Thursday, January 30, 2020


One London stock analyst has described Aston Martin’s shocking drop in its share price as “nothing short of a disaster”. Since its Initial Public Offering (IPO) in October 2018 when it floated on the stock market at £12.98 per share, the share price has fallen to £4.98, as the company announced a loss for the past financial year of close to £80m. This compares with a £21m profit for the preceeding year.

Its market value has fallen since the IPO from a valuation of £4.3 billion to £1.1 billion. Michael Hewson from CMC Markets said in The Guardian: “The first half following the pre-IPO optimism of late last year, has become a distant memory, with investors undergoing a significant reality check,” Hewson said. “The share price has lost over 75% of its IPO valuation, and while we knew that this week’s results would be bad, the loss of confidence in the management of the business from investors has been startling.”

Against this backdrop Aston Martin’s CEO Dr. Andy Palmer (right) said the company would “cut its wholesale guidance”. Which means it will formally advise the London Stock Exchange that the business is going south, and it will slow production, and its sales forecasts will be revised down.

The company also admitted that it’s finding it hard to shift its low volume, high margin special edition models. This is a vital sales segment for luxury carmakers, and these cars are not easily saleable once confidence falls in the future of the company.

Andy Palmer put on a brave face, saying that the new DBX SUV is filling orders fast, and is “selling like hot cakes.” He also said that as a precaution the company would ensure it would not over-produce – which is the wisest thing Palmer could do.

In the first six months of this year sales to British dealers dropped 17%, and sales to Europe and the Middle East dropped 19%. Aston Martin has slashed its sales forecast for 2020 from 7300 cars, to 6500.

Andy Palmer had been cast as the saviour of the company, lifting it from near bankruptcy, to a position where it could float on the stock exchange, however he is another in a long line of ‘saviours’ who has hit rocky ground.

Automotive experts point to a number of (in retrospect) ill-timed decisions. The most important was the massive investment in designing and building a brand-new, clean sheet of paper V12 engine for its top-line models.

Whilst the company could not continue with its existing V12 due to lack of compliance, the investment in the new 5.2L V12 is a massive ‘sunk cost’, which can only be balanced by very healthy sales of the models which are powered by this engine.

Clearly, this strategy has failed. The appeal of Aston Martin’s models which use the Mercedes-Benz AMG V8 remain strong, but the V12 models’ sales expectation are very wobbly.

Whilst looking at investments, Palmer announced prior to the IPO that Aston Martin would invest heavily in new platforms, designs and expansion of the model range – which includes massive investment in its DBX SUV, and the new St. Athens factory which will build it. Also piling on the cost pressures is the fact that to reach DBX production targets, headcount at St. Athens will double to 600.
Investing in the survival and continuation of the company is all very well, but when sales dive, confidence in the company ebbs away, and all of a sudden it’s not looking like Aston Martin will enjoy a rosy future.

Analysts point out that in the last six months not only have Aston Martin's sales slumped, but its 'cost of sales' (meaning marketing and advertising expenditure) has risen sharply, which has the effect of dramatically shrinking profit margins.

All of which makes me very surprised at a report in mid-December in AUTOCAR magazine, that the billionaire owner of Racing Point F1 (formerly Force India), Lawrence Stroll is lining up a consortium to take control of Aston Martin. 

Lawrence, who is reputedly worth two billion pounds and is the father of Racing Point F1 driver, Lance Stroll, is well-known for his business acumen in rebuilding struggling companies.

Why, at this point, Stroll would even contemplate taking control of Aston Martin is beyond me. If Lawrence Stroll is so smart why would you take a controlling interest in a company in such dire straits?

If Stroll does make a formal offer to buy Aston Martin, Andy Palmer will be forced by Stock Exchange regulations to confirm if a formal offer has been made.

Mr. Palmer can then join other automotive corporate luminaries whose grand dreams and bold actions have brought them undone by poor trading conditions.

A week or so ago, I was writing about Aston Martin’s former Head of Marketing, Simon Sproule (right), and his decision to quit Aston Martin to join FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), and postulated then that this very savvy executive has impeccable timing about his decision to ‘jump ship’ and take up a new challenge.

To me, his decision to move on underscores his prescient vision of Aston Martin’s hazy future, and his confidence (or lack of) that the Company can survive.

However, another rumour doing the rounds on the London Stock Exchange is that Chinese behemoth Geely (owner of Volvo and Lotus) may be interested in buying Aston Martin.

That's the reason there was a slight lift in the share price this week. Investor commentator, The Motley Fool, even thinks this could be enough to prompt investors to 'buy' shares!

With two possible life-rings in the air, this could be the only hope Aston Martin has to survive - again!

John Crawford

Wednesday, January 29, 2020


Yep, it’s ‘wildest dreams’ stuff. You’re nine years old and Dad says: “Want to go and get Sushi in a sports car?”

Outside sits a lime green McLaren Spider. Is this for real?

My son Eli does get to see and experience a wide variety of cars – from the humble to the extreme, but the smile on his face as we set off to the sushi joint in the Spider says it all.

The twin exhausts bellow behind us, crackling and burbling as we drive down into Burleigh Heads, on the Queensland Gold Coast.

Well, you wouldn’t read about it. We rock up for sushi and right there in the carpark is (what?) a McLaren GT in bright orange. Too good to be true, got to get a photo of this.

Eli says it will give him plenty of brownie points at school tomorrow, but then I guess his mates are used to hearing about all the exotica he gets to ride in.

One thing that’s really important however - beyond the burbling and barking exhausts I get to teach him the right way to approach driving a car – any car.

I’m proud to say that the lessons stick with him, and I have no fear about him driving something like a McLaren Spider when he eventually gets a licence.

It’s really important to start the inculcation of good driving habits when kids are young. You can teach a lot to youngsters, who have minds like blotting paper, so you better do it responsibly.

Paul Gover

Thursday, January 23, 2020


The ranks of top women CEOs in the automotive world witnessed another tentative step above the glass ceiling last October, when Clotilde Delbos was promoted from the position of Renault’s Chief Financial Officer to interim CEO, as both Renault and Nissan cleared the executive suites of managers associated with the Ghosn era. But, will it last?

On October 18, 2019 Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard booted former Ghosn confederate Thierry Bollore out of his role as CEO, and planted ms.Delbos in the job to hold the fort, until a short list to permanently replace Bollore could be completed.

Clotilde Delbos applied for the job to be a permanent appointment, but she is up against a trio of highly-favoured replacements for Bollore, including Frenchman Didier Leroy, who is a senior executive at Toyota France, plus two outsiders – Patrick Koller of the Franco-German parts maker Faurecia; and the Italian head of VWAG-owned SEAT, Luca de Meo.

It’s notable that both Koller and de Meo are also fluent French speakers. Luca de Meo in fact speaks 15 languages.

In the past days, Luca de Meo, right (who began his automotive career at Renault in 1992), has firmed as the favourite, after resigning from SEAT on January 8.

The speculation is that Renault will appoint de Meo as CEO for two years, and then appoint him head of the Alliance.

Looks to me like ms. Delbos will be back in her old office with her calculator, spreadsheets and the Renault cheque book before the end of the month.


In a bold move aimed at recovering from the unravelling of the company caused by the Ghosn saga, Nissan Motor Company has finally done something right. It has announced the appointment of Ashwani Gupta as Chief Operating Officer (COO) reporting directly to CEO Makoto Uchida.

Gupta (right) is an impressive automotive executive with extensive experience managing various enterprises within the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.

He has held posts in all three companies, and told the media he is a firm believer in the strength and future of the Alliance.

His career began, working for Nissan in India, in the mid-1990s before joining Renault in 2006 to establish both Nissan and Renault in the Indian market.

Facing Nissan’s rapidly declining sales and profits, Gupta is a man who knows the gravity of the problems facing Nissan and the Alliance, and finally establishes that Nissan recognises the true depth of the salvage job ahead.

Makoto Uchida
Uchida-san, a career Nissan executive, whom nobody seems to have heard of previously, was appointed CEO following the firing of Hiroto Saikawa.

He  may well be a Nissan veteran, but his lack of abilities to deal with the complex web have been revealed by the appointment of Ashwani Gupta. You could liken Uchida to a night watchman.

Whilst Gupta is no Carlos Ghosn, he has been witness to the work Ghosn did to turn Nissan around, and also in setting up the Alliance. He is clearly the best man for the tasks ahead.

GONE GIRL by John Crawford

On November 8 last year, DRIVING & LIFE celebrated the appointment of two very competent women to key positions at the two French automakers.

Anouk Poelmman was appointed head of Renault’s operations in Australia.

More impressively Linda Jackson was made global head of Citroen. I postulated that, although I welcomed the moves, it was/is unusual to see women at the very top of the management pinnacle in the car industry, although I did also mention the female CEOs at Ford Australia and GM in the USA.

As a reminder of the post, cut and paste this link:

Linda Jackson came from a background as a Brand Manager and Brand Reputation builder, as opposed to a (sales) manager responsible for ‘moving the metal’ in larger and larger volumes. My view at the time was that ‘Brand Specialists’ always see the potential for the brand in obscure as well as established markets, and often resort to investments in brand building which may well more firmly establish the brand in the consumers’ consciousness, however, inevitably, it ends up producing minor volume increases, so the Return on Investment (ROI) simply isn’t a successful result.

I forecast that I would be surprised, if Linda Jackson’s address to the Australian motoring press about building bigger and bigger volumes for Citroen in Australia, would be a key element in building Linda’s position also into one of strength within Groupe PSA, or in fact even bring the increase in volume she was forecasting.

Her simple methodology was that if you created 10 x 5000 unit per annum markets in previously-ignored global locations, you ended up with 50,000 extra sales previously unrealised. Correct, but at what cost in marketing terms?

In 2018 Groupe PSA sold 3,877,765 vehicles, an increase of 6.8%, including impressive sales of 564,147 commercial vehicles, up 18.7%, and giving PSA leadership in the European Commercial Vehicle market.

The Oceania market which includes Australia and India rose just 1.6%. Still a lot of work to do.

The news from Paris this week is that Linda Jackson will move sideways to “lead a study to clarify and support brand differentiation within a large brand portfolio” and she is replaced by m. Vincent Cobee (right), whom Groupe PSA chief Carlos Tavares poached from the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.

Seems like my crystal ball is working at 100% efficiency. 

Mind you, I think Ms. Jackson will be very happy in her new role, dealing with brand issues which are close to her heart, and which formed much of her previous experience.

It will be up to the new man, to ‘move the metal’ in substantial numbers, because given the staggering investments in mergers and acquisitions which Groupe PSA has made, in acquiring GM Europe and merging with FCA, there will be intense pressure and scrutiny to ensure bigger volumes bring in the anticipated ROI to support the new mega-group.

Keep in mind the relative weakness of FCA in the Franco-American-Italian menage à trois, so I think this new merger is going to soak up lots of money, before any real savings and synergies emerge from the partnership.

Sunday, January 12, 2020


One of my very dear friends in the automotive industry has just taken his next step up the career ladder towards the pantheon of automotive public relations greats.

Simon Sproule will leave his current job as Chief Marketing Officer with Aston Martin to become Head of Communications for FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES on February 3, which is described as variously based in Auburn Hills, Michigan and Milan, Italy.

I have known Simon from when he became PR Vice President at Jaguar Cars North America, when it was (once again) trying to rediscover its mojo, and boost its reputation. As someone who formerly held this role at Jaguar USA, I am delighted to report that he was instrumental in achieving both targets.

Ford was smart enough to recognize his potential, so he was bound for Dearborn not long after.

However, it was probably the next role which was so important to Simon's career and allowed him to gather an enormous breadth and depth of experience. He joined Nissan-Infiniti, where he served as a close confidant and advisor to Carlos Ghosn. Together they headed the team which brought Nissan back from the dead, and created the behemoth which grew again to become the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.

His next role was working alongside Elon Musk at Tesla, which although it provided Simon with a window into the world of electric and autonomous vehicles, it was his next job which seemed a very serendipitous development. He was appointed Chief Marketing Officer at Aston Martin Lagonda, where he excelled at building the brand, and guiding it through its developing relationship with Red Bull Racing.

At this point I have to offer a personal opinion on the timing of Simon's latest move, from Aston Martin to FCA.

I believe Simon recognised that Aston Martin is changing, and that the challenge of maintaining the brand's image is going to get harder, and that may be a job he no longer sees as 'interesting'. Personally, I think the role of Chairman and CEO has gone to Andy Palmer's head. He has been the source of an amazing number of dubious statements recently, like "We don't make cars, we make experiences."

However, again commenting on timing, FCA is about to undergo massive cultural and engineering changes, which will have a dramatic outcome on the company's image, position and status in the USA. I think this is just the sort of challenge that Simon Sproule thrives on.

It is not going to be easy integrating FCA and France's Groupe PSA. There will be turf wars, product development battles and also the challenge of developing a cohesive image and status for the 'merged' companies. My own view is that FCA will lose its status (as an equal), when the 'merger' occurs, because Groupe PSA under Carlos Tavares is now a European powerhouse.

Also Simon Sproule knows Tavares, from their days together at Renault, and I believe the decision to hire Simon Sproule was probably driven by Tavares, rather than FCA's Chairman, Mike Manley.

FCA is going to need the sort of high-powered assistance Simon can bring to the role, and I look forward to the developments over the next few years.

Good luck Simon, you're a champion in my eyes, and you will be Aston Martin's loss, and FCA's gain.


Monday, January 6, 2020


I have to say, I continue to admire Carlos Ghosn's chutzpah.

Here's a guy who has continually professed his innonence of the alleged charges against him, and recognizes he's never going to get a fair trial in Japan.

So, what does he do? He acts decisively, like always, and at noon a few days ago he walked, alone, from his Tokyo home and - disappeared. 

Amazingly, it was two days after Nissan curtailed its round-the-clock surveillance on his house.

Next, he turned up in his birth country of Lebanon after swapping executive jets at a private airport in Ankara, Turkey.

We all await, with baited breath, his press conference scheduled for this Wednesday, where he will outline his defence against the charges he was to be tried on in Japan.

Although an employee of the MNG executive jet hire company has been charged with deleting his name from the passenger manifest on both jets, I suspect that the Japanese guards were distracted at exactly the right time, for Carlos to slip out of the country.

This was a complex and carefully-planned escape, and I don't think it could have been achieved without a certain 'lack of attention' from all parties.

There's the expected 'harrumphing' from both Japan and Turkey, but I suspect that's hot air, quite frankly. Who knows what will happen now. I doubt Ghosn will be extradited, or that he will stand trial in Lebanon. In fact I think if his Japanese trial had proceeded, he may well have been found not guilty.

Despite Japan Inc.'s 99% success rate for convictions, I think they would have struggled to prove the charges.

He is now reunited with his wife, Carole, and he has gone to great lenths to assure everyone that his escape plans were conceived, directed and executed by him, and him alone. 

However, I'm sure we may well see a Netflix feature on the story in a year or two. It makes for a great script.



You may never have heard of Auburn Hills, Michigan, but it's where you'll find the headquarters of the Chrysler division of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Now, this division of FCA relies on only one product badge to sustain it financially - Jeep.

The rest of its product line is aged, irrelevant and very forgettable. Mind you, Jeep has its moments too, with global sales looking like a roller coaster most of the time - especially with its constant safety recalls.

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week, FCA showed its 'Airflow' concept. Why? It has little chance of building it, and no resources to budget for it. Also, the 'Airflow' name dates back to 1934 - how's that for leveraging history?

Maybe some bright spark at its new (maybe) partner, Groupe PSA, in Paris may think it's worth gambling on, but I think not.

FCA is devoid of a number of things: product, inspiration, talent, foresight, product planning, and most of all - funds.

The late Sergio Marchionne (former Chairman of FCA) recognised that if FCA was ever going to survive, it needed a partner. Finally, the FCA management has convinced Groupe PSA to come to the party.

Make no mistake. Groupe PSA recognises one thing, and one thing only - acquiring (sorry, merging) with FCA is its footprint into the USA. It's far cheaper to take over (sorry, merge) with a loser, to get a foothold in the American market, than foolishly invest in establishing your own operation.

The name of the game these days is - volume - that's what makes running a car company viable. It doesn't really matter how you achieve it, so long as you can increase economies of scale.

As I wrote many months ago, who will survive in the years to come? Only huge car making conglomerates, made up from mega-mergers and acquisitions. The joint ventures, mergers, acquisitions and other link-ups are going to come thick and fast in the next few years.

What happens to badge loyalty among potential buyers? 

Well, it's this way. As an example, if you look at Peugeot-Citroen today, there is very, very little to distinguish one brand from another.

Both marques use the same engines, the same platforms, the same transmissions, the same suspensions - the only thing which differentiates them are the external body panels, the interior trim, and the badges.

The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance is going down the same road.

Mind you, the same thing occurred when GM did a deal with Toyota to 'create' the Holden Apollo, which was a Toyota Corona with Holden badges.

And that was years ago, which I remember vividly, due to a consumer  I met at the Sydney Motor Show who was a rusted-on Holden fan, and he impressed on me that Holden would not 'sell a car made by someone else' - until I lifted the hood and showed him all the Toyota and Japanese-language stickers on the components under the hood.

Really, don't ever invest any capital in believing that most car buyers know what's going on. They don't. To be truthful, they are not really hurt by such deception anyway.

The intrinsic value of car company heritage and engineering brilliance is going to be seriously blurred as the automotive world moves to anodyne concepts like electric and autonomous vehicles. There'll be no value in marque history, brilliant engineering achievements and unique product values - they'll all be pretty much indistinguishable from each other.

By the time all this happens, this old dinosaur will have joined all the other extinct species. Which is probably okay too.