Andy Palmer, the auto industry veteran who launched a broad expansion plan when he joined Aston Martin six years ago, has been forced out, the British automaker replacing him with Tobias Moers, the CEO of Mercedes-AMG.
The shake-up comes at a time when Aston is struggling under deep losses and questions about its future, and follows a March bailout by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll. But the key to a turnaround is expected to depend upon one of the most critical products put in place by the 56-year-old Palmer. The DBX, its first-ever SUV, is scheduled to begin production in the coming month, ahead of the 2021 model-year.
“The board has determined that now is the time for new leadership to deliver our plans,” Executive Chairman Stroll said in a statement. Stroll holds a 25% stake in the British company as a result of his bailout.
Palmer joined Aston in 2014 after a lengthy career with Nissan. He quickly laid out an expansive product development program that included more of the exotic sports and touring cars the British marque was long known for, but he also set out to expand the brand in a variety of different ways. That included the DBX, the $189,000 sport-utility vehicle aimed at taking advantage of the dramatic shift in the global auto industry from passenger cars to light trucks. It is expected to become the best-selling product line for the 107-year-old automaker, much like Bentley’s Bentayga and Lamborghini’s Urus have become.
Palmer also announced plans to revive the long-dormant Lagonda marque – but to do so by making it an all-electric brand. Indefinitely postponing that project was one of the first moves made by Stroll when he came in with a rescue plan in March.
A bailout was clearly needed. Aston’s 2018 IPO fell short of expectations and didn’t generate the cash it was hoping for to help fund its ambitious product development program. Compounding matters was the general decline in the global auto market that became an outright rout as the coronavirus pandemic struck.
The automaker posted a 76.6 million pound, or $94.5 million loss for the first quarter of this year and announced it could not provide a clear forecast for all of 2020 – a problem facing other automakers, including Volkswagen AG, due to the pandemic.
It is now signaling it may need to raise more capital while also further slashing expenses.
On the plus side, Aston has reported strong retail orders for the DBX ahead of its launch, despite the impact of the pandemic. The company has signaled it is now looking at derivative models that could broaden the SUVs appeal.
But how to proceed now will be up to Stroll and Tobias Moers who the Canadian investor described as “the right leader for Aston Martin Lagonda as we implement our strategy for the business to achieve its full potential.”
Moers, who now will relocate to Aston headquarters in Warwickshire, England, spent 25 years at Daimler, much of its in senior roles, including as head of the carmaker’s high-performance unit, Mercedes-AMG. During his tenure, Aston noted in its statement, the sub-brand “doubled its product portfolio and quadrupled the number of AMG units sold.”
The statement pointedly noted that AMG has also been exploring electrification options, a possible signal that, under Stroll and Moers, Aston will not walk away from battery power entirely. That would make sense considering that a number of key markets, including China, are pressing manufacturers to shift to zero-emissions alternatives.
What is unclear is whether Daimler played a direct role in the hiring of Moers. The German automaker not only holds a 5% stake in Aston Martin but also provides the British marque some of its Mercedes-AMG engines for use in products like the DB11, as well as infotainment and other high-tech componentry.
“All of my and Tobias’ energy will be dedicated to building on the Company’s inherent strengths, its brand, its engineering prowess, and the skills of its people to enable Aston Martin to become one of the pre-eminent luxury car brands in the world,” Stroll said in his statement.
One thing isn’t expected to change: the long-running relationship between Aston Martin and cinematic super spy James Bond. A number of the automaker’s new — and old — products are expected to be in the next 007 adventure, though the film’s launch has been delayed until later this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.