Struggling luxury automaker Aston Martin received the financial lifeline it’s been searching for in hopes of offsetting lower-than-expected sales in the last 18 months.
Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll agreed to spend 182 million pounds, or about $240.2 million, to acquire 16.7% ownership stake in Aston Martin, rename his Formula One team after the company, and takes over as executive chairman.
“I look forward to working with the board and management team … to continue to invest in the development of new models and technologies and to start to rebalance production to prioritize demand over supply,” Stroll said in a statement.
Stroll’s ownership stake could rise to an even 20% if the company completes a plan to raise 500 million pounds, or about $660 million, to shore up the company’s financial needs, including a rights issue from exiting shareholders.
Largely owned by Italian and Kuwaiti private equity groups, Aston’s leadership has been looking for ways to bolster is economic and technological wherewithal. The company is behind other luxury performance automakers when it comes to producing sport-utility vehicles and recently put off plans to introduce an electric vehicle until 2025, cancelling the RapidE because it didn’t have the funds to bring it market.
The signs of trouble were becoming increasingly easy to see. Last fall, Aston announced that full-year 2019 production would be about 10% lower than originally forecast, at around 6,400 vehicles. Adding to the company’s troubles was when Moody’s cut its rating for Aston stock into junk bond territory, warning the ultra-premium carmaker’s cashflow will make it difficult to fund its aggressive product development program.
Additionally, the company’s late entry into the hot-selling luxury ute market, the DBX, which CEO Andy Palmer described as the “most beautiful SUV in the world,” and later as the “most important” vehicle in the company’s history may have been too little, too late. The DBX is third in a seven-vehicle plan aimed at turning the company around, the fourth being the now-delayed RapidE.
Hoping to resolve some of those issues, the company had been looking for a partner, and many thought they’d found one. The company entered into discussions with Chinese carmaker Geely, which owns Volvo Cars and has more than a 10% stake in Daimler AG, but the two sides couldn’t agree on a blueprint for how a potential partnership would be structured.
Chief Executive Palmer, who led the company into its move to offer public shares of the company and then watch them fall shortly after, said Stroll’s involvement comes with several benefits.
“He brings with him his experiences and access to his Formula One team,” Palmer told Reuters.
Aston Martin faces a difficult struggle because it’s not large enough to spread out its costs for product and technological development across several brands, and unlike many of its competitors, it hasn’t yet partnered up with another company to share in those types of costs.
The world’s automakers are seemingly relying on those types of partnerships or mergers, i.e. the recent PSA and Fiat Chrysler pairing, to split the costs they have to expend to meet ever-toughening emissions and safety mandates as well as technological challenges, such as self-driving capability.