Crash rule threatens Aston Martin, dealer says

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Aston Martin’s U.S. stores could be put out of business when a new federal safety rule lands next month, a top dealer said in a petition.

The British luxury sports-car maker’s DB9 and Vantage don’t conform to the new side-impact crash rule that takes effect Sept. 1, so dealers won’t be able to sell them in the United States after that date.

Losing the convertible models, which won’t meet the standard by the September 2015 deadline for convertibles, would reduce new-car gross profits by 40 percent and put dealerships “in the red,” wrote James Walker, chairman of Aston Martin’s U.S. dealer advisory panel, in a petition to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Without the coupe versions, which have to meet the Sept. 1 deadline, stores would lose 25 percent of new-car gross profits.

Aston Martin’s 33 U.S. dealerships — whose vehicles range from $100,000-plus to $300,000-plus — had a 0.7 percent return on sales in 2013 vs. the National Automobile Dealers Association’s 2.3 percent average.

Aston Martin stores are “highly susceptible to any loss of volume,” Walker wrote.

A thinned network could leave owners without local dealer support. For instance, the loss of the Seattle store would make the next closest location 850 miles away in the San Francisco area, Walker wrote.

If Aston Martin was forced to stop selling these models, brand confidence among customers, dealers and the finance community could shrivel and take a long time to reverse, Walker said.

NHTSA’s rule, published in 2007, is intended to protect passengers from side crashes into narrow fixed objects such as utility poles and trees. Phase-in of the rule began in 2010 and is slated to end this September.

The Vanquish and the Rapide S coupes will be compliant with the rule on Sept. 1.

Last year, Aston Martin requested exemptions for the DB9 through August 2016 and the Vantage through August 2017.

“The financial viability of Aston Martin dealers is very much in question,” Walker wrote. “If dealers make the decision to shutter the franchise, a very likely outcome, the impact on employment is significant.”

Calls to Aston Martin for comment were not immediately returned.

Jobs on the line
If Aston Martin dealerships were to shutter, service and sales employees could lose well-paying jobs. Here's a glimpse at their approximate annual earnings.

• Parts specialists: $60,000

• Technicians: $90,000-$150,000

• Salespeople: $100,000

• Service managers: $130,000

• General managers: $200,000

Source: Aston Martin dealers

You can reach Vince Bond Jr. at vbond@crain.com. -- Follow Vince on Twitter

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