Aston Martin and Mercedes 'to strike €300m deal'

Published: 22 October 2008

CAR Online today lifts the lid on the secret deal – codenamed Romeo and Juliet – being hammered out between Aston Martin and Mercedes-Benz. We have sensational details of the alliance, including a plan for hybrid Aston Martins, the full range of proposed Lagonda models and even a possible DB10 and 4x4 from the Aston Martin Lagonda stable.

Back in August 2008, we revealed how the British sports car maker was in talks with the German giant over future cooperation (read our original Aston-Merc scoop here). Now we publish the latest news on a wide-ranging €300 million (£240m) deal that could see Gaydon and Stuttgart work much more closely together.

Read CAR's exclusive report over the next four pages.

Project Romeo and Juliet: the background


When they first starting talking, the relatively modest €20m cooperation plan for Aston Martin and Mercedes/Maybach was, like a hostile takeover bid, named Project Alligator.

But now the two parties have drastically increased the scope of the potential alliance. Valued at €300m (£240m) minimum, the new deal is known as Romeo and Juliet. You don't need to be a Shakespeare scholar to work out this is a proposed English-German love story. But will it end up as a tragedy? Scores of Aston fans might not be keen for their next model to have the beating heart of a Mercedes...

The Aston-Mercedes deal: the men behind it


This new relationship has been agreed at the highest level by Aston Martin Lagonda chairman Ulrich Bez and Daimler supremo Dieter Zetsche. Although it's still early days, we hear this fledgling relationship could end up with Mercedes taking a minority interest in the UK-based sports car maker. Today Aston Martin is controlled by a consortium of Arabian investors.

Says a senior source at Daimler: 'Our agreement with McLaren won't last forever [Mercedes holds a 40 percent stake in McLaren]. There will be no replacement for the SLR, and as soon as the price is right, we are interested in taking over the F1 business. This opens up all sorts of opportunities for a new partner with strong know-how in terms of coachbuilding and bespoke vehicles.'

Step forward Aston Martin. The deal makes sense on various levels and, although denied by the official PR handlers, CAR has confirmed that talks are in fact intensifying.

Click 'Next' to read more about the Aston Martin-Mercedes deal

 

Why are Aston Martin and Mercedes-Benz looking to cooperate?


Messieurs Bez and Zetsche both believe they can engineer a win-win deal. But while the benefits for Aston Martin are a no-brainer (access to high-volume, globalised and homologated engines and other systems), many Daimler hardliners are sceptical.

'What´s in it for us?,' questions one senior engineer. 'Giving Bez and his team access to our R&D centre is one thing. Getting something tangible in return is another.' But this attitude may soon change if Dr Z has his way.

Aston Martin to work on next Maybach


There are in fact moves afoot to commission Aston Martin to mastermind the next-generation Maybach. Since the mild facelift due for 2010 is unlikely to work wonders for the under-developed and over-sexed luxury liner, Merc product planners are seriously considering letting their new English friends revamp the body and interior for the new Maybach 57 and 62 limos.

Why not do it in-house? Because Daimler is too slow, too rigidly structured and too volume-oriented for such a specialised job. This is niche work that calls for flexibility, improvisation and a flat hierarchy – exactly the sort of skills set you'll find at Gaydon.

Don't think this is a pipe dream. CAR has learned that Philipp Grosse Kleimann, previously in charge of Mercedes' aftersales, will move from Stuttgart to Gaydon where he is expected to assume the role of chief liaison manager. His mission? To implement the correct strategy and Mercedes' core brand values.

So what's in the Merc deal for Aston Martin?


Although Ulrich Bez never tires of pointing out that the world is full of renowned specialist suppliers that Aston could tap for future engines and other development work, it would of course be much more efficient to work with one single source.

How convenient if it could turn to Mercedes-Benz, one of the world's most respected engineering outfits.

Click 'Next' to read about some of the specific projects planned for the Mercedes-Aston Martin tie-up

So the next SL would be a DB9 in drag?


Not quite yet. The deal doesn't yet include co-developing entire sports cars, at least not yet. Aston will continue to design and build its own coupés and convertibles, but – if and when the deal is inked – the next generation would almost certainly feature tweaked Mercedes powerplants and transmissions.

To test the water, the boys from Warwickshire have asked their Swabian counterparts for a version of their twin-turbo V12 dubbed M275 which
is likely to replace the Ford-sourced V12 found in the DB9 and DBS.

This V12 collaboration programme alone is valued at an estimated €150m and has been blessed by Dr Zetsche. For good measure, Mercedes will also throw in the seven-speed automatic and both hybrid modules. Yes, bank on a hybrid Aston Martin in the next decade.

Hybrid Aston Martins! Whatever next?


This isn't pie-in-the-sky stuff. Aston and Merc are already talking about details. P1 denotes the mild version of the hybrid module, which provides a 135lb ft torque boost. P2 doubles this figure by substituting the converter with a full synchronised electric motor. This kind of state-of-the-art technology is definitely not readily available from the aforementioned supplier community.

If it does the Maybach job well, Aston Martin is expected to get a bigger slice of the action. This includes complete cars with drivetrains, joint production agreements and an integration of both dealer networks, sources say.

The next phase of the Aston-Merc deal


Phase Two of the Romeo and Juliet project kicks off in 2012. This timing has a lot to do with the relaunch of the Lagonda brand. Bez announced the revival of Lagonda in September 2008 and we'll see the first concept vehicle in 2009.

But exactly what kind of vehicles are planned for the Lagonda badge that's been woken from its slumber? Click 'Next' to find out

Lagonda: the future models


Long-term, we may see up to to four different Lagonda models. The SUV/crossover model Bez keeps referring to in rather general terms would be based on the replacement Mercedes GL, which won't change much in character and dimensions.

The full range of Lagondas being plotted are:

A large saloon
Four-seater coupé
Four-seater cabriolet
That 4x4

The saloon is, according to those in the know, the Lagonda version of the next Maybach. The British R&D crew would thus effectively oversee both programmes. A bit further down the line, Lagonda could also get a version of C217 and A217, the next Mercedes CL coupé and
its drop-top spin-off.

A source from Germany tells us: 'Once the fundamental issues have been dealt with, the arrangement is quite straightforward. Maybach stands for ultimate luxury, Mercedes covers the middle ground albeit on a very high level, and Lagonda does the sporty versions.'

In case the Lagonda name does not attract enough premium customers, the rebodied CL could alternatively be fielded as the Aston Martin DB10. Make no mistake, this is the level of detail the talks behind Project Romeo and Juliet have already reached.

Tell me more about the proposed Mercedes-Aston engines...


Ulrich Bez would have loved Mercedes to develop a state-of-the-art straight six for AML, but in this particular case he received the thumbs down. Bez will have to settle for a selection of V-engines instead.

'The platform which is crucial for the initial phase of the collaboration is known in Stuttgart as W222/ V222. This is the architecture of the new S-class which differs radically from the current car. It's not going to be much lighter on account of the necessary space and tech requirements, but it will be dramatically more efficient thanks to new downsized turbocharged petrol engines and no fewer than three different hybrid options: mild, full and plug-in.

One of these options will in fact be standard on every new S-class, which in itself is a huge opportunity for AML. While the Rapide earmarked for early 2010 is still based on an evolution of the familiar VH matrix, the bigger Lagonda saloon would already tap the W/V222 DNA. Since S-class and CL will again be closely related, the technology transfer automatically extends to the two-door models.

What about a McLaren-style sports car partnership with Aston Martin? It's a possibility, but only if the market deems MB's new Gullwing coupé, the roadster derived from it and the AMG Black Series portfolio too mainstream. And the way the international economy is going makes that unlikely. For now at least.

Aston Martin: the future


Project Romeo and Juliet is indicative of the pace of change at Gaydon since Aston Martin was sold in Ford's fire sale in 2007. In around 18 months, it's already launched the DBS, a V12 version of the Vantage, opened a new design studio and announced the shock £1.2 million One-77 hypercar.

Just goes to show what removing the shackles of a large multinational owner can do for a small, nimble sports car maker with brand qualities to die for.

But Aston must make sure it doesn't leap from the frying pan into the fire with any potential tie-up with Mercedes – a company already cautious after unsuccessful dalliances with Chrysler and Mitsubishi in recent years.

Lagonda: the future models


Long-term, we may see up to to four different Lagonda models. The SUV/crossover model Bez keeps referring to in rather general terms would be based on the replacement Mercedes GL, which won't change much in character and dimensions.

The full range of Lagondas being plotted are:

A large saloon
Four-seater coupé
Four-seater cabriolet
That 4x4

The saloon is, according to those in the know, the Lagonda version of the next Maybach. The British R&D crew would thus effectively oversee both programmes. A bit further down the line, Lagonda could also get a version of C217 and A217, the next Mercedes CL coupé and
its drop-top spin-off.

A source from Germany tells us: 'Once the fundamental issues have been dealt with, the arrangement is quite straightforward. Maybach stands for ultimate luxury, Mercedes covers the middle ground albeit on a very high level, and Lagonda does the sporty versions.'

In case the Lagonda name does not attract enough premium customers, the rebodied CL could alternatively be fielded as the Aston Martin DB10. Make no mistake, this is the level of detail the talks behind Project Romeo and Juliet have already reached.

Tell me more about the proposed Mercedes-Aston engines...


Ulrich Bez would have loved Mercedes to develop a state-of-the-art straight six for AML, but in this particular case he received the thumbs down. Bez will have to settle for a selection of V-engines instead.

'The platform which is crucial for the initial phase of the collaboration is known in Stuttgart as W222/ V222. This is the architecture of the new S-class which differs radically from the current car. It's not going to be much lighter on account of the necessary space and tech requirements, but it will be dramatically more efficient thanks to new downsized turbocharged petrol engines and no fewer than three different hybrid options: mild, full and plug-in.

One of these options will in fact be standard on every new S-class, which in itself is a huge opportunity for AML. While the Rapide earmarked for early 2010 is still based on an evolution of the familiar VH matrix, the bigger Lagonda saloon would already tap the W/V222 DNA. Since S-class and CL will again be closely related, the technology transfer automatically extends to the two-door models.

What about a McLaren-style sports car partnership with Aston Martin? It's a possibility, but only if the market deems MB's new Gullwing coupé, the roadster derived from it and the AMG Black Series portfolio too mainstream. And the way the international economy is going makes that unlikely. For now at least.

Aston Martin: the future


Project Romeo and Juliet is indicative of the pace of change at Gaydon since Aston Martin was sold in Ford's fire sale in 2007. In around 18 months, it's already launched the DBS, a V12 version of the Vantage, opened a new design studio and announced the shock £1.2 million One-77 hypercar.

Just goes to show what removing the shackles of a large multinational owner can do for a small, nimble sports car maker with brand qualities to die for.

But Aston must make sure it doesn't leap from the frying pan into the fire with any potential tie-up with Mercedes – a company already cautious after unsuccessful dalliances with Chrysler and Mitsubishi in recent years.

By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel

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