They won't have James Bond-style machine guns or ejection seats, but future cars built by Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. are slated to feature more sophisticated technologies from Ford's laboratories.
Ford Motor Co. wants to test experimental engine hardware and composite production processes on its British supercar brand before using them on workaday models.
The move marks a new direction for Aston Martin, a company long known for its elderly craftsmen and hand-built vehicles.
Despite antiquated production methods, Aston Martin stayed alive through the post-1960s oil crises and recessions that crippled other exotic makes.
But Aston now needs Ford's technology and support to compete against larger rivals, says Bob Dover, Aston's president and CEO.
Aston's new-for-2000 DB7 Vantage starts at $140,000. But BMW AG, DaimlerChrysler and subsidiaries of Volkswagen AG all are preparing low-volume sports cars that will compete against the DB- and V-8-series cars.
'I can't imagine how any low-volume producer can survive without a big brother,' Dover says.
But the relationship is a two-way street. While Aston enjoys lower parts costs thanks to Ford's purchasing power, Ford is using Aston's low volume of about 700 cars per year as an intermediate step between its laboratories and assembly lines.
One example is a new misfire-detection system built into the DB7 Vantage's 6.0-liter V-12 engine. The device, supplied by Visteon Automotive Systems, turns the engine's spark plugs into sensors that can analyze the gas in the cylinder and determine if a misfire occurred.
After each plug fires, the system puts a relatively low 40-volt charge through the plug. If the fuel has burned normally, the ionized gas left behind will conduct the electricity across the plug's gap.
If no ionized gas is present, the system will read a voltage drop and recognize it as a misfire.
Aston also is trying out composite tooling that can mass produce plastic parts. The front fenders and trunk lid of the DB7 Vantage are made from resin transfer molding, a type of plastic generally limited to low-volume applications due to its higher hand-labor needs.
Dover says composite tooling technology is gaining attention as automakers explore niches and developing markets.
But Aston draws the line at technology that does not offer some benefit to the brand's well-to-do customers.
Says Dover: 'We'll be a technology pilot where it's appropriate for our customer base.'