Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer is the sort of guy who loves his job. It’s clear as day, on his face and in his voice, even when he’s jet-lagged after hopping from Europe to California and pressed into glad-handing customers and chatting up reporters, as he was when we sat down with him during Monterey Car Week. And while some automotive chief executives seems more interest in market caps and synergy, Palmer’s love of his job clearly extends directly — and deeply — into the product portfolio. He can quote chapter and verse on the Aston lineup, and isn’t afraid to speak his truth as he sees fit.
Whether it’s his outspoken nature or just the jet lag , he doesn’t mince words when the topic of the DBX crossover, due to be revealed later this year, comes up early on.
“It’s probably the most important car in the history of the company,” he says.
The crossover, which has only been shown in lightly camouflaged form, is expected to sell like Natty Ice in Ann Arbor on opening day of the football season — at least, by Aston sales numbers. (Which, admittedly, have lagged a bit of late.) But while it may be the brand’s first dalliance into the realm of high-riding vehicles, Palmer says they’re taking it damn seriously.
“We need to be credible” as an SUV, he says. And to hear him tell the tale, the company has pulled it off. Not only will it be able to haul loads with aplomb — he describes its towing capabilities as “boat-able” — but it’ll also be fairly capable in terms of its off-road abilities. While it’ll pack four-wheel-drive, he says, it still needs to handle, look and sound like an Aston Martin. Deliver that level of performance in a taller, 4WD platform, he says, and “naturally, you’ll have a car that’s pretty adequate on the dirt.” He cites the Porsche Cayenne as the handling benchmark for the DBX.
The Aston Martin DBX, technically wearing a disguise.
Given Aston Martin’s lengthy history of building grand tourers with their engines stuck out front, though, the DBX doesn’t seem nearly as much of a change in direction as the carmaker’s new push into mid-engined speed machines. Yet here they come, three strong at this point: first, the Formula One-inspired Valkyrie hypercar this year, then the 500-unit Valhalla supercar, after which arrives the Vanquish super sports car in 2022. Each of them will pack a turbocharged V6 engine, tuned to varying states of power and outfitted with different levels of electrical assistance.
That trickle-down strategy, he says, was very much intentional — both to develop the technology and to prepare the world for the new face of Aston Martin. (As an aside: Speaking of the faces of Aston Martin, Palmer was happy to explain the teeny tiny new headlights being outfitted to those new mid-engined cars: they reduce weight, which has become something of a crusade at the carmaker now that they’ve begun working with the Red Bull F1 team.) The endgame of the entire process, he says, was to create a competitor to the Ferrari 488, Lamborghini Huracan and McLaren 720S that was every bit as capable as them. That meant a lot of development.
The Aston Martin Vantage AMR.
Still, Palmer’s Aston Martin isn’t leaving all the pieces of the past behind. The Vantage, for example, remains a taut two-seater with the motor out front — and, as of later this year, it’ll keep the manual gearbox alive for the brand in the form of the sportier Vantage AMR. That stick shift, Palmer says, is an example of the brand living up to a promise to keep the driver involved and rowing his or her own gears. Oddly enough, while the broader American public has long since given up caring about stick shifts, the CEO says it’s been the U.S. market that has kept demand for the old-school manual alive for the brand. Indeed, demand for manual Astons has been rising as of late, Palmer says, half-jokingly, “maybe because we’re the only manufacturer who offers one.”
And while the Vantage may be keeping the stick shift alive solo for now, that might not be the case forever. Will the manual find its way into any other vehicles in the lineup?
“I could see places,” he says, coyly.