Former Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer tells the story of Aston’s first SUV from concept to reality, and it wasn’t all plain sailing.
Before I joined Aston Martin as CEO in 2014, a year or so earlier, Nissan, where I was COO at the time, had contemplated acquiring the British marque. For multiple reasons, the acquisition never took off, but I was left with a hefty amount of due diligence on the business, which proved invaluable as I mulled taking the top job some years later.
From this due diligence, I quickly established Aston Martin needed to develop an SUV as a critical component of the company’s survival. This was one of the non-negotiables that I presented to the board as I discussed taking on the CEO position.
The reason why I felt the need to have an SUV as part of the line-up was critical. It was due to market research that showed 72 per cent of Aston Martin owners have another brand’s SUV in their garage. This was a ready-made market for Aston Martin to operate in and it was an obvious place for the business to be.
On my third day at Aston, October 3 2014, I held a meeting with my Head of Design and I told him I wanted an SUV crossover concept that would retain the Aston DNA and be called the DBX. The biggest challenge was that I wanted the model to be ready for the 2015 Geneva Motor Show, a mere six months away. The reason for that deadline was because Geneva is where I would outline my ‘Second Century Plan’ for the business and I wanted the DBX as the backdrop, highlighting it as a cornerstone of Aston’s future.
I knew at this point that the DBX couldn’t be any old SUV. It was an Aston, after all. It had to be beautiful, it had to have the right proportions, it had to meet the criteria that Aston customers know, love, and expect. I also had one eye on an electric future and saw the DBX evolving to include an EV powertrain over time. This was going to be an era-defining car.
Incredibly, the DBX concept was turned around in time for Geneva in 2015 and it was presented as the EV crossover I had envisaged, to widespread positive feedback from most in the industry.
Following the presentation of the concept, we got to work. My first step was to hire Matt Becker as Chief Engineer, who in my mind was the best ride and handling guy in the industry and I needed someone who would develop the DBX dynamically, in accordance with the way that it looked and in the way that an Aston would have to perform.
I also established a female advisory board that ran in parallel with the main approval processes. I felt it was vital that in a male-heavy industry, we had the viewpoints of women to develop a car that would have huge appeal to their priorities and lifestyles. The DBX wasn’t developed to be exclusively aimed at women, but I wanted it to be attainable and desirable to Aston’s female customers, as it was largely they who were driving the SUVs that were in the garages of 72 per cent of Aston owners.
In particular, this advisory board had a big impact on features such as seating position, eyelines and the wrap-over doors that would see the seals protecting the sills from dirt, protecting long-flowing clothes, such as a kimono or sari, when getting in and out of the vehicle.
I also introduced the Lifestyle Packages for the DBX, which would allow keen cyclists, skiers, golfers and dog-walkers to customise the car to their own lifestyles and would ensure the DBX fits with the individual, rather than the individual fitting with the car.
Today, the DBX is seen as a success and a logical step in the right direction for Aston. Though at the time, I came under heavy criticism for wanting to create an SUV. “Who’s this new guy coming in and steering the business away from sports cars and towards SUVs? That’s not the Aston way.”
My promise to those critics was that if you take the essence of an Aston and replicate it within an SUV format, the looks, the noise, the power, you can create a pure-bred Aston Martin with great commercial potential. The difference between what we were doing and what the likes of Bentley and Lamborghini were doing with their SUV crossovers, was that we would be creating the DBX on our own platform in our own new factory in St Athan, Wales. This meant we could keep the distinctive beauty of an Aston by keeping the ‘Golden Ratio’ of proportions, something that wouldn’t have been possible on another platform. Like others making luxury SUVs, we could have taken the easy route, but it wasn’t a compromise I was willing to make.
On my very last visit to the new factory at St Athan in late May 2020, I was able to witness the first “Job 1” vehicles coming off the line, meaning that the entire cycle of conception to birth had taken nearly six years but has hopefully transformed Aston Martin for the next decades.
The DBX has a great future. I hope that eventually it will deliver its electric ambitions that were there right at the very start of the process. It’s one of the cars I’m most proud to have among my ‘automotive children’ (along with Leaf, Valkyrie & many more) and am incredibly grateful to the fantastic teams that helped deliver the DBX from early concept to reality. What a wonderful car it is.