down from 2011.

Asked whether investors should be concerned about involvement of the private equity fund in Aston Martin, Bez said: "Look, the private equity has one aim and this is to increase the value of the investment."

"Aston Martin is not a conglomerate, which you would sell parts off and destroy it. Aston Martin is one entity. I am absolutely confident that the private investment house is very good for Aston Martin," he said.

Investindustrial has said the group hoped to transform Aston Martin in a similar way it revamped Italian motorcycle maker Ducati by expanding Aston's model range and strengthening its global dealership network.

Bez also denied the entry of the private equity firm was just a quick fix because Aston Martin could not draw another car manufacturer as some analysts suggested.

"First of all, in our industry there is no quick fix. The car industry is working in five-year periods," Bez, who has been with the company for 13 years, said.

"This is not something that gives us an additional access to technology we would not have without this."

4X4 ASTON MARTIN

Aston Martin, perhaps best known for its classic DB5 sports car from early Bond movies, has said the deal would enable it to invest in new products and a technology programme up to 2018.

The British carmaker is owned by a consortium of its chairman David Richards, Investment Dar and another Kuwaiti fund, Adeem Investment Co. U.S.-based Ford (F.N), which sold Aston Martin to them in 2007, still holds a small stake.

Asked whether Investment Dar was committed to remain a long-term investor in the company, Bez said: "I do not have any other indication or that there is a change."

Aston Martin sells some 15 percent of its vehicles in Asia but wants to significantly raise its presence in emerging markets like China over time.

"A sports car in China where there is not a huge and long-term culture in driving is not the primary focus. This is not a strategy that depends on what we do but this is how the market develops when you are present," he told Reuters.

"We have now 15 dealers in China, they have just started. ... In the time horizon of five years we will have a very strong hold in China," he said.

Asked whether the carmaker had a near-term plan for a four-wheel drive Aston Martin, Bez told a news conference: "A car with a higher ground clearance and four- and all-wheel drive would be very helpful (in the Middle East) as we have seen from other companies," he said.

"So we have plans but I can't tell you it's next year or it's 2017; it's not yet in this stage." he added. (Additional reporting by Layla Maghribi; Editing by Richard Chang)

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