By Andrew Saunders Monday, 26 November 2012

Bidders dice for Aston Martin slice

How much is half an Aston Martin worth? About £250m apparently - that's rumoured to be the latest offer from India's Mahindra & Mahindra.

The idea seems to be that Aston would effectively double its capital to allow M&M to take a 50% stake, leaving current owner Kuwait's Investment Dar with the other 50%.  That would provide desperately needed money to finance at least part of a new model range and technical platform for the maker of James Bond’s four-wheeled transport of choice.  

There is apparently at least one other suitor interested too, in the shape of European buyout group InvestIndustrial. But Investment Dar denies receiving either bid. Still keeping up at the back? There’s no doubt that Aston could really do with the money. It has been relying on its old, Ford-based engines and chassis systems ever since it was bought from the Blue Oval by a consortium fronted Investment Dar in 2007. 

In the world of modern supercars five years is a long time, and without new investment the Gaydon Warwickshire based firm risks falling dangerously far behind rivals like Ferrari and Lamborghini in the technical stakes. Aston’s heritage may be impeccable, but without more modern underpinnings its cars will inevitably start to lose their lustre.  

Critics have been quick to point out that M&M produces, among other things, 80,000 tractors annually in India. Surely not a suitable owner for such an upmarket brand? But this is to ignore the fact that Aston Martin - a firm which has, incidentally, been in a state of permanent financial crisis for most of its 98-year existence - has been owned once before by a tractor maker, David Brown, and very successfully too. The Yorkshire industrialist owned it from 1947 - 1972, a period in which the firm’s iconic DB4, 5 and 6 models were produced.   

However, the InvestIndustrial group may have a clinching ace up its sleeve, in the form of a technical tie up with Mercedes. It is access to an ongoing supply of suitable modern engines, technology and running gear that Aston needs most of all, and in this respect the M&M bid looks less attractive.  

While the idea of an Aston Martin with a Mercedes engine is likely to have brand purists gnawing apoplectically at their string-backed gloves, the wealthy Chinese punters who can actually afford to buy the cars these days may quite like the idea. Watch this space…

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