Luxury car maker Aston Martin’s decision to invest in Wales, where production at its second UK factory will start next year, has been fully justified despite some initial eyebrow raising in the industry, said its vice president and chief special operations officer David King.
Speaking at a meeting of Cardiff Breakfast Club the Welshman said its factory at St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan was progressing well, with more than 100 people already employed.
Mr King: “This is a major commitment for Aston Martin and I am really proud we are doing this. It was quite a shock to the industry when we announced we were going to build a car plant in south Wales.
“But it has been everything we expected and is fully justified so far. We are deep into the conversion of the former super hangars at St Athan and investing a lot of money. We will be building 7,000 cars a year there eventually when we get to fully capacity. The first car we will launch into the factory will be the luxury SUV, [the Aston Martin DBX] which we will start building for customers late next year.”
The project in St Athan will create around 750 high value jobs ‑ and far more in the supply chain ‑ but with the hope that the former MoD facility could take on further Aston Martin car production projects in the future.
In March Aston Martin unveiled a concept for a new state of the art, emission-free luxury vehicle at the Geneva Motor Show.
Production for the Lagonda Vision is expected to start in 2021, but the car maker has still to decide whether it will be made at its Gaydon headquarters in the West Midlands or its new facility in the Vale of Glamorgan.
Mr King said of the current live project at St Athan: “We are already recruiting and training with more than 100 people employed there and taking them to our HQ at Gaydon to train them in art of building Aston Martins.
“It has all been possible from the support we have had from the Welsh Government, local agencies and authorities and the support of the people here. It feels like we have justified our decision and it is going to be a great place to grow the company and build cars.”
The Welsh Government is backing the inward investment project, which alongside its Gaydon HQ, represents a £200m investment, with £5.8m in financial support. The cars made at St Athan will feature a made in Wales plate.
Mr King said he is often asked what is the ‘point of working for Aston Martin and rich people?’
He said: “Well, what we actually do is not only create employment, support industries and add value to the economy, but are creating dreams and aspirations for young engineers and technicians who can aspire to work for such a prestigious brand.
“And the fact that we can point to our cars not ending up in landfill as they last forever, is also creating a whole support industry around restoring and maintaining these classic cars in particular. We are also keeping important skills alive within our country.”
Mr King said its sponsorship deal with Glamorgan County Cricket Club was working well.
He added: “We take our responsibility to the local community very seriously. And the partnership we have with Glamorgan County Cricket Club and with Cricket Wales is an example of that.
“We are already one year into a three year shirt sponsorship deal, but it is the partnership with Cricket Wales that is less visible, but more important. It is supporting all of the aged group cricket in Wales for girls and boys. That makes me feel really proud to see young cricketers in Wales wearing Aston Martin branding on their shirts and I know they get quite a buzz from that as well.
“As a global brand we wouldn’t normally get involved in a relatively local sponsorship deal, but I think it has worked very well and inspired us to do a few other sporting partnerships.”
From the mid 1990s he said the business has “grown from what was little more than a local cottage industry into a global brand.”
He added: “We are now the only independent luxury car company with all of the others owned by major manufacturers. We hand build our cars, currently just in Gaydon, but shortly here in Wales.
“A typical Aston Martin would typically take more than 200 hours to build on our production line. That would compare to maybe 10 to 15 hours for a highly mass produced car. We have one robot only in our entire company.
“And in our whole history [105 years] we have only built 83,000 cars. Now Toyota, which is the largest car maker in the world, will build around 10 million cars a year. So, they will do 83,000 cars in maybe two and a half days, which gives an incredible sense of scale of our business and the rarity of our cars.
“And that rarity is reflected in the fact that people own them for life and they hand them down an they become heirlooms and collectable things of great value. 95% of all the cars we have ever built are still in existence in collections or being used and maintained.
“And the fact that our cars live forever is a very important point as we live in a very disposable society with design for obsolescence.”
Cardiff Breakfast Club is sponsored by Blake Morgan, Lloyds Banking Group, Stills Branding, Effective Communication and the Western Mail.