Aston Martin Seeks `Beauty and Soul' in All-Electric Sports Cars

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The Aston Martin DB10, the James Bond's car in the next movie 'Spectre.'

Photographer: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images
  • CEO Palmer expects battery version of Rapide by end of 2017
  • `Imagine having all that torque on demand' from electric motor

Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd., the 102 year-old maker of high-performance cars featured in the next James Bond film, is envisioning a future when its engines are fueled by electricity instead of gasoline.

The British company is working on a battery-powered version of its current Rapide sports car that will be available as early as at the end of 2017 followed by a new electric DBX crossover, said Chief Executive Officer Andy Palmer. The cars will uphold the carmaker’s traditions by embodying “power, beauty and soul” in each vehicle, said Palmer, a 35-year veteran of the industry who has led Aston Martin for about a year.

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“We’re talking about an electric Aston Martin with between 800 and 1,000 horsepower -- imagine having all that torque on demand,” Palmer said in an interview in London.

The comments set out Palmer’s vision for the future of Aston Martin as plunging costs for electric cars and ever-tightening pollution rules eat away at the economics of traditional engines. Palmer said it’s inevitable that the entire industry will shift over to electricity, if only because it’s the most plausible way to deliver the power drivers expect. Palmer spoke at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference, where the future of the energy industry and its implications will be discussed Tuesday.

“We’re a V-12 engine company,” the executive said, referring to the engines used in Aston Martin cars. “Project that into the future. Do I go the way of the rest of the industry and downsize the engine? Do I see Aston Martin with a three cylinder engine? God forbid.

“You’ve got to do something radical. Electric power gives you that power. It gives you that torque.”

Luxury Cars

Palmer said Aston Martin will remain a maker of luxury sports cars, avoiding competition with Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors Inc., which makes all-electric sports cars. The Aston Martin executive’s impression is that Musk will increasingly target the middle-market with more affordable cars. Palmer said he wants to avoid anything “vanilla in the middle.”

He said all carmakers face the same challenges -- how to get millennials back into cars, how to integrate self-driving technology and coping with emissions rules. Volkswagen AG’s admission that it installed software to cheat on emissions tests in diesel cars in the U.S. mean that technology will fade in the coming years as a solution.

Aston Martin Rapide.
Aston Martin Rapide.
Photographer: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg

“It means our customers aren’t going to trust us for a while. It also means that time is up for the diesel,” Palmer said at the conference. “In markets where you have a lot of installed capacity, diesel will go through a slow death.”

Hybrid gasoline engines that incorporate battery power will become widespread, he said. Over time, attention will shift toward electric cars, whose costs will plunge as automakers improve the technology. He brushed aside the idea that hydrogen fuel cells will become widespread, noting there’s few places where they can take on the fuel.

Fuel Cells

“We have to overcome the range anxiety,” he said. “But that’s much better than the range panic that you’re going to get from having only four hydrogen stations in the U.K. there are plugs everywhere.”

Palmer said he thought an electric Aston Martin might crop up in a future Bond film.

“It’s an awfully good getaway vehicle,” he said. “I don’t think James really
cares what the power train is as long it’s fast and beautiful.”