Aston Martin boss: "our share price is hugely undervalued"

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Chairman believes the future is bright for the brand, especially with new CEO Adrian Hallmark on the way

An audience with Aston Martin executive chairman Lawrence Stroll is always a memorable occasion.

Most will know the Canadian from Netflix’s Drive to Survive series, in which he’s straight-talking and has a fearsome presence, often wearing the look of a man who you’ve just told you’ve run over his cat. In person, he’s far warmer; he sparks a room into life and always remains at the centre of it.

The ‘executive’ part of his job title remains an understatement for how hands-on he is, as an audience with Stroll in Aston’s sleek boardroom in Gaydon last week again revealed.

On the product side, Stroll talked about EVs; Aston has pushed back plans to launch its range of electric cars to 2027, due to a slowdown in demand, and increased investments in PHEVs as a result. The rush to legislate in favour of EVs was “obviously premature”, according to Stroll.

Yet he was also in a reflective mood as he approached his four-year anniversary in his role and he said he was “very proud of the industrial as well as financial turnaround” experienced at Aston in that time. By the end of this year, Aston’s four model lines will all be less than a year old (“dealers will have four new products in a year when it has been four in 10 years before”) and the company has been refinanced to cover the next seven years.

Yet the share price is still around half that of when Stroll took over, itself well down on Aston’s original listing. This irks him. “Our share price is hugely undervalued,” he said.

He made a comparison between Ferrari, which sells around 13,000 cars per year, has a Formula 1 team and has a market cap of close to €80 billion, and Aston, which Stroll conservatively plans to sell 10,000 cars per year in the next couple of years, has an F1 team and has a market cap of around €1.5bn…

Yet he thinks Aston’s time will come, and 2025 will be the time to really judge the company when it has all its new models on the market and its new retail model fully in play for those cars.

Stroll has switched Aston away from a wholesale model, when it previously built just 7% of cars to order to above 60% last year, even with an ageing product range. Cars have more options and more bespoke content, thus are more profitable. 

Aston is only really delivering the DB12 at the moment, pending the arrival of the revised Vantage, DBX and DBS models. Stroll said this was “financially painful” but the company would “not stuff the market with old cars”, which would hurt profitability. “Dealers are complaining about low inventories, but I’d rather have pent-up demand,” he said.

By the second half of this year, Aston will be cashflow-positive “and then forever”, according to Stroll. 

Aston’s recent share price dip occurred last year, when it was forced to delay the launch of the D12 due to software problems. “We’ve struggled like other OEMs with software integration issues,” said Stroll. “It’s a very big challenge to do our own HMI. It has been a big complaint in the past from customers that our interiors look like Mercedes‘, and that’s because they are.

“This cost us a few-months delay in the launch of the car, and we got heavily penalised in the share price, from £4 in August to £2, for being late with a few hundred cars.”

Stroll said recruiting software developers was a huge challenge, but now that Aston has the base HMI, it will be rolled out across its other models, and delays to the DB12 won’t be repeated.

It still runs Mercedes tech in the background, but the layer the customer sees is all bespoke to Aston. Over-the-air software updates will be offered in the future to improve the HMI.

Aston is targeting around 7500 sales this year and “well into” the 8000s in 2025. Stroll expects it to be “easy” to get that figure up to 10,000, given that Aston historically sold around 7000 cars per year when it only had the three front-engined cars and not even the DBX, which now takes 40% of its volume. 

A new era will soon start at Aston with the arrival of Adrian Hallmark, who will start no later than October, having spruced up his garden while on leave from Bentley. Stroll said they had been “talking for a while” and he “doesn’t see a better person in the world to be the CEO of Aston Martin”.

“He completely understands a luxury company,” Stroll continued. “He knows the company well and has admired us from afar for many years. He’s proud to be part of it and a coup for us to lead the business.”

Stroll aims to spend two days of his working week at Gaydon and two days at the F1 team’s new Silverstone headquarters, the balance at his home office in London. But he admits the road car side is taking up the majority of his time, although whether that softens on Hallmark’s arrival remains to be seen.

He described Hallmark as “a very hands-on CEO”, but it’s hard to see Stroll take his hands off either. Having listed off his achievements to date, Stroll said it was “still only the beginning” at Aston.

The company is box-office viewing on his watch; perhaps Netflix should divert some cameras to Stroll the Aston Martin Lagonda boss to show this other side to him. 

Source: Autocar

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