The car industry is in a state of flux at the moment. Not only are car companies still struggling to get back on track after the economic crash, companies like Google, Tesla, and Uber are all looking to disrupt the industry completely with autonomous driving technologies, electric vehicles, and new ownership models.
Add to that the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and for European car companies, UK-based companies in particular, the future is less of a motorway and more a bumpy country road.
And so, for some car companies at least, the answer is to broaden their horizons and look to new markets. But rather than developing their own driverless car technology, companies at the luxury end of the market like Aston Martin and Bentley are going after an entirely different customer base with €3,500 baby strollers (pictured right), €15,000 sofas, and €17,500 crocodile skin bags.
“We want to sell the dream and the allure that is around the brand,” says Katia Bassi, managing director of Aston Martin Brands.
Aston Martin, makers of the iconic sports cars made famous by James Bond, has recently opened a high-profile store in London’s Mayfair district where it is now looking to build on years of work to establish Aston Martin as a luxury brand.
Traditionally car manufacturers have always created merchandise as a way of allowing their customers and fans to show their passion for a particular brand, and while Aston Martin is no different in offering branded polo shirts and cufflinks, its latest venture is something completely different and a move to position it as something other than just a car brand.
“We want to be seen as a luxury brand. More comprehensive than a luxury car brand,” says Bassi.
Aston Martin is not alone. Bentley, another UK company, is also branching out. It has partnered with Luxury Living Group to create the Bentley Home Collection, which is “inspired by the time-honoured craftsmanship and material selection that characterise Bentley car interiors”. As part of its latest range, the British car company is selling a table costing €16,000 and a €15,000 sofa. Bentley says the amount of money generated by this range is small compared to the firm’s overall revenue, but it is growing and there is a lot of opportunity.
Revenue is of course a major issue for all carmakers today. According to research from PwC, 2015 saw record sales in the US, but in the EU, the “auto industry is held hostage by local economies that are teetering on the edge of recession”.Aston Martin announced in June that it had recorded a post-tax loss of £107m (€125m), up from a £64m loss the previous year. However, a lot of that increase is down to Aston Martin’s investment in the future, including a £200m electric car plant in Wales, part of what it calls its Second Century plan.
And part of that plan is a reinvention of how it is perceived. “We believe that we are now ready to say that we are a luxury company,” says Bassi.
While merchandising is nothing new, how Aston Martin and Bentley are approaching the leveraging of their brand identity is divorced from what other brands have done in the past. “The thing is that we want to do it in a completely different way,” says Bassi.
“We are not saying that we are better than our competitors, but we say that we do things differently.”
At the store in Mayfair, Aston Martin’s iconic logo is etched in brass, and centred around the Phythagorean spiral which sits at the heart of the company’s design ethos. The dimensions of the spiral, which occur naturally in nature, give its cars a more pleasing aesthetic, says the company — that’s the philosophy it is looking to bring to other markets.
While Aston Martin and Bentley create some of the most iconic designs in the automotive world, they don’t have the experience in areas like fashion, furniture, and sportswear, so they seek out partners to help produce the items.
Aston Martin’s €3,500 baby stroller is designed in association with Silver Cross, while it has partnered with sunglasses manufacturer Marma to create handmade, Italian-designed eyewear. But the company is not stopping there. In October it will announce a partnership with a US company to build an exclusive real estate venture which will bear the Aston Martin name. The company will unveil its first speedboat later this month, having worked with yacht-maker Quintessence on the project.
Following road, land, and sea, the company is also talking with several aviation manufacturers about developing an Aston Martin-branded private jet.
So why has Aston Martin decided to branch out in this way? “We want to enlarge our fan base,” says Bassi. “It is clear that not a lot of people could afford an Aston Martin, just like someone could not afford a Dior haute couture dress for £50,000 for example.”
While Dior has created a range of perfumes, aftershaves, and sunglasses to appeal to those who can’t afford its haute couture dress, Aston Martin’s yachts, apartments, and private jets will hardly be within the reach of the average consumer.
For Ferrari, the approach is something completely different. While its sports cars are equally out of the price range of most people, its racing heritage means it has millions of fans around the world who don’t and likely never will, own one of its iconic automobiles.
And so, because of its Formula 1 racing heritage, it needs to sate the desire of fans who want to wear jackets emblazoned with its iconic prancing pony logo or its unique shade of bright red.
Companies like Aston Martin and Bentley believe that what they are offering with their new range of products is access to a lifestyle and way of living previously only available to those who could afford their cars. It is unclear how much a €15,000 couch or €17,500 crocodile skin bag is going to expand their user base, but Bassi says that because it has never diluted its brand, Aston Martin is among only a very few companies who could branch out in this way.
“You really have to conquer and gain, not only the interest, but also the trust of the customers, and this doesn’t happen in one day. I don’t see many others doing this so far, and the market recognises that.”
Got €17,500 to spare? Buy a crocodile bag!
- €3,500 Silver Cross Stroller: Aston Martin has partnered with Silver Cross to create the Silver Cross Surf, which is described as “the ultimate luxury pram system”.
- €17,500 Crocodile Skin Bag: The most expensive item on sale in Aston Martin’s new retail store, the crocodile skin bag, features a 24-carat-gold pair of iconic Aston Martin wings.
- €17,300 Sideboard: Bentley’s range’s of home furnishings includes this Lendal sideboard, described as “an expression of the finest craftsmanship and scrupulous attention to detail” and featuring leather doors upholstered with the iconic diamond quilt stitch.
- €700 Driver: Not a driver for your car, but one for your golf bag. This Bentley BD1 driver comes with a titanium body and graphite shaft and promises a fusion of “traditional styling and cutting edge technology”.
- €17,500 Smartphone: Bentley has partnered with luxury phone maker Vertu to create a device featuring a leather finish, a subscription to a 24-hour concierge service and a ringtone composed by the London Symphony Orchestra.