The great race for electric vehicle dominance takes centre stage at the Paris Motor Show this week, but not everyone is buying the hype.
Andy Palmer, chief executive of Aston Martin, which opted out of the Paris spectacle this year along with super-luxury rivals Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Lamborghini, says the road to fully-fledged electrification will be a long one.
“It’s going to take a while, for sure. You’ve got a difficult circle to break, you need volume,” he told CNBC.
Palmer, a self-proclaimed believer in EV technology who oversaw the Nissan Leaf electric-car program in his former tenure as an Executive Vice-President at the Japanese automaker, knows the headache of costly EV production all too well.
“The market has gone toward midsized cars where you don’t have that pricing capability and as a consequence it’s difficult to cover the costs,” he says.
That puts Aston Martin and the brand’s luxury rivals in pole position to lead the space, according to Palmer.
The UK-based manufacturer has teamed up with Chinese technology company LeEco to bring an electric sedan, the Aston Martin RapidE to market in 2018. Palmer points out that rivals Ferrari , Bentley and Rolls-Royce have failed to bring a fully-fledged EV model to the market, paving the way for Aston Martin “to be a trailblazer in luxury electrics.”
And when it comes to Tesla’s Model S, Palmer claims the RapidE is in a league of its own. “I would argue that Tesla fits in the premium market, competing with the likes of BMW and Mercedes. Aston sits above that.”
Nevertheless, for a company struggling to reverse six years of losses to become profitable by 2018, market-watchers see the electric model as just window-dressing as Aston Martin pours resources into the new DB 11.
As part of the profitability drive, Palmer told the Financial Times’ manufacturing summit in London that the company will make a bigger push into robotics and 3D printing. The Warwickshire factory currently boasts just one robot, affectionately known as the “James Bonder.”
Ironically, the pivot toward automation comes at a time when Aston Martin is seeking to capitalise on its reputation for bespoke, luxury craftsmanship with a presence in yachts, clothing and leather accessories. “We want to be the Hermes of the auto business, “ Palmer told CNBC, acknowledging the move “undoubtedly helps with the EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxation depreciation, and amortisation) multiple,” should the shareholders eventually give the green light for an initial public offering.