Joke or Masterstroke? Aston Martin Adapts Toyota’s Clever Baby
By Andy Bannister
It sounds and looks for all the world like one of those joke news items car makers push out on the morning of April Fool’s Day.
However, British supercar manufacturer Aston Martin is apparently deadly serious about building its own version of Toyota’s fashionable iQ city car – with a price-tag of around £20,000 ($33,000). The car will be based on the Cygnet concept shown by Aston Martin. For those of you not familiar with the word cygnet, a cygnet is a baby swan.
Pictures showing finishing touches being put to a concept of what is being billed “the world’s smallest super-luxury saloon” have been released today. The baby car is the result of a conversation months ago between Aston’s CEO Dr Ulrich Bez and Toyota’s President, Akio Toyoda.
The Toyota iQ – a sort of Smart with tiny rear seats – has done remarkably well in both Japan and Europe since its launch, commanding an already premium price which Aston Martin wants to double with its own version.
The iQ has state-of-the-art engineering and safety kit, and is undoubtedly one of Toyota’s most innovative products for years. Shiny new ones are popping up everywhere in the smartest parts of London, Paris, Rome and Berlin.
Under the plan, iQs sent from Japan would be converted to Aston Martin spec at the company’s factory in Gaydon, England. The car is likely to feature some quite major body modifications based on Aston Martin supercar cues, although the uniqueness of the iQ‘s design will be hard to disguise.
Purists are bound to throw up their hands in horror at the car, which is likely to be powered by a 1300cc Toyota unit already fitted to the iQ. According to reports it will be initially aimed at existing Aston Martin customers in Europe wanting a tiny car for city streets.
Inside, a luxury leather-trimmed version of the existing Toyota interior is planned, using materials and colour schemes mirroring the rest of the Aston range. The British factory is set to build up to 2,000 a year from 2010.
It’s a potentially risky move which could devalue the Aston Martin brand, but if the company gets it right when the car goes on general sale it could be a nice little earner that plays to the snobbishness lurking beneath the surface of many well-heeled city car buyers.
Sports car rival Porsche pulled off a similar coup – albeit in avery different sector of the market -with the once-controversial Cayenne SUV, which succeeds despite sharing many components and its basic body with a cheaper Volkswagen.
Another very real benefit for Aston Martin is the fact that adding this ultra-frugal, low polluting car to its range will have a huge effect on the company’s average carbon dioxide emissions.
A successful partnership with Toyota could also bring much-needed security to Aston, shorn of the financial and engineering support of one-time owner, Ford. Potentially the company could also have access to technology and platforms from the Lexus range.
Despite the raised eyebrows and talk of insulting a proud badge, the inception of the Cygnet isn’t actually the first time Aston Martin has been involved in a luxury version of a small car.
Back in the early 1980s, its Tickford subsidiary was heavily implicated in a horror called the Tickford Metro, an ultra-expensive version of British Leyland’s new hatchback for the 1980s, the Austin Metro.
It had the same ingredients as the Cygnet – a very plush interior and a body makeover – although history hasn’t been kind to the ungainly Tickford, which nowadays looks like the dire lash-up it undoubtedly was. For the record, the Tickford Metro was a sales disaster.
Nearly 30 years on, however, the world is a very different place, and Aston Martin is itself a pretty professional outfit. Toyota, despite its faults, couldn’t be further removed from the shambles that was British Leyland.
In spite of the jokes today, the world will be watching the Cygnet’s fate with more than the usual interest. All kinds of dressed-up small cars wearing the badges other luxury makers could easily follow this little swan’s lead.
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