The new mini-Aston - improbably based on Toyota iQ’s baby hatchback and going by the name of Cygnet - promises to boast ‘genuine’ Aston touches like the famous grille and pop-out door handles, plus, apparently, a luxury interior and even, thrill of thrills, a vented bonnet. Which obviously the car will need to disperse the huge quantities of heat generated by its throbbing, er, 1.3l engine. We hope they will throw in a complimentary pair of string-back gloves and a cloth cap, too. Parp parp!
Yes, it is easy to scoff at the idea. After all, Aston is better known for making eye-wateringly expensive handbuilt sportscars for loaded-but-discerning types who think a Ferrari is too obvious and a Porsche too cheap. Surely it is brand suicide for such a high-end firm to offer an entry level city car which looks like little more than a tarted-up runabout?
Well, maybe not. For starters, business in Aston’s rarefied regular market has hardly been brisk of late. Credit-crunched City slickers have been too busy saving their jobs to splash out £150k on a flashy new motor. So the idea of a smaller, cheaper and recession-friendly product is not, on the face of it, a bad one.
Even before the recession hit, Aston chairman Dave Richards told MT that he believed brand extensions were the future for the firm’s struggling finances. And this is about as radical a brand extension as it’s possible to imagine for an upmarket niche manufacturer like Aston Martin.
The deal - brokered by Aston CEO Ulrich Bez and Toyota boss Akio Toyoda - also looks like a pretty good one for Toyota, which will actually make the Cygnets. The world’s largest car manufacturer has been severely hit by the global collapse in car sales, and a tie-up with a great name like Aston has to be good news for its brand horsepower.
But for those of you who fancy trading in your old smoker in favour of swanning around in a new Cygnet, there’s bad news. According to Bez, the cars will only be offered for sale to existing Aston customers or to those who place an order for of the company’s better-known and more expensive wagons. So the Cygnet is intended to act rather like a yacht tender, doing the school run or nipping down to the shops, saving the real McCoy for those weekend dashes down to Zermatt or St Maxime. Apparently the firm has realised that some 30% of its customers also own a city car and wants to cash in on the action.
You can see the logic, and at £20k a pop for a car which - in Toyota guise - retails for under £10k, it’s got to be worth a try. But if the idea is received as badly by famously conservative and vocal Aston traditionalists as we think it might be, the Cygnet could end up as a dead duck…
In today's bulletin:
UK economy suffers biggest slump in 50 years
Aston Martin bargain - £20k in 2010
Life no longer a beach for students
Nick Hood: A chill breeze of recession in the Windy City
'35 Under 35' in focus: The risk-takers