New Cygnet re-opens the debate on what makes an Aston Martin

You are probably aware by now that Aston Martin have confirmed their intentions to put their new Cygnet city car into production, with first deliveries due in late 2011.

The Aston Martin Cygnet is based on Toyota’s diminutive iQ, but re-engineered and substantially re-trimmed to meet the standards of luxury befitting an Aston Martin. “It is time to think differently…” says Aston Martin CEO Dr Ulrich Bez, “Whatever we do, we do right. If we do performance, we do performance; we don’t downsize or compromise our sports cars.”

“The Cygnet needs to satisfy the demands of emissions and space. It is a car without compromise, just like every other Aston Martin. Our customers need a small car for urban and city use, and they want the right tools for the right job, to downsize creatively without compromising intelligence, artistry and personality.”

With an almost unlimited palette of materials, colours and textures, each hand-finished Cygnet will be truly unique, a personalised space within the city. Luxury is not constrained by scale - Marek Reichman, Aston Martin's Director of Design.

At just three metres long, “Cygnet is small but luxurious, an Aston Martin tailor fit for the city,” says Marek Reichman, Aston Martin’s Director of Design.

Dr Ulrich Bez adds: “The Cygnet is designed to support our sports cars by providing a greater degree of freedom in the urban context; it is a very special car, a premium but compact package with heart, soul and personality.”

We exchanged tweets earlier this week with Jon Pullinger, one of the first to put his name down for a Cygnet, and asked him why he was buying one: “I love the idea of a high quality city car. I had a Smart and the ride wasn’t great. This is exactly what I want/need.”

But how does the Cygnet fit with the coolest brand in the UK?

Rather than jump on the bandwagon of cynics I thought it would be worth standing back and looking at this new Aston model from a different perspective.

Aston Martin was recently awarded top spot in the CoolBrands 500, the annual ranking of more than 10,000 brands by designers and the UK public. There are certain qualities about the Aston Martin brand that have earned it this ‘coolest brand’ accolade four times in the last five years.

[blockquote type=”blockquote_quotes” align=”right”]Aston Martin’s sleek, polished and sexy cars ensure the brand continues to dominate the list of the nation’s coolest brands.[/blockquote]

Dr Ulrich Bez, Aston’s CEO, believes that “…it’s the mystique of the Aston brand”, which makes it cool. Stephen Cheliotis, Chief Executive of The Centre for Board Analysis and Chairman of the CoolBrands Council said it was “Aston Martin’s sleek, polished and sexy cars which ensure the brand continues to dominate the list of the nation’s coolest brands”.

So how does the Cygnet city car fit with such an admired and respected brand?

What makes a brand?

Car enthusiasts will see Aston Martin first and foremost as a range of British sports cars – we think Le Mans, James Bond, the Nurburgring 24 hours and those wonderfully grunty V8 and V12 engines – but we’re in the minority. If it was left to us enthusiasts very few car companies would still exist, we love our cars but we’re too small in number to support all but a few car makers (Morgan, Lotus, Caterham).

So if you’re a successful car maker such as Aston Martin do you target your cars at your most passionate fans?, or meet the demands of the larger group of buyers who identify with the qualities of the Aston brand?

[blockquote type=”blockquote_quotes” align=”left”]The Aston Martin Cygnet is a city car that sets a new benchmark for compact luxury, building upon nearly a century of experience building high performance sports cars, luxurious long-range grand tourers, and extremely competitive racing machines. [/blockquote]

You see, that’s one of the challenges of brand management. Aston would describe their brand as being captured by the words, “power, beauty and soul” – an admirable selection of qualities, if a little annoying to be presented with every time you start up the car. But almost regardless of a car makers choice of brand values, in reality it’s their customers who really define those qualities and success comes through meeting these whilst retaining the core of the brand’s intended DNA.

There’s a great quote by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, who said “A brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” So true and it’s a shrewd business that listens to this and is able to reflect these perceived values within their own product plans.

The challenge is to do so without diluting the very qualities which made the brand attractive in the first place.

But are our concerns misplaced?

Whilst most people can get their heads around this idea, it’s possible to go too far, and that’s perhaps where some of the concerns about the Cygnet come from.

If you watch Aston Martin’s latest video (below) for the Cygnet you’ll hear Aston’s Design Director, Marek Reichman, speak about the environment changing and the importance of Aston Martin to move with those changes.

Dr Bez admits that he often drives into the city in a DBS, but that he wouldn’t want to do so every day – he’d like the choice, and that’s where a smaller Aston Martin city car comes into play.

[styledbox type=”general” width=”600″ align=”center”]Watch the video: Aston Martin Cygnet on SkiddPlayer[/styledbox]
 

Both insist that the customer will receive exactly the same purchasing experience when buying a Cygnet as they would purchasing a Rapide or DB9, and that’s where the true rationale for Cygnet becomes more evident.

Had Aston been selling out the brand, building a supplementary income stream to shore up the often bumpy journey of a niche sportscar maker, then you’d see an Aston Boutique in the corner of selected Toyota dealers, but instead Aston will welcome Cygnet buyers into the opulent chic environment of an Aston Martin dealer which shows that this is a car that’s designed for someone who already owns an Aston, Porsche or Ferrari.

This is the kind of person used to choice and rather than parking their DBS or 458 Italia at home, they’d like to travel into the city sitting in the same high-quality environment that they’ve become accustomed to.

We may not make such a choice ourselves, being put off by the Cygnet’s £40,000+ price tag or not wishing to look foolish driving around in what we perceive to be the motoring equivalent of a fashion accessory – but then perhaps we’d feel differently with a DBS parked in our garage.

So forget the value comparisons with an Audi A1 or Mercedes A-Class, the Cygnet is more of an alternative to a taxi – “..do I take a cab into the city or take the Cygnet?” and in that respect it makes a certain kind of sense.

  • Anthony

    All they have done is base it on a Toyota iQ which is pointless and questionable in the extreme. I bet it still has the ridiculously cramped 3+1 layout the iQ does which does nothing for comfort or practicality.

    • Hopefully that point came across clearly from my article – you’re not meant to ‘get’ the Cygnet unless of course you’re the type of customer who faces the problem it addresses, namely, “how do you retain the same quality of materials and luxurious feel in a city car, whilst your much more expensive exotica remains parked in the garage”.

      I wouldn’t choose one, I rarely visit cities and I don’t have a less practical sportscar in the garage any more, but then neither would I choose a Louis Vuitton bag or buy our weekly shopping at Harvey Nichols, but there are plenty of people that do and that’s part of the market that Aston serve.

      Hey, it’s not for me personally but that doesn’t mean I can’t respect the choice.

      • Anthony

        It’s a bit of a wrong step for the company to badge a Toyota iQ and trim it to luxury standards and call it an Aston. It would be better with 2 seats rather than the cramped 3+1 layout this way the car truly serves a purpose for a good sized weekly shop/visits to the launderette and small tip runs. With the rear seat in place,the boot is horrendously small and the rear legroom (as in the iQ) is horrendously cramped for adults. Many true Astonmartin fans will see this car as an inferior and insult to the spirit of the brand and not really true to the marque it stands for. Astonmartin should make existing products better by making them spacious enough for 5 adults to sit comfortably inside and enjoy long journeys, and putting this useful extra into everything it does, and it should break new ground by making spacious practical estates of it’s own design and also introducing diesel/biofuel capable and dual fuel petrol/LPG and hybrid cars. This is what the company should focus on than this rebadging of an existing other makers’ cars.

  • john

    Lovely looking we car but £30000 – £50000 need i say more, for those with plenty of money.
    Toyota IQ from £13000 ?

    john.

  • I’ve seen the video on youtube http://www.youtube.com/astonmartin. I think it’s a new concept. We have to wait to see future results.