Several minutes into the 1964 movie Goldfinger, James Bond (played by Sean Connery) saunters through MI6 and asks Q what's become of the Bentley he always drives. "Oh, it's had its day, I'm afraid," sighs the faithful R&D man, leading 007 over to a sleek new silver sedan. Instead, says Q, "You'll be using this Aston Martin DB5."
The scene, which continues with Q demonstrating the car's "modifications" like revolving license plates and retractable bumper machine guns, is a classic of postwar cinema. It's also the moment that introduced much of the Western world to the swagger and style of Aston Martin—in particular, its DB series.
Now, fast-forward 52 years to this past Tuesday when the curtains at the Geneva Auto Show parted to reveal the 2016 Aston Martin DB11, a low-slung silver bullet that CEO Andy Palmer called "not only the most important car that Aston Martin has launched in recent history, but also in its 103-year existence."
That was hardly an exaggeration. Aston Martin (which has slid into bankruptcy seven times and not seen black ink on its books since 2010) needs to sell more cars—and quickly. The British automaker's fortunes are riding most visibly on its new model but more broadly on an ambitious turnaround strategy that the company hopes will restore it to profitably in 2016.
"Last year, our CEO announced the beginning of our transformation, and the DB11 forms the point of that plan," Laura Schwab, president of the company's Americas division, told Adweek.
The brand's owners—a cluster of private equity firms from Italy and Kuwait—lured Palmer away from Nissan to run Aston Martin in October 2014. And while Palmer's plan is a deft mix of marketing and new product development, the whole thing can really be boiled down to three words: lure more millennials.
Make that rich millennials. Actually, make it rich, female millennials.
An Aston Martin will easily set you back six figures. And like many racing machines, it has historically been a bad boy's car—an image reinforced by the vehicle's appearance in 12 out of 24 Bond films. In fact, the company has reportedly sold only 3,500 cars to women in its entire history. (That's 5 percent of an estimated 70,000 Aston Martins sold between 1913 and last year.)
Expanding the product line but betting on the DB11
But clearly, that has to change. Last year, Palmer told the BBC his new prototypical customer is "Charlotte," a wealthy and attractive American woman in her late 30s. In large part, it will fall to Schwab to find all the Charlottes out there.
Schwab, who cut her teeth at Jaguar Land Rover, believes the company's plans to broaden its product line beyond sports cars to include full-size sedans and crossovers will be instrumental in the effort to draw new customers into Aston Martin's 46 dealerships in the Americas. "As we increase our portfolio—especially with the crossover—it will catapult us into attracting people who wouldn't have considered us before," she said.
"Ask people about Aston Martin and they mention either James Bond or the DB [sportscar]," added brand communications manager Matthew Clarke. "But to be a strong, independent brand, you need more than just a niche like that—you need variety. By the end of the decade, we'll add a crossover and a saloon, which Americans would know as a limousine."
But for now, Schwab's primary sales tool is the DB11—a V12, twin-turbocharged road rocket (MSRP: $211,995) that looks a lot like every dude's fantasy ride. But Schwab insisted "the car has broad appeal. The DB11 is very approachable, regardless of your age or gender."
Even in advance of the DB11's unveiling, Schwab had been spending a great deal of her time showing off just how approachable the new model is. The company already approached its existing customers and showed them photos of the new DB11 before the rest of the world got to see the car. And starting this week, Schwab is also in the process of hauling actual DB11s around the country to customers who have purchased Aston Martins in the past.
But this is more than a test drive; it's a customized event, complete with catering.
"To make sure they physically see the car, we will have parties for them and 11 of their friends—in their homes or country clubs or wherever," Schwab said. "We show up with a truck with a car in the back and put it all together."
How to reach those wealthy women
How will this tactic lure younger, possibly female, customers? Schwab says it's all a riff on basic networking. "To attract new customers," she said, "you start with who you know."
That's not as far-fetched an approach as it might sound. Aston Martin is already a rarified brand with a small "family" of customers, selling an average of 686 cars a year. Word of mouth is important.
So is styling, and according to Christopher Cedergren, that's where Aston Martin might actually succeed in luring all those young female buyers it wants.
"Given the Aston Martin's design cues, I think it will be something that'll be appreciated by a lot of women," said Cedergren, president of consumer behavior at consultancy Iceology. "The supercar market is predominantly male, and it always has been." Even so, the DB11's "balance of beauty and performance" is the right combination for affluent younger consumers, and female ones especially.
"Aston Martin needs some flash and a new product to reignite interest, and I think they'll have success here. I don't think this is a long shot at all," Cedergren added.
Thus far, the DB11 already has a thousand orders (no word on how many of them are from millennials or women), "so we know there's demand," Schwab said. "We feel confident about how it's going to do."
Schwab will not say if the DB11 is destined for a future James Bond film, but 007 upgraded to the DB10 in 2015's Spectre. Only 10 of them were built, none were street legal and one fetched $4.8 million on Christie's auction block a few weeks ago.
The lesson: So long as you've got the money, there's an Aston Martin for you.