Imported Luxury

After a century of success in its homeland, iconic British automaker Aston Martin is making a move into American markets with a surprising entry price on its line of luxury cars

It looked like something out of an action movie, perhaps one from a James Bond film. Tires from a sleek luxury car kicking up fine powder as they glide over the surface of a frozen lake. The roar of a powerful engine accelerating around a sharp turn.

Although not for a movie, the event did have something in common with Bond—the Aston Martin. Last February, the small independent luxury British sports car manufacturer invited an exclusive group of customers to Crested Butte, Colorado, for its first ever Aston Martin on Ice event. There, drivers got behind the wheel of Vanquishes, Vantage V12 Ss, and Rapide Ss to hone their skills on a professionally built ice track with a skid pad, slalom, and other features.

These driving experiences are the brainchild of Julian Jenkins and his colleagues at Aston Martin as they seek to grow the iconic brand in the United States and surrounding territories. The company made quite a splash last year when it announced a sub-$100,000 sports car for North American markets. The vehicle, a V8 Vantage GT, starts at $99,900 and went on sale in the second half of 2014.

Jenkins, president of Aston Martin The Americas, believes the car and the company’s other offerings resonate well with current and potential North American customers. “Our aim with the Vantage GT was to present a more focused sports car package, recognizing that in this market there is a core group of keen drivers looking for dynamic performance,” he says. “Dynamic” may be a bit of an understatement; the V8 Vantage—available in coupe and roadster bodies and with a manual or automatic transmission—reaches 190 miles per hour. It’s built to be a road-going version of the classic Aston Martin GT4 racecar, and blends luxury and performance well.

The product line and what’s happening in North America is an increasingly important piece of Aston Martin’s overall portfolio. The automaker, staked by private shareholders, has announced more than $800 million in capital infusion that ushers in the biggest product development cycle in its 101-year history. Aston Martin’s sales in 2013 were up 11 percent, to 4,200 cars worldwide. About 30 percent of those cars were sold in North America.

Jenkins started his career at Jaguar when the company was developing the XK8 and saw all aspects of a new vehicle program from the outset. From there, he went to Porsche Great Britain to manage aftersales marketing and develop a pre-owned program, and later worked for Rolls Royce and Bentley in various positions around the world that have helped make him a luxury brand expert over the last twenty-five years. Jenkins came to Aston Martin in April of 2008. As president of the company’s operation in the Americas, he manages all activities in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Peru.

As Aston Martin looks for bigger market share in these countries, it’s Jenkins who must connect with consumers and nurture relationships with dealers. Luckily, he has a great platform. “Aston Martin is one of the most iconic brands in the world, and even though the brand might be less well known in these newer markets, we have a long heritage and are known for our craftsmanship in building great sports cars,” Jenkins says. And a close association with the world’s smoothest spy has helped, too. Eleven of the twenty-three James Bond films feature an Aston Martin.

Company executives took note in 2004 when cars like the DB9 and V8 Vantage started to sell in North America. Since then, they’ve grown the line to four key products, the Vantage line, the DB9, the four-door Rapide S, and the Halo Vanquish model. “Our current product lineup is the strongest in Aston Martin’s history and appeals to a broad spectrum of customers that appreciate true craftsmanship, exclusivity, and performance,” Jenkins says.

As Aston Martin grows, it seeks to retain its status as an exclusive brand. It’s a fine line. Aston Martin wants new customers, but it can’t alienate long-time supporters. “Our existing owners are our greatest advocates, and that’s a key marketing opportunity,” Jenkins says, adding that he tries to mix prospects and existing Aston Martin drivers together during company events given the shared passion for the cars and the brand.

The experiences Aston Martin is hosting in North America are truly one of a kind. In 2014, racing fans gathered in Monterey, California, for the first-ever Aston Martin Festival. During the three-day affair, they got an up-close look at current and vintage models and had the chance to bring their own car or experience a company test model on a professional track. The Labor Day celebration ended with a seventeen-mile driving tour with professional drivers. At other events, small groups of fifteen to twenty drivers gather for scenic drives to destinations such as Pebble Beach, enjoying fine meals and staying at luxury hotels along the way. “It’s a club within a club that they belong to,” says Jenkins, who drives several Aston Martins but prefers the excitement of the V12 Vantage S model. “There’s a real sense of camaraderie, and these experiential events allow one-on-one relationships that just aren’t possible with larger companies.”

While other automakers call Michigan home, Aston Martin has its North American headquarters in Southern California, which has become a key market for high luxury automobiles. In fact, the region accounts for around 25 percent of Aston Martin’s regional sales, and the location is helping Jenkins and his colleagues take their brand into South America while still supporting existing teams across the country. Satellite offices on the East Coast, in the Midwest, and in Florida provide good coverage for a dealer network and customer base. Jenkins is promoting slow and calculated growth. It’s not about multiplying sales by ten, but about making sure the elite company has the right representation who understand the brand in the right locations to support new customers as they come on board.

The company has thirty-five dealers in the United States and positions itself in key markets to make purchasing and service convenient for customers nationwide. Aston Martin is still a small, independent car company, and therefore enjoys a unique relationship with its dealers network—but the company is selective in who it chooses. “Dealers need to understand our brand, share a passion for it, and be comfortable and capable of presenting it in the right context,” Jenkins explains. The Aston Martin brand delivers more than just product; the company also has a pre-owned program, accessories, and merchandise that ensure the profitability of its long-term dealer partners.

Over the last hundred years, Aston Martin has manufactured more than 75,000 automobiles, but most of that business has come in the last decade. That’s because the company now has dealers in forty-two countries. That number is likely to increase as Jenkins gains traction in North America and pushes deeper into Brazil, Peru, and other South American hot spots. With new models in production, Aston Martin is well on its way to another century of success around the world.