Tobias Moers may seem like the new boss at Aston Martin, but it’s more than a year since he was hired and 10 months since he first moved into the CEO’s office. The combined effects of the pandemic and Moers’ preference for delivering results rather than soundbites mean he has been pretty much unreachable – until now.
However, as soon as he starts talking about progress, you can see why he has been keeping a low profile. There has been much urgent stuff to get on with, and most of it under the eagle eye of the stock exchange (Aston’s share price is still 10% of its flotation level) and of his take-no-prisoners chairman, Lawrence Stroll, the Canadian fashion mogul who personally owns the Aston-badged Formula 1 team. Much better, under such circumstances, to underpromise and overdeliver.
Moers has carefully chosen the date of this meeting at Gaydon with me and editor Mark Tisshaw. In a couple of days, he explains, he will be able to give bullish details of Aston’s first-quarter trading. Everything is percolating. Surplus sports cars in the pipeline have been cleared, senior management is now peppered with competent people who Moers trusts, Gaydon’s production system has been heavily reorganised and a new model development plan is on the way to implementation.
Moers has chosen a ground-floor meeting room inside the Gaydon HQ for our chat, rather than the ritzier and more personal corner office once occupied by Andy Palmer and Ulrich T Bez before him. The casually dressed German, 55, cuts an austere and slightly reluctant figure; his manner makes it clear he prefers not to have visitors clocking how his desk and office are curated. Even the rather hurried way his matt-grey Vantage is parked in the CEO’s generous parking space outside indicates that he prefers work to window dressing.
We’ve both interviewed Moers in his previous gig as head of Daimler’s thriving AMG arm (he had spent his entire career there, rising through the ranks). We’re aware that he’s hearteningly passionate about great cars, but that he also takes time to warm up. So we start in an obvious place: has he been to Aston before, what did he expect to find and what was his early experience?
Refreshingly, he answers straightforwardly, neither referring directly to previous management nor sparing anyone’s blushes. He visited a couple of times years ago, he says. Nothing significant. When he arrived in August last year, he found “a company in trouble”. Immediate impressions were that it needed to be more efficient, in particular needing to be “sorted out” on the manufacturing side and requiring more engineering power. The bodyin-white manufacture (“the IP of the company”) was handled really well, he says, although he was puzzled about previous decisions to create a unique electrical architecture for the cars (“maybe they underestimated the challenge”). On the positive side, he drove all of Aston’s cars and decided they were okay (“they had everything; just needed to unleash a bit more”). In the first two months at Gaydon, he devised an immediate action plan called Project Horizon, then took two more months to reorganise things and start improving efficiencies.
Building the brand: “We have a bit of time [before the arrival of the Vanquish and Valhalla] to build the brand. Aston stands for beauty, but maybe we lean too much on that. We’re a performance brand and a luxury brand as well. That gives us opportunities in the future, more than some Italian competitors.”
Making a great Aston Martin car: “For me, precision is very important. Precise steering, controlled body movement, less oscillation at the back. You need to be able to slide the car under perfect control, without being an F1 driver. Above all, you have to deliver what you promise – and we will.”
Using the F1 connection: “We’re taking the most we can from it. The main benefit is awareness: we have 80 million people engaging with our brands over a weekend. For us, it’s perfect. We have a full works team, but because it’s owned by Lawrence Stroll, our costs are lower than last year.”
The German view of Aston: “Everybody who knows Aston likes it, but we need to build our performance image the way we have with the Vantage F1 Edition. With a 7min 30sec lap of the Nordschleife, we’re now in the ballpark. It’s something we can do with the other cars as well.”