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The Smaller The Better - Resonator

Where You From, Homey?

Les Bidrawn
Feb 1, 2008
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Germans, British, Italians, Swedes, French, etc., comprise the greater part of the European Union, right?

A collaboration of distinctive, talented nationalities joined for the greater good of humanity


I've spent a great deal of time over there, typically in the larger cities where everyone speaks English (in addition to several other languages). For the most part, the whole EU thing is fairly accurate, at least on the surface.

It all ends during the World Cup, a time colors are flown and signs are thrown. Europe is divided into something akin to gangland territories, turf marked by graffiti-festooned boundaries. It was like this 1000 years ago, a way to keep resources and technology from rival gangs. Obviously, it's much more civilized today (I doubt the Spanish Armada is planning a raid any time soon). Deep down, however, I think each European thinks his nationality is the best. They protect what's theirs.

Like the food they make, Europeans build distinctive cars. Depending on the chef, each has a unique flavor. So what happens if a German is asked to make lasagne, or a Swede duck l'orange? Do they follow the recipe word-for-word or add a few touches of their own?

If you can't already tell, this clunky metaphor pertains to sharing technology, platforms and, more importantly, design philosophies. Things that make a car feel German are much different than those of English stock.

I recently spoke with Dr. Ulrich Bez, the boss at Aston Martin. The lanky German has spent more than 30 years in the industry working for Porsche, BMW and Daewoo before this latest gig. He was responsible for the development and introduction of the Porsche 993, widely regarded as the best 911 ever. The fact that Bez knows how to assemble a great car is without question. That he knows how to assemble an Aston Martin is remarkable

We were driving the new DBS, a wheeled rocket, the epitome of sex on wheels. From the moment the crystal-infused key is inserted into the dash (a somewhat King Arthur-like maneuver), drivers are in for a unique experience, a decidedly English experience.

I have yet to see automotive globalization work. The DaimlerChrysler thing hasn't panned out and GM's influence (ownership) of Saab has stripped the smallish yet innovative company of its identity. And, of course, Ford releasing its remaining interest in Aston Martin (it had much bigger fish to fry). For now, anyway, it seems being in small gang is the best way to protect your turf.

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The idea of a German running a culturally English company seems to be of little concern to Bez's colleagues. Apparently, he's adapted well, even picking up a bit of dry British humor. Moreover, he has surrounded himself was a small yet razor-sharp group of co-workers who understand the Aston brand. The priority was to make Aston Martin enthusiasts feel as though they were part of the brand, give them a sense of ownership, the same way Ferrari is 'owned' by the Italians.

I wanted to ask Bez how he has retained-and plans to retain-the inherent 'Britishness' of Aston Martin. Was he ever worried he'd create, say, a car that was too German?

Although the opportunity never presented itself, I got the distinct impression that it's a non-issue. The most important thing was the product-build the best you can and don't compromise on quality (sic).

Nothing especially novel about the good doctor's strategy. It's simply good, common sense. And being independent allows Aston to take risks, risks a large conglomerate would not be willing to take.

There's a moral buried in here, somewhere. I think it relates to smaller, intimate groups (gangs, if you will) being more successful car makers. Being big is not necessarily a good thing-safety in numbers is a myth. Granted, Aston Martin will sell a maximum of 7000 cars per year, a mere pittance compared to big manufacturers. Yet there's nothing wrong with thinking small. Get a good gang of guys on a project and leave them alone. Then see what happens.

Les Bidrawn

By Les Bidrawn
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