A gamble worth taking?

Sam Skelton

Aston Martin Cygnet

Aston Martin Cygnet

I’ve just seen pics of the next Aston Martin. It’s not, as you would be forgiven for thinking, a large and expensive GT car with a big V12. Instead, it’s the answer to a question nobody has ever asked.

It would seem that Aston Martin have done some market research and found that many of their customers keep a small car – a MINI Cooper for example – for town use. The Aston only comes out to play on longer distance trips and nice days. Fair play to the owners – petrol’s £4.68 per gallon now, and I can’t see many Aston owners enjoying the frugality of 20mpg.

Aston have therefore decided to introduce a small car to replace the MINI in their customers’ portfolios. This car, the Cygnet, is based upon Toyota’s iQ. Little is known as yet, and Aston have not confirmed that it is anything more than a concept, so much of the next few lines will be speculation.

The car is expected to be launched towards the end of 2010 at a price of between £20,000 and £25,000. This should price it to compete with the MINI Cooper (after the prospective buyer has chosen options and option packs).

The Cygnet should also undercut its only true rival, the Radford MINI Miglia, seen elsewhere on this site. Toyota will import up to 2000 iQs for Aston per year, which will then be ‘finished’ at Gaydon. This ‘finishing’ consists of a remodelled nose (using the iQ’s own headlamps), new wheels  and an interior retrimmed in the finest hide, utilising the standard iQ layout.

It is possible that this heralds a new age of co-operation between Aston and Toyota – future Astons such as the proposed Lagonda 4×4 may use Lexus hybrid powertrains, but neither party has yet commented upon the potential for future marque interaction.

The whole concept of an exclusively styled and trimmed version of a small car appeals to me immeasurably – the project reminds me of Vanden Plas’ work in the 1960s and 1970s with the 1100, 1300, and 1500. I cannot, though, help but wonder if this is a wise move for Aston.

Yes, the concept of a small Aston Martin for town use is a novel one and initial exclusivity is maintained by the fact that Aston would only be offering them to existing owners in the first instance. However, a £25,000 Aston city car could also ruin the brand’s cachet and, because of the brand, it would cost much more to insure than the other upmarket city cars Aston are expecting to capture sales from.

The Cygnet could be the start of a new profitable market sector for Aston, but I rather feel the opposite could happen. Unless Aston Martin are very canny about what they choose to do, I believe that the ugly duckling Cygnet could well become the company’s swansong.

I know that my opinion is not shared by all. Steve Cropley, of the influential motor magazine Autocar, believes that the project deserves a fair chance and will do well. I sincerely hope he’s right but doubt that he is. Aston look to be on the verge of taking their biggest gamble since the Lagonda of the 1970s and it’s one that I, for one, don’t think will pay off.

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007. Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

16 Comments on "A gamble worth taking?"

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  1. Colin Hunt says:

    Skelton’s premise is completely erroneous. This car is not being developed to “replace the MINI in customers’ portfolios”. It’s being developed to lower Aston’s average emissions to meet legislative requirements.

  2. Jonathan Carling Jonathan Carling says:

    No, please Aston, don’t do it! Decades of cherished brand history gone up in smoke! The Lexus-based Aston has potential. This really doesn’t!

  3. Simon Woodward says:

    Didn’t they try this before in the early 80’s with the Tickford Metro!!!

  4. Simon Woodward says:

    The trouble is this will dilute the brand. We all know the credit crunch has hit these cars but Ferrari hasn’t started doing a version of the Punto.

    Maybe do a Z4 sized car or just use the skilled work force to do something else until things pick up.

    This has been tried before by many Brit firms such as Astons own firm Tickford (Metro and Capri), Rapports version of the Honda Accord and the Panther Rio based on the Dolly Sprint(styled to look like a Hillman Hunter!!)

    By the way what happened to the AC based on the Smart roadster body that was going to be built a couple of years ago in Wales?

  5. Andrew McCheyne says:

    It would work better if those white things at the front weren’t on.

  6. Sam Skelton says:

    @Colin Hunt

    Hunt, I discovered this ulterior motive AFTER I wrote the blog. I maintain that Aston’s ‘public’ reason is, as I said, to capture the ‘city car’ portion of their customers’ motoring portfolios. However, I do acknowledge that Aston are taking advantage of this car to lower their overall emissions rating.

    The Tickford Metro, the Rapport Ritz, and the Panther Rio were different. They approached the same market, yes, but they weren’t doing it to the possible detriment of their own branding. They didn’t really have anything to lose by doing it – Aston has.

  7. Andrew McCheyne says:

    I don’t like the colour.

  8. Jack Yan Jack Yan says:

    @Simon Woodward

    Simon has hit it on the head. Aston Martin seems to misunderstand the value of its brand, one of its most valued possessions. Once damaged, it will be hard to recover.

  9. Simon Woodward says:

    Now I am going to be cruel . . . It looks like a extra in the new Pixars CAR movie… it Lighting Mcqueen’s new fat girl friend!!!

  10. Merlin Milner says:

    Simon, I too have wondered what happened to the AC ACE / Project Kimber that was to be built using the Smart Roadster underpinnings. If Aston could take over that project then that would be far better than this Toyota based thingy.

    All this talk of diluting brands stuff never used to matter. BMW with their baroque saloons and bubble cars in the 50s. Straight after the war Aston were going to produce the Atom – a small car. In the old days if a manufacturer felt that they could make money in a particular sector then they did have ago. I feel that if Aston can make it work, good luck to them.

  11. Andrew McCheyne says:

    It would look nicer in avacado.

  12. Simon Woodward says:

    Good idea Lotus have kept alive with the Elise I must admit I wasn’t thing along those lines when I wrote it but the Smart roadster was a complete ready to go project. I had another thought as well after I wrote the blog the other day when I said perhaps their skills could be used on other engineering projects. If green is the buzz word at the moment why not a half decent green town car or a small van. There must be some pretty serious engineers at Aston(and jag/landy for that matter)who could put their skills put to good use. It doesn’t have to be a big hassle either, LDV had something in the pipe line just up the road in Brum and had work force, distributors and plant etc already set up. It would save and generate more jobs and put British engineering back on the map.

  13. Simon Woodward says:

    Merlin Minor -Good idea Lotus have kept alive with the Elise I must admit I wasn’t thing along those lines when I wrote it but the Smart roadster was a complete ready to go project. I had another thought as well after I wrote the blog the other day when I said perhaps their skills could be used on other engineering projects. If green is the buzz word at the moment why not a half decent green town car or a small van. There must be some pretty serious engineers at Aston(and jag/landy for that matter)who could put their skills put to good use. It doesn’t have to be a big hassle either, LDV had something in the pipe line just up the road in Brum and had work force, distributors and plant etc already set up. It would save and generate more jobs and put British engineering back on the map.

  14. Ross Armstrong says:

    I think it depends wholly on how they market this car. If they style it properly, seriously go to town on the quality of the interior (fully bespoke and bulletproof), and seed a fully exclusive perception of this car to the fashion elite, they could well pull it off.. Imagine Keira Knightly jumping out to do some shopping at Harrods in this, it could be the ultimate rich woman’s accessory… DB9 for the man, Aston city car for the lady of the house – But certainly, Aston Martin needs to find a way to reduce it’s average CO2 target… Good luck to them…

  15. Sam,

    I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis. With 2,000 vehicles @ around £22,500 median price thats £45 million in sales for year one. I would have thought the development cost will take a good 3 years to pay back at that rate so perhaps the gamble in the math is doable; i am assuming the cost of development is low thanks to the clone of the iQ from Toyota.

    However, this could as you say, do untold damage to the marque. Porsche seem to have got away with the Cayenne and the Boxster but that is a whole different ball game to a city car even if the price is premium.

    I suppose the one saving grace and assuming they stick to their guns is that it will be limited to Aston owners. If they relent it could backfire spectacularly.

    My proposal would be for them to buy a name off the shelf such as Healey or Sprite or even Triumph if BMW can be persuaded to part with it and go that route.

    As an Aston I hope they see sense and pull the project.

  16. Simon Woodward says:

    I like the idea of resurrecting an old name such as Triumph but how about using Tickford?(a bad choice would be Peel even though to me it looks like one) I still don’t like the idea of bastardising the Aston brand because Astons to my knowledge have never been anything other very fast GT’s or drophead tourers.I thought the concept may have grown on me but it hasn’t, its the idea that a load of z lists celebs driving them around London that kills it for me.

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