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Can a Ferrari 'unicorn' save Aston Martin?

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Aston Martin
Aston Martin

As an owner of vintage Ferraris, who at one stage ran his own dealership, Lawrence Stroll is well acquainted with the allure of the luxury car maker.

In a nod to his admiration, the billionaire has turned to veterans of the Italian company to help save Aston Martin, as he seeks to transform the British marque into a brand of equal commercial prestige.

On Wednesday Aston announced Amedeo Felisa, Ferrari’s former boss, had taken over as chief executive with immediate effect. He replaced Tobias Moers, the executive hired from Mercedes AMG in 2020, who left “by mutual agreement”.

The company also said that Roberto Fedeli, previously one of Ferrari’s most feted engineers, and among the top in the industry, will join next month as chief technical officer.

It follows a string of problems at Aston since it floated on London’s stock market in 2018. Shares are down more than 90pc in the four years since its debut, which have also featured one bailout and now the departure of two chief executives.

The appointments aim to help Aston, famed for its association with James Bond, shift gear into a “new phase of growth” as Stroll pushes ahead with plans to make it the one of the world’s most desirable ultra-luxury car brands.

With both men on board, Stroll is wanting to recreate the runaway success Ferrari has enjoyed in recent years, nodding to the company as “the benchmark in our industry”. Since floating on the New York Stock Exchange in 2015 with a value of £5bn, Ferrari’s market capitalisation has rocketed to nearly £30bn.

By 2025, Aston aims to sell 10,000 cars annually - as many as Ferrari does - and reach profits of £500m. It marks a swift uptick from the 6,600 cars it expects to sell this year.

Looming on the horizon is also a pledge to sell only hybrid or electric cars from 2026.

Stroll, who took over as Aston’s executive chairman after leading a bailout of the company two years ago, is hoping the latest hires can finally make these ambitious goals a reality.

“I think Amedeo is a very unique individual - I'd even call him a unicorn. There's really nobody else like him,” he says.

“This is one man who came into Ferrari in the 90s, when the cars were not great… and was responsible for the development and manufacturing of the greatest cars that Ferrari has ever made.

“He suggested we hire Roberto, who is one of the top 10 best chief technology officers in the world.

“These people understand what ultra luxury is all about.”

Incoming chief executive Felisa, 76, is a well-known boss and engineer within the car industry who served in senior roles at Ferrari for 26 years - eight of them as chief executive. He was previously a non-executive director at Aston.

Fedeli, meanwhile, is credited as the main architect of Ferrari’s “LaFerrari”, a limited run vehicle that was its first hybrid and fastest ever roadcar.

While acknowledging Ferrari’s similarities with Aston, Stroll hints he believes his company boasts an even more august heritage with “our own magic”.

“Aston Martin is a 109-year-old, historic British iconic institution,” he says. “If you took a survey of the most high net worth individuals of what brands they think are the ultimate in luxury automotive, Aston Martin would be on the top of everyone's list.”

Lawrence Stroll at the 2022 FIA Formula One World Championship, Imola - Dppi/Dppi/Zuma Press
Lawrence Stroll at the 2022 FIA Formula One World Championship, Imola - Dppi/Dppi/Zuma Press

The Canadian tycoon knows what he is talking about, having made his fortune investing in luxury brands Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors, earning the nickname the “Handbag King”. Yet Aston’s investors, who have endured a bumpy ride since its float, could still be forgiven for gripping their seats.

Before Stroll took the wheel in 2020, when his consortium pumped £182m into the company as part of a £500m rescue package, Aston had failed to meet expectations and burnt through cash while struggling to manage its mountain of debts.

Stroll quickly ousted long-serving Aston boss Andy Palmer and installed Moers, a former executive at Mercedes AMG. In a canny marketing move, he also brought Aston Martin back to its racing roots last year, fielding a team in Formula 1 for the first time since 1960.

However, under Moers - who held the dual titles of chief executive and chief technical officer - Aston has struggled to deliver hundreds of high-performance Valkyrie cars on time to customers. It has also suffered an exodus of staff, which insiders claim is down to Moers’ robust management style which allegedly ruffled feathers and wrecked morale.

Despite this, Stroll rejects suggestions that the German businessman was forced out and insists he left by mutual agreement. The billionaire adds there is now a need for the company to separate Moers’ two roles into distinct, full-time jobs of their own as it gears up for further expansion.

A big part of these plans will be Aston’s move into electric vehicles. It has unveiled plans for a hybrid supercar called the Valhalla, an electric sports car by 2025 and an electric SUV by 2026. Fedeli, who also previously helped to develop BMW’s electric vehicle line-up, will bring significant experience to this area.

Yet Stroll insists that Aston’s brand will be its main trump card, with the marque’s long history giving it an edge over upstarts.

“I built some of the greatest brands in the world. It takes a great deal of time to build a brand,” he says. “For Aston Martin, it has taken 109 years. You can't just recreate that. A lot of these EV [electric vehicle] startups are just that - they're startups. No one knows who they are.”

“Our brand is synonymous with performance and we have a history going back to winning Le Man in 1939. That’s invaluable,” adds Stroll.

“For me, EV ultimately is going to be about brands. It's going to be like shopping for fashion, where you want to personify yourself with the suit you wear, the polo shirt you wear and the logo it has, or the handbag a woman buys, whether it's a Michael Kors or Gucci.

“A multi-millionaire may not want to drive a Tesla, although it can be a great product. But they would like to be seen as an Aston Martin.”

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