Kan James Bond, naast de wereld, ook Aston Martin redden?

Foto Reuters

De Britse autofabrikant heeft het zwaar. Voor vintage auto’s als die waarin Bond alle schurken van de wereld heeft achternagezeten, worden miljoenen neergeteld, maar de huidige automodellen verkopen slecht. De hoop is nu gevestigd op de DB 10, die Aston Martin speciaal voor de nieuwe Bondfilm Spectre maakte.

He Drives Fast, but Can James Bond Sell a Car?

James Bond is persuasive over martinis, but when it comes to pitching a car, the super-spy has a shaky track record. Remember the Ford Galaxie 500, the AMC Hornet or the MP Lafer? Probably not. Those are just a few of the vehicles that were discontinued not long after Bond revved them through cinemas.

With a new 007 film coming next year, the question is whether the super-spy can help save Aston Martin, widely considered the brand by which all other Bond cars are measured. Earlier this month, Sam Mendes, who will direct Spectre, the upcoming Bond film, unveiled the British carmaker’s next model, the DB10, which will be produced in limited numbers for the movie.

Vintage Aston Martins have never been more treasured. A cherry model DB5, like the one Sean Connery squealed around with in Goldfinger, now sells for $1.1 million. “An entire generation grew up making James Bond synonymous with the Aston Martin,” said McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty Insurance Agency, which specializes in underwriting classic cars.

But sales of contemporary models have skidded. In 2012, after being featured in 11 Bond films, including the recent Skyfall, Aston Martin was on the brink of solvency. That’s largely because the company is one of the few luxury carmakers that isn’t propped up by a manufacturing giant with a garage-full of complimentary brands and warehouses full of spare parts. Ferrari and Maserati, for example, have Fiat Chrysler. Bentley and Porsche are parked at Volkswagen. But when Aston Martin wants to design a new car, it has to work from scratch. It can’t simply grab a chassis from one of its corporate cousins and an engine from another.

As a result, IHS Senior Analyst Ian Fletcher said Aston Martin’s lineup grew dated and its release schedule slipped behind its rivals. Between 2007 and 2012, Aston Martin sales slumped from 7,300 to 3,400. “They had something of a collapse,” Fletcher said.

Meanwhile, product placement in a global blockbuster doesn’t come cheap, according to Bradford Brown, who has been pitching marketing tie-ins to Hollywood producers since the early 1980s. At the high end, getting a car in a film can easily cost a few million dollars. “It’s all negotiable,” he said. “The dream outcome is to have the car become a story-point—somehow critical to the outcome of the film.”

Aston Martin’s marketing budget has recovered somewhat in recent years. Disaster was averted in late 2012 when InvestIndustrial, a London-based private-equity firm, bought a 37.5 percent stake in the company. Aston Martin also sold a small stake to Daimler and worked out a deal to use some Mercedes engines. In September, after almost nine months without a leader, Aston Martin tapped Andy Palmer, chief planning officer for Nissan, as CEO.

If history is any guide, however, Aston Martin shouldn’t expect an immediate surge in sales following the release of Spectre. General Motors didn’t plan on a pile of orders even with one of the most prominent Hollywood car placements of late—the “bumblebee” yellow Chevrolet Camaro in the Transformers films. “Generally, we’re doing this for more upper-funnel brand associations … to connect emotionally,” said Megan Stooke, General Motor’s general director of global marketing.

So will the coming Bond film pay off for Aston Martin? It likely depends how much the partnership costs. Aston Martin declined to answer questions for this piece, and Eon Productions and Sony Pictures did not respond to requests for comment.

Kevin Tynan, senior auto analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said cache is critically important for the company, because its cars aren’t the fastest or most powerful. “They’re not going to sell on paper alone,” Tynan explained.

Hagerty, meanwhile, thinks it’s a no-brainer. But as a Bond fan and the owner of a 1960s Aston Martin, he’s admittedly a little biased. “From the very beginning, the association with the franchise gave Aston Martin a halo effect,” he said. “Maybe some people will realize you can get a new one for one-third as much as the classics.”