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Aston Martin CEO Dr Ulrich Bez on the Mercedes tie-up, the rise of turbo cars and the end of the Lagonda SUV project

Tue, 15 Oct 2013

MSN Cars is in Palm Springs, California, to drive the new Aston Martin Vanquish Volante and V12 Vantage S.

Aston Martin, voted the second coolest brand in the world behind Apple, is celebrating its 100th year.

Over an informal dinner, MSN Cars was given an exclusive chance to talk shop with Aston Martin CEO Dr Ulrich Bez to see what the future holds for the Gaydon-based company.

MSN: What does the future hold with the Mercedes project?

Dr Bez: “This is a long term cooperation and this has to be developed over the next few months even the next year to figure out how and what are the best engines to use. There is no rush to do this tomorrow because we have great engines such as with the Vanquish and V12 Vantage. We need to think about what is best and how it will work. What is realistic is three to four years before we see something there."

MSN: Are emissions regulations the reason for the Mercedes tie-up?

Dr Bez: “It isn’t necessarily about emissions regulations. In my opinion I think we have great engines. I am always a little bit disappointed if the reaction is “yeah great you now have AMG engines”. It starts first with the driving. Having access to various displacements and various engines means that in China, for example, where there is a 4.0-litre engine limit, with 100% taxes for cars above this, it can be a big problem for us. We cannot do everything. We don’t want to position ourselves out of markets."

MSN: What does the future hold for 12-cylinder engines?

Dr Bez: “Even if engines do downgrade in the future, I believe a 12cyl will be there in the next 10 years. It will be improved and made better. But we need to improve CO2 and the only way to do this and have these specific outputs of 200hp per litre and so on is with turbocharging, which is a pity. There will still be natural aspirated engines. Even a 1.3 litre can make 110hp which for a small engine is still good enough. But when it comes to high power engine everyone has to go to turbocharged. It will work it will deliver the power but it will add weight and complexity but I think it is unavoidable. It is as simple as that.”

MSN: How will Aston keep the Aston Martin sound in the future?

Dr Bez: “When I was head of Porsche engineering we had air cooled engines. And the sound of an air cooled engine was a character of Porsche. And the question was if we made a water cooled engine how can you keep the character of Porsche? Does anybody question that today? We will keep this character and work on how power is developed. I would hope that there is nobody in the future who goes with sound generators. This is cheating people. This is not right. I think our V12 is without competition today (in terms of sound).”

MSN: What does the future hold for electric cars?

Dr Bez: “Electric cars are great to go for lunch or something. But for the kind of driving we do, electric is not automobility. Electric is for mobility like forklifts. You won’t be able to have long drives. Even electric charging stations on a fast charge can take 30mins. This is not doable. I think electric cars need to stick to the speed limits and not do more than 65mph. The only way is to store the energy when it is produced at a time when it is not needed. The only way is hydrogen. Hydrogen is just producing water. It is zero emissions.”

MSN: Do you miss the end of the manual gearbox in supercars?

Dr Bez: “I do not miss a manual gearbox. I can shift with my left or right hand. In my last 24 hour race with a Rapide I shifted over 200 times in one lap. I can be much more precise. It’s very clear that this manual actuation allows you to concentrate on the line and braking and not concentrating on changing gear. It’s a nice feature.”

MSN: What’s happening with the mooted Lagonda SUV project?

Dr Bez: “Four years ago when we showed the concept cars I wanted this, I was convinced this was the right thing. How can you make such a proposal? Now everyone is making something like this. I wanted to have this car today. I still think it is an important move and maybe in 10 years’ time. I know that today Jaguar Land Rover makes all their profit out of SUVs, and it’s 40 or 50% for Porsche. Same for BMW and Mercedes. Everybody followed us when we brought out the designs. Everybody is doing this. The only ones not doing this is us. We didn’t have the financial means to do this."

MSN: Would you revive the Lagonda name?

Dr Bez: “I would use Maybach as an example. They spent huge money to make Maybach and finally it didn’t work out. In England 90% of people know the Aston Martin brand. In America it’s probably 30 or 40%. In China it’s probably 3%. And for Lagonda nobody apart from a few specialists have heard of this. It’s difficult to communicate a new brand without spending hundreds of millions in advertising. Just to communicate the history of Lagonda – how would you communicate this? This has to be a question that has to be answered. I feel it would be nice to have a connection with Aston Martin. These are possibilities.”

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By Ian Dickson, senior editor, MSN Cars