Why the Aston Martin Cygnet is wrong, by Gavin Green

Published: 02 July 2009

Not so many years ago, Silvio Berlusconi – entrepreneur, insurance tycoon, AC Milan owner, media magnate, alleged companion of teenage girls and part-time prime minister of Italy – suggested that the best way to sell more Fiats would be to rebrand them as Ferraris. This possibly explains why he never made it big in the car industry. Fiat and Ferrari bosses Sergio Marchionne and Luca di Montezemolo thankfully ignored his advice.

Perhaps Aston Martin boss Uli Bez and Berlusconi are chums – Bez moves in high circles – and perhaps Berlusconi, snubbed by Italy’s car grandees, instead suggested a variation of his daft idea to Bez? After all, a neat way to sell more Aston Martins (and sales are sadly slipping) would surely be to put Aston Martin badges on Toyotas and, to quote a long forgotten British pop group, ‘pump up the volume’?

Whose ever crazy idea it was, Aston Martin – in what is probably the most gratuitously ill-advised piece of badge engineering in the car industry’s long and dark history of brand destroying opportunism – has just decided to sell Aston Martin-badged Toyota iQs. Welcome to the ugly duckling, the Aston Martin Cygnet.

The idea is so stupid that I thought it might be an April fool joke. But this was June. Besides, German car bosses like Bez don’t tell jokes.

Then I tried to rationalise it. It wasn’t easy.

Theory one: Things are so desperate at Aston Martin that the only way to financial survival is to sell rebadged Toyotas. This is a foolish strategy but I can just imagine some Aston investor, somewhere, salivating at the juicy profits from premium pricing Toyotas and then pumping them out of Gaydon like upmarket sausages. Imagine the mark-up! But apparently not. Volumes of the Toyota Martin will be just 1000-2000 cars a year, surprisingly less than even the DB9.

Theory two: Maybe this is a clever way to boost Aston’s green government credentials, a big issue when your corporate CO2 average is about the same as Boeing’s? No, that’s not the reason, said the helpful Aston Martin PR: Aston is confident of an exemption from punitive new CO2 rules owing to its teeny size.

I’m afraid I ran out of excuses after that.

The reason for the Aston iQ (surely it should be the Aston Dolt?) is that 25-30% of Aston customers in Europe also apparently have a small car (mostly Minis, I suspect). So why not try to sell them a small Aston? By the same logic, 100% of Aston Martin owners also own toilets, so why not market a leather-handled loo brush?

Well if this is the way Aston Martin’s bosses are now going to look after the most hallowed name in English sports motoring, a brand we all know and love, then I have some advice for these customers. Instead of buying one of these preposterous overpriced Aston Cygnets, just buy a normal Toyota iQ and save £10,000. Then, unless the company sees sense, sell the Aston coupé and buy a Ferrari.

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By Gavin Green

Contributor-in-chief, former editor, anti-weight campaigner, voice of experience

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