Aston Martin Plans China Push While Awaiting IPO ‘Window’

Aston Martin's Ulrich Bez
Aston Martin's Ulrich Bez. Photographer: Paul Thomas/Bloomberg

Aston Martin, the closely held British sports-car maker, plans to increase sales to emerging markets and will soon start importing cars into China, as it keeps its sights on an initial public offering.

“We are still thinking of an IPO,” Chief Executive Office Ulrich Bez said today at a press briefing at the carmaker’s manufacturing center in Gaydon, west England. “We will be ready for it if the time is right. You need to pick the right window.”

Aston Martin, sold by Ford Motor Co. to a group of private investors including Kuwait’s Investment Dar Co. in a deal valuing it at 479 million pounds ($765 million) in 2007, is expanding its model range to boost sales in emerging markets as demand for luxury cars recovers. The automaker last month introduced the Cygnet -- based on Toyota Motor Corp.’s subcompact iQ -- as its first city car.

Aston Martin’s “emerging market growth potential has not yet been fully explored,” Bez said. The maker of cars favored by Prince Charles and driven by James Bond, expects to “imminently” get an import license for China, allowing it to set up its own national sales arm, the German executive said.

The maker of the 125,000-pound DB9, which currently sells its cars through independent auto retailers in China, is targeting a network of as many as 14 dealers in the world’s largest auto market. Aston Martin, which delivered 4,299 vehicles for the year ended March 31, expects to sell “a few hundred” vehicles in China this year, Bez said.

Engine Deal

“We came very late to the party in China,” Michael van der Sande, the carmaker’s chief commercial officer, said at the briefing. “We are now taking it much more seriously.”

As a small company, Aston Martin, didn’t have the resources to tackle China at the same speed as others, Bez said. When he joined in 2000, as many as 90 percent of its cars were sold in the U.K. That’s now been reduced to 30 percent, with similar amounts sold in the rest of Europe and the U.S.

Aston Martin, which posted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization of 97.8 million pounds on revenue of 509.1 million pounds in the 12 months ended March 31, has recently extended an engine-supply deal with Ford, Bez said.

The U.K. company uses Ford V8 and V12 engines finished at a dedicated facility located within the U.S. automaker’s plant in Cologne, Germany.

The carmaker last month raised 304 million pounds through the sale of high-yield bonds. The company will use some of the money to refinance a 200 million-pound bank loan and pay a 30 million-pound dividend, according to credit ratings company Standard & Poor’s.

The company’s models include its best-selling V8 Vantage, and the 750-horsepower One-77 supercar that accelerates to 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour in about 3.7 seconds.

Aston Martin is under no pressure from shareholders to carry out an IPO and can finance current development plans without raising cash, Bez said.

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