An interview with Dan Balmer, President, Aston Martin Lagonda Middle East & North Africa
- Dan, you have worked in the automobile industry for over two decades. At that time, did you ever think you would see an electric sports car such as this Aston Martin Rapide E?
Actually? Yes. I was 16 when I started and in my opinion, it took a little bit longer than I expected.
When I was starting out in the industry, it was 1992. General Motors had just announced the EV1 concept car, which they started to manufacture and sell in the late 80s-90s. And you could see that there was a little bit of momentum behind that idea. However, for various reasons it didn’t hit production.
And what I thought in the 90s and noughties was that hydrogen was going to be the alternative. We saw the likes of BMW, Toyota and Honda investing in those platforms in a big way.
And that still exists as a solution, but then you had icebreaker start-up brands in the electric sector. We had more hybrids coming out and slowly the investments moved across to electric cars. What we see now is an undeniable market that exists for electric cars with consumers only considering that as an alternative and that’s a key eye-opener for us as a brand.
- And that’s where the Aston Martin Rapide E comes in?
Yes, that market exists, even in our high luxury sector. If you look at our competitive set and what exists in the market place, we know we are among the best, if not the best GT sports car provider.
But at the same time, there is a sector of individuals who are our customer set: high network individuals; that are stopping at the Tesla level. And I say stopping, because that car is premium, but not necessarily in the luxury sector. It can be priced in that sector if you pay for all the add-ons and upgrades.
And then, it would then come into Aston Martin’s market space.
However, these customers are conscious of themselves and they are not going to buy a V12 engine sports car for that reason. I think it’s important for us to offer an alternative to that market sector. Let’s not forget we have plans beyond this 155 unit limited production.
- Why 155? Is that a way to test to market or to be exclusive?
A bit of both, to be honest. We have a reputation as a brand that builds special vehicles; the Zagato was a good example. They are highly valued, collector vehicles because they are limited in production.
We needed to get going with it. We recognised the market pace and the rate of change we have recognised the customers want to buy into that market sector as well. This is our first foray.
So when deciding which platform to do an electric car on, we thought this was the best for us because it’s the largest wheelbase with the best space for the battery.
But in doing so, we also then had the realisation that if we did it on this platform we couldn’t do a series production run for a long period of time. We also knew we had the Lagonda in the pipeline, which is our electric-only brand.
The cutaway model is based on today’s Rapide S. However, the Aston Martin Rapide E will be based on the new Rapide AMR, which is a new sculpted, sportier, aggressive looking car.
- First customer deliveries are scheduled for Q4 2019, have all the 155 units been spoken for?
With the way we’ve launched the car, we come to events like this first. We haven’t taken the conventional motor show route; we’ve taken the technology one. This cutaway for example has been around the UK to various industry events, electric vehicle only events, and technology events.
We’re launching the car in Shanghai in April. We haven’t opened it up for pre-bookings, but will do that from April onwards officially.
- Aston Martin won’t go all electric on us over the next few decades… will they?
I believe that customers will still want an emotional sports car unit. And if electric cars can answer the question of emotion, which has not been answered yet, then yes, potentially. For example, I drove a V12 engine car to the event today.
A DBS! And that smile on your face, that pure emotion is something amazing. Such is the pace of change in the industry right now that if someone comes up with a very emotional sound and all encompassing feeling, we could see that happen.
But today we have no plans to rule out internal combustion engines from our range. They will very much be a part of our future. But for Lagonda yes, it will be a pure EV brand.