Aston Martin fans won't be cheered by deal with private equity group

Nick Gibbs is UK correspondent at Automotive News Europe.Nick Gibbs is UK correspondent at Automotive News Europe.
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News that private equity firm InvestIndustrial has won the battle to buy 37.5 percent of British luxury sports car firm Aston Martin won't be cheered by fans of the 99-year-old brand, despite the Italian group's promise to invest 150 million pounds ($240 million).

Aston has been cash-starved since Ford offloaded it in 2007 on Middle Eastern shareholders led by Investment Dar.

Aston fans were buoyed by early rumors that Toyota had joined InvestIndustrial and Mahindra in bidding for Aston. They thought a deep-pocketed automotive giant like Toyota would supply the necessary resources to create a resurgence similar to that in 2005 when Ford launched the successfully 'baby' Aston V8 Vantage coupe.

In the end it was a two-way battle between InvestIndustrial and Indian tractor and SUV maker Mahindra. Despite the lack of obvious synergy, the Indian firm looked the more appealing partner. India's Tata has been very successful with its purchase of the similarly prestigious British automotive brands Jaguar and Land Rover, and history has shown tractor making has often sat curiously well with the manufacture of high-end sports cars.

British tractor maker David Brown Limited was responsible for Aston Martin's post-war success, when the firm built icons such as James Bond's DB5. The name still lives on in the initials, currently used in the DB9. Another famous tractor maker successfully branching into sports cars was Ferruccio Lamborghini.

Private equity firms such as InvestIndustrial are traditionally more hard-headed. The view among more knowledgeable fans in Britain is that it will invest just enough to polish the company for a profitable resale, such as happened with Italian bike maker Ducati. The fear is it won't invest enough to create a new body architecture as well a new range of engines to replace the ageing V12 and V8. These naturally aspirated units are currently built by Ford in a dedicated engine factory in Cologne, Germany.

Aston Martin has said that a technical partnership with Mercedes and AMG, widely reported to be part of the deal, wasn't agreed. AMG tuned Mercedes engines would be a good fit, but part of Aston's appeal has been its engine independence. The legion of Aston Martin fans will be watching closely for the next move.

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