(NEW YORK) — For decades, the fictional spy James Bond helped boost sales of Aston Martin’s beautifully designed sports cars and grand tourers.
Now, the 110-year-old British marque has found a new star to attract customers: Fernando Alonso.
The two-time world Formula One champion has racked up six podium finishes so far in 2023, putting Aston Martin in fourth place in the Constructor standings. Last year, the 42-year-old driver signed a multi-year contract with Aston Martin, replacing Sebastian Vettel.
Executive Chairman Lawrence Stroll has invested millions of his own money to shore up Aston Martin, which has languished compared to rivals Porsche and Ferrari. He brought Aston Martin back to Formula 1 after a 61-year absence, introduced a new lineup of vehicles and is in the process of opening glitzy flagship stores around the globe.
Stroll, who also owns the F1 team, acknowledged in a press release that Alonso’s strong finishes have a “trickle-down effect” on sales. He told investors that the F1 team would become a “global showcase for the brand’s engineering and performance capabilities,” adding that competing in the series has been “transformative for the brand and our product image.”
The strategy seems to be scoring points on and off the grid. Ninety-five percent of Aston’s U.S. customers say the company’s presence in F1 has “made them more likely to consider the brand,” according to Aston’s latest annual report. Moreover, 21% of customers hosted at Aston’s F1 Paddock Club in 2022 purchased an Aston Martin and 60% of luxury car buyers “strongly agree” they are more likely to buy an Aston because of the involvement in Formula 1.
“Aston has struggled for decades. The cars have been lackluster. What Stroll is trying to do is reset the brand in a much more positive way,” Larry Webster, senior vice president of media at Hagerty, told ABC News. “Fernando is a great driver and a huge celebrity. It’s almost like Brad Pitt driving an F1 car.”
Alonso and teammate Lance Stroll, Lawrence’s son, are front and center of the company’s advertising and marketing campaigns, unofficial ambassadors for their brand. They’re photographed at swanky parties and appear in glossy Aston photo shoots. The drivers are filmed as they test the limits of Aston’s new DB12 on a racetrack. The men make the brand look fun, exciting and alluring. Why buy a Ferrari when you can have an Aston?
Fernando and Lance “actively want to jump in the product. It’s been a really nice thing to see,” Miles Nurnberger, Aston’s design director, told ABC News. “They actively care and are interested in where the brand is going.”
Nurnberger said he witnessed firsthand how the Formula 1 team has revived interest in the company at the Miami Grand Prix in May.
“I could see the engagement from the American fans who I was speaking to,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve lost the James Bond connection, but obviously there’s a new side to the company with Formula 1 … I do feel like there’s fresh blood coming into the brand.”
The company sold 6,412 cars last year including 3,200 units of the DBX SUV, Aston’s bestselling model. This summer Aston started deliveries of its next generation DB12 “Super Tourer,” a sporty GT hat competes with the Bentley Continental GT and Ferrari Roma. The DB12 Volante convertible debuted in August.
“We want to be the world’s most desirable ultra-luxury British performance brand,” said Nurnberger. “The DB12 goes back to our roots. It’s more assertive, more commanding and we’ve increased the power. GTs are highly emotional products and there is a huge demand for that in people’s lives.”
Tyson Jominy, vice president of data and analytics at J.D. Power, said the DB12 represents a major improvement from the DB11 model it replaces.
“It’s a night and day advancement for Aston. It’s really well done,” he told ABC News. “DB12 customers are not giving up much to Ferrari.”
Jominy agrees that podium finishes — and superlative sports cars like the DB12 — will positively impact the company’s bottom line.
“Having one of the best drivers in Formula 1 and being involved in the series will help Aston,” he said.
McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes and Alfa Romeo also leverage their Formula 1 drivers to pump sales of their road cars. Many drivers have become household names in the U.S. as the sport grows and drivers become more accessible to fans at races and on TV, especially in the Netflix docuseries “Drive to Survive.”
“Formula 1 has a perception of glamour and exclusivity,” said Webster. “Ferrari unquestionably leans on its F1 heritage. Audi is now joining F1. It’s the most exclusive series in the world.”
Simon Middleton, a partner and analyst at McKinsey & Company, said the 1950s NASCAR catchphrase “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” also applies to Formula 1. He pointed to Ferrari, a brand heralded for its racing pedigree.
“Ferrari’s customer-facing driver programs are tightly linked to motorsport offerings,” he told ABC News. “It is difficult to imagine [Ferrari’s] road car sales existing independently of the F1 team.”
He said Aston cleverly took advantage of its F1 podium streak to showcase a limited edition Vantage that was modeled on the sport’s safety car. Nearly 400 Vantage F1 edition cars were bought as a result of customers seeing the vehicle in races, according to Lawrence Stroll.
“The idea of ‘Win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ has never been more true,” Stroll told The New York Times.
Aston owners will be among the throngs of fans at the F1 races in Austin, Texas, and Las Vegas later this fall, Webster said.
“Aston customers care about Formula 1. A successful team would do great things and sell more cars for the company,” he said.
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