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Boats, bags and strollers: Aston Martin expands from cars to luxury lifestyle

Aston Martin, known for sports cars used in James Bond films, is expanding with a push into yachts, apartments and handbags, as the British manufacturer shifts its sights from rival Ferrari to the likes of Hermes.

A new store in London’s exclusive Mayfair, a district that includes a Louis Vuitton mega store, is Aston Martin’s biggest effort to date to establish the brand as a purveyor of all things luxury and not just slinky performance cars. While the shop at 8 Dover Street offers ornamental bowls, US$3,980 baby strollers and US$1,450 weekend bags, Aston Martin’s ambitions go far beyond that.

“Wouldn’t it be great if you’re down in a luxury harbour somewhere staying in an Aston Martin apartment, with your Aston Martin parked in the car park, and your Aston Martin boat harboured outside,” chief executive Andy Palmer said.

While expanding the Aston Martin brand beyond cars like its flagship US$215,000 DB11 risks muddying its image, one of the few independent manufacturers of luxury cars may have little choice. Even with the addition of the DBX crossover by the end of the decade, demand for pricey vehicles is limited by the need to defend exclusivity and as buyers in markets such as China show little interest in sports cars. That puts pressure on Aston Martin to seek new revenue streams to return to profit by 2018 and prepare for an eventual initial public offering.

The strategy echoes efforts of other luxury brands to move outside their traditional niches, such as Fendi expanding into hotels and Swiss watchmaker Hublot into skis. Meanwhile, Ferrari, which also wants to compete with the likes of Hermes and Prada, has struggled to make headway as upscale merchandise collides with the need to serve fans of its Formula 1 racing team with affordable gear.

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At Aston Martin’s new shop, “you don’t see too many baseball caps”. Palmer said. “There is clearly a place for fans of the brand – they go into our dealer and they buy a T-shirt and that’s fine. But this is an expression of what Aston stands for.”

Amid flat demand in China, Britain’s decision to exit the European Union has served as an unexpected windfall, as the drop in the pound increases the value of Aston Martin’s sales outside its home country.

“Brexit is helping, genuinely helping right now,” Palmer said. “Whether it helps two years from now when we actually make an exit – if that’s when it is – I don’t know, but right now the weak pound is wonderful.”

Aston Martin, which sells just 15 per cent of its cars to EU consumers, is hoping new trade deals with China, the US and India will bolster the company’s prospects in those countries. To that end, the new shop is aimed at shoring up the brand, which will deliver its first yacht in September, as wealthy visitors swing through the elite London district.

“We’re in the middle of Mayfair,” said Palmer. “Around you, you’ve got all the luxury brands, but in many cases the footfall coming past the shop isn’t Brits; it’s Arabs and Chinese and Japanese and Americans.”