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Drivers don’t want electric cars, Aston Martin admits

Aston Martin's plug-in hybrid Valhalla car
Aston Martin's plug-in hybrid Valhalla car will bridge the gap between petrol and electric fuel types

Aston Martin has delayed the launch of its first electric car as the luxury marque’s chairman admitted that drivers still want “the sports car smell, feel and noise” of a petrol engine.

The luxury car maker had originally aimed to launch an electric four-wheel drive grand tourer as soon as next year but will now hold off until 2026.

Lawrence Stroll, Aston’s executive chairman and biggest shareholder, blamed weak demand for higher-priced battery electric vehicles (BEVs) for the delay.

The Canadian billionaire said: “All our [BEV] technologies are in place… Everything is in place.

“The only thing that isn’t in place is the consumer demand at this early stage.”

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Mr Stroll added that drivers outside of cities still wanted the experience of driving a petrol-powered sports car.

He said: “What we are feeling is there are people that still want some electrification to drive around the city for five, or 10, or 15 miles but still have the sports car smell and feel and noise when you get onto the auto routes.”

Aston Martin will use hybrid cars, which use both battery and internal combustion motors, as a “bridge” to fully-electric models for now, Mr Stroll said.

The company has already launched its first plug-in hybrid supercar, the Valhalla, and has announced plans to launch plug-in versions of the Vantage, DB12, DBS and DBX models as well.

Mr Stroll is the latest car executive to express caution about the speed of the switch to EVs amid a slowdown in sales.

Government rules mandate that 22pc of all new car sales this year must be fully electric, rising to 80pc by 2030. Manufacturers risk fines if they fail to hit the targets.

However, consumers have baulked at high prices and a lack of charging infrastructure.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the billionaire behind Ineos who has developed his own four-wheel drive vehicles, last week warned BEVs are being “forced down the consumer’s throat”.

Mercedes has also insisted it will keep making internal combustion engine cars “well into [the] next decade” amid slow consumer uptake.

Aston Martin’s decision to delay the launch of its electric sports car came as Stellantis, the car giant behind Vauxhall, Peugeot and Citroen, separately urged the UK Government to give more backing to BEVs.

Uwe Hochgeschurtz, the company’s boss of European operations, told the Financial Times: “There must be clear advice: If you buy a BEV, it’s good.”

Speaking on Wednesday as Aston unveiled its latest financial results, Mr Stroll told journalists that the decision to delay the marque’s first BEV was based on market demand not being “what we thought it was going to be two years ago”.

He added: “As far as the BEV is concerned, we believe consumer demand was just not at the pace of all the analysts and the politicians.

“We do believe it will be there in the future – it’s not going away. We just think there’s a slight delay to the project.

“That’s why we think the hybrid is going to have a very long life, particularly for a company like us. It’s about delivering thrills and excitement in the driving experience.”

“So before we get to the BEVs, we will have a portfolio of PHEVs [plug-in hybrid electric vehicles] and a continuation, of course, of our combustion engine.”

Mr Stroll’s emphasis on the experience of driving a petrol-fuelled car versus a battery vehicle highlights the concerns among sports car makers about whether quiet electric engines will hold the same appeal with motorists.

Ferrari has patented a method of reproducing the sound of its high-performance petrol and diesel engines as its electric models are revved up.

Mr Stroll’s comments came as Aston said it had halved its annual losses to £240m, beating market expectations. It came as sales rose from £1.4bn to £1.6bn in 2023 and selling prices reached record highs on the back of demand for expensive models such as the Valkyrie.

However, shares in the company still dipped 2pc in early trading as investors fretted over rising debt levels. The company is seeking to refinance its borrowings, which totalled £814m, this year.

Asked whether Aston Martin still expected to meet a target of £2bn in sales and £500m of adjusted profits by this year, executives said they would “substantially achieve” the goals.