Aston Martin looking to make its mark in Asia with thrilling new series

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 December, 2007, 12:00am

It was Ian Fleming's James Bond that helped launch Aston Martin into the realm of popular culture. Now, with a new racing series specifically aimed at the Asian market, the company is attempting to make further inroads into the Chinese luxury market, estimated to be worth more than US$6 billion.

The Aston Martin Asia Cup was launched last month and, unsurprisingly, five of the 12 rounds will take place on the mainland, including the first two rounds in March at the Zhuhai International Circuit. The series has already stirred interest in Hong Kong, Two V8-engined Vantage N24s have already been sold, with the explicit purpose of competing in the series.

'There are a lot of people with a lot of money that needs to be spent,' says Gordon Choy, the general manager of the Hong Kong showroom.

The series' winner will receive a fully sponsored season in GT4.

The launch of the series corresponded with last month's opening of a showroom in Shanghai, the company's first showroom on the mainland in its 94-year history. A second showroom is to open later this month in Beijing. At the launch in Shanghai, Aston Martin chief executive Ulrich Bez, said the Chinese luxury goods market was now the third largest in the world.

'Our competitors are forecasting exponential growth rates for the next few years and I am very confident that with the current product range, Aston Martin will take an equal share in this booming region of the world,' Bez said.

The series is, therefore, an equal exercise in racing and branding.

'The brand in Asia is not as well known, certainly not as developed as some of the other luxury brands in Asia,' says series director Ian Geekie.

Choy agreed, saying that despite the brand's status as one of the world's top luxury brands, many people in this region are unfamiliar with the brand. Choy said he thought the series would bring attention to the cars in both Hong Kong and the mainland.

Geekie, who is also involved in many of the other Asian racing series, was approached by Aston Martin to start a series after the company decided to further expand into the East Asia and China. According to Geekie, there has also been interest from Japan and Brazil.

'It's an eclectic mix,' he says. 'I think the brand itself is evocative, the races we're offering are attractive and Aston Martin have never done this before. It's the first time in the world.'

The series, whose provisional schedule runs from March through to November, will support the Japan and Sepang Super GT races as well as the Singapore and Shanghai Formula One races.

Although this is the first one-make Aston Martin series, the company is involved with numerous racing series, including British GT, the American Le Mans Series and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where they finished in fifth place this year.

On Tuesday, the company unveiled a new design studio in Gaydon, intending to improve design quality and increase its production numbers from the 7,000 cars it produces each year. Last year, 30 Aston Martins were sold in Hong Kong, but there has been an increase in demand from East Asia and other wealthy customers in Russia and South Africa.

Earlier this week, the company announced that their flagship model, the DBS, would be used in the next James Bond film.

The series is planned for 18-20 cars, with the majority being owner/driver teams, if only for a lack of professional racing drivers in Asia. However, Geekie said he was unwilling to declare the series as one that catered to gentleman drivers. He said it was too early to define which teams and drivers would sign up for the series.

'It's open to all,' Geekie said.