Who owns Aston Martin? The company’s ambitious plans for the future

The Aston Martin DB11

Aston Martin is the legendary British carmaker associated with the beloved British spy James Bond. James Bond’s constant flirtations with death caught up with him as he passed away in the latest film, No Time To Die. However, Aston Martin has yet to exhaust its nine lives – since its founding in the early 20th century, the company has threatened to dissolve seven times. 

Every time someone has come in to save Aston Martin from extinction. Following decades of ups and downs, Aston Martin seems to have found stability and direction under new ownership. 

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  • Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford founded the company in the early 1910s and sold it in the mid-1920s due to financial trouble. 
  • Aston Martin changed ownership several times in the subsequent decades before Ford acquired the company in 1987. 
  • Following record-breaking losses, Ford sold Aston Martin to a consortium led by businessman David Richards in 2007. 
  • Aston Martin’s largest shareholder Lawrence Stroll acquired the company before the coronavirus pandemic and seems to have turned the company’s fortunes around. 
  • Some analysts believe that Mercedes, the owner of a growing stake in Aston Martin, plans to take over the car manufacturer in the future.

Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford founded Aston Martin as a handmade car company

In 1913, Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford founded Aston Martin. They initially sold cars made by Singer and serviced GWK and Calthorpe cars in Callow Street, London. 

Martin and Robert Bamford initially named their creation Bamford & Martin. The name Aston came from a location called Aston Hill, where Lionel Martin raced specials. 

Lionel created the first Bamford & Martin by fusing a Coventry-Simplex engine with a chassis from Isotta Fraschini. The pair built the vehicle at Henniker Mews in Kensington in 1915. Before production began, however, World War I started. 

Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford
Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford

Robert joined the Army Service Corps, and Martin joined the Admiralty. After the war, they reconvened at a new location at Abingdon Road, Kensington, and designed a new vehicle. 

After Bamford left in 1920, Lionel acquired funding from Count Louis Zborowski. Two years later, Bamford & Martin produced cars to compete in the French Grand Prix. The handmade vehicles were fast and durable as they went on to set world speed and endurance records at Brooklands. 

In 1925, Martin was forced to sell the company after it got into financial difficulty. The new owners renamed it Aston Martin Motors and moved it to Feltham. 

August Bertelli and his fellow investors continued making handmade Aston Martins and enjoyed sustained success, especially with their open two-seater sports cars. Bertelli raced his cars, racking up victories in national and international motor racing competitions. Facing increased competition from mass-produced cars, Aston ran into financial trouble in the early 1930s. 

Lance Prideaux Brune saved the company before selling it to Sir Arthur Sunderland. In 1936, Aston Martin shifted focus to road cars. After World War II broke out, production turned to aircraft components. 

David Brown ushered in the era of mass production and created some of the brand’s legendary cars

Two years after the war, David Brown bought Aston Martin and placed it under his company’s Tractor Group. Brown started building Aston’s classic ‘DB’ series, which were named after his initials. 

Sir David Brown
British entrepreneur Sir David Brown | Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The DB cars were stunning and had excellent racing pedigree, but by 1972, Aston Martin was in financial trouble. After paying off its debts, David Brown handed the company to a bank consortium led by William Willson. 

Faced with a worldwide recession, lack of investment and inability to produce a car meeting US emission requirements, Aston Martin went into receivership in late 1974. 

The Aston Martin factory reopened in September 1975 under the ownership of businessmen Peter Sprague and Alan Curtis. The pair spearheaded a new strategy that placed Aston in such a great financial position that analysts predicted it would purchase Lamborghini. 

However, in 1980, Aston Martin cut its workforce by more than 20%. A year later, Curtis and Sprague announced they hadn’t planned on a long-term investment in Aston Martin and sold the company to Victor Gauntlett. 

Gauntlett and CH Industrials co-owned Aston Martin, with Gauntlett serving as executive chairman. Aston Martin experienced good tidings under Gauntlett, increasing sales in the Middle East and earning the Royal Warrant of Appointment.

Victor Gauntlett
Victor Gauntlett poses next to the 10,000th Aston Martin, a V8 Vantage, in 1984

Despite the small gains brought by Gauntlett, Aston Martin needed a substantial cash investment to meet its long-term goals. In stepped the Ford Motor Company. 

Ford sold Aston Martin after recording its biggest losses in over a century

In 1987, the Ford Motor Company acquired Aston Martin. It initially bought a 75% stake before completing the purchase in the early 1990s. Under Ford, Aston Martin completely abandoned its hand coachbuilding craft methods. 

Ford operated Aston Martin for twenty years before deciding to part with the company in 2007. In 2006, Ford recorded a $12.7 billion loss – its biggest loss in over 100 years of the Ford Motor Company. 

The company’s losses had little to do with Aston Martin: customers stopped buying Ford’s main offerings – trucks and SUVs – due to high fuel prices and interest rates. Following an internal audit, Ford decided to sell Aston Martin at auction. 

“The sale of Aston Martin supports the key objectives of the company, to restructure to operate profitably at lower volumes and changed model mix and to speed the development of new products,” then Ford CEO Alan Mulally said. He added that the sale would also benefit Aston Martin through an injection of capital:

“From Aston Martin’s point of view, the sale will provide access to additional capital, which will allow Aston Martin to continue the growth it has experienced under Ford’s stewardship.”

A consortium led by businessman David Richards acquired Aston Martin for 475 million pounds. Following consecutive years of losses, Aston Martin posted a profit of £87 million in 2017, driven by the sale of 5,000 vehicles. The previous year, Aston Martin had posted a loss of £163 million. 

In 2018, Aston Martin joined the London Stock Exchange as Aston Martin Lagonda Global Holdings plc. The company’s IPO happened in early October 2018. 

Lawrence Stroll, Aston Martin’s majority shareholder, believes the company has the strategy and funding for future profitability

Lawrence Stroll
Lawrence Stroll, chairman of Aston Martin Lagonda Global Holdings Plc | Photo by Darren Staples/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Aston Martin’s IPO was a disaster, but yet again, the company found a savior: Canadian businessman Lawrence Stroll. He led a consortium of investors that acquired a 16.7% stake in the company, which later increased to 25%. 

The company experienced a downturn brought by the coronavirus pandemic but rebounded impressively after the pandemic subsided. Sales improved, slashing a substantial chunk off Aston Martin’s pre-tax losses. Stroll told CNBC:

“I have delivered on every single thing I said to the public since the day I became executive chairman and far surpassed what I promised. The risks are behind us. We have tremendous growth in front of us and a Formula 1 team to market it.”

Stroll’s decision to delay Aston Martin’s EV plans to 2025 helped control costs. The publication stated that the company’s outlook for the next several years looked promising. By August 2021, Aston Martin’s share price had doubled since Stroll took over. Deutsche Bank told investors in July 2021:

“With Q2 numbers slightly ahead of expectations for most items and an unchanged guidance for volumes and underlying earnings, we see Aston Martin ticking the boxes on what’s needed to build a track record and taking it one step at a time to deliver on the full year targets.”

Stroll’s strategy involved increasing sales, overhauling the management team, bringing in Mercedes as a partner, and using his Formula 1 team as a marketing tool. 

“There are 23 Grand Prix around the world,” Stroll said. “And we get to meet around 500 customers every race. I don’t know another business where you can do that and touch your customers.”

Some analysts believe that Mercedes plans to take over Aston Martin in the future

Aston Martin’s partnership with the Mercedes-Benz group started in December 2013. Under the deal, Mercedes Benz would provide Aston Martin with engines and electronics for entertainment, navigation, and other systems. 

Mercedes’ involvement in Aston Martin increased after Lawrence Stroll took over. It’s the second-largest shareholder in Aston Martin, with its 12% stake set to increase to 20% in 2023. 

Mercedes will play a crucial role in Aston Martin’s aim to sell 10,000 cars annually by 2025. Stroll told Reuters that he considers Mercedes a ‘big brother’:

“It was really important for a company of this size, particularly with electrification coming … to have a big brother. So I did a really transformational deal with Mercedes-Benz in order to get their electric architecture.”

Stroll told the outlet that Aston Martin would rely heavily on Mercedes once it dives into EV production. “Mercedes will be the base of whatever we do,” Stroll said. 

Redburn equity research analyst Charles Coldicott believes Mercedes eventually plans to take over Aston Martin. He told Reuters:

“If you put a gun to my head, I would say my base case is Mercedes will acquire the business. I don’t know at what price, but I imagine it will be significantly lower than today’s price.”