We’ve already reported on the decision by Aston Martin to relaunch the Lagonda brand with the daring Vision concept at the Geneva auto show, but we’ve also spoken to company CEO Andy Palmer about his longer-term plans for what is now a luxury-EV maker. For a start, he said, we should not see Lagonda as a direct rival to Britain’s other long-established top-flight sedan makers, although Palmer is keen to emphasize that Lagonda has a history longer than that of even Aston Martin.
The luxury market today, he said, is “defined by Rolls-Royce and Bentley with the three-box sedan, and also by the growth of the luxury-SUV market in their area,” Palmer told us when we spoke to him about the new car in the United Kingdom. “Today, what you have is a duopoly. They each to a large extent follow the way the other does their business. Personally, I don’t think the world needs another luxury three-box sedan, so we need another way to address the customer. Which means picking a customer who is slightly on the peripheries of that group. What we’ve done is look toward a slightly younger customer, somebody who is environmentally aware but nevertheless wealthy.”
Palmer reckons that this is a group of buyers, including many affluent technology players, who are not being served by the established luxury market. “Look at Tesla sales,” he said. “Almost all Model S [cars] are fully spec’d, so there’s clearly not a wealth constraint there. It’s people wanting to have what is perceived as a green car . . . Today they are not buying Rolls-Royces or Bentleys. They are buying fully spec’d Teslas or something else that expresses their greenness.”
But while hemp-wearing entrepreneurs are a part of the mix, an equally important market is Asia—especially China, where deep electrification is already being planned. In January, Aston announced that it intends to invest the equivalent of $830 million into China over the next five years, with Palmer saying the plan is to invest much of that in electrical powertrain development.
“If you want to sell cars in China benefiting from [state] grant aid, you have to fit batteries that are predominantly made in China,” he explained. “But the second side is that China is creating itself as a leader in EVs and has a very promising supply base. I am very interested in the possibility of sourcing parts for Lagonda from China, which is not a traditional supply base of ours.”
While the production version of the Aston Martin DBX will eventually come with an EV powertrain, the Lagonda will be the first pure-electric model sharing that platform. Palmer has previously said he thinks that up to a quarter of the company’s total sales will be EVs by 2030, with Lagonda likely to form the bulk of that.
The first Lagonda will be a sedan, “although not like any other sedan you’ve seen before,” and Palmer said we should expect it to go on sale after the launch of the DBX crossover in 2020, around the same time the company introduces the mid-engined supercar that is set to sit below the Valkyrie in the corporate hierarchy. This will then be replaced by a bigger SUV, which will be sold for a year or so before another model follows.
“We won’t do two cars at the same time,” Palmer explained. “It will go sequentially simply because it will have to. We don’t have the capacity to do two at the same time. Where we start the education of the market is with the sedan.”
Although the Lagonda Vision concept hints at a highly autonomous future, featuring a fold-away steering wheel and front seats that can rotate to face the rears, that will come some time beyond the date when the first Lagonda goes on sale.
“Autonomy is an interesting debate,” Palmer said. “I think where we are as a company is that the application of Level 0, Level 1, and part of Level 2 is as a driver’s aid—a good thing. But what we’re really against is Level 3 [conditional automation], on the basis that you’re implying a level of autonomy that doesn’t really exist, and the handback [from car to driver] can go one of two ways. Either “We’re going to crash, back to you, mate!” or the car stops itself.
“I think we would rather step from Level 2 straight to Level 4 and avoid the gray zone in between,” Palmer said. “However, Level 4 probably comes after the initial launch of Lagonda. I see it as being more a mid-2020s type of technology.”
Lagondas will be designed with higher-level autonomy in mind, so they will feature lidar sensors as well as radars and cameras, with the implication being that—as with Tesla—greater capability will be rolled out as it is developed. The first production Lagonda is still three years away, but it is already causing waves in its rarefied part of the industry.