By on February 5, 2014

At a business function in London in 1968, David Brown was approached by an old contact and friend, who asked him if it would be possible as a favour to purchase a new DB6 at cost price. It was common knowledge that sales were going through a slow patch at the time.

David Brown replied that he would be delighted to oblige, and several days later the friend received an invoice for £1000 more than the published list price for the car. Embellished story or not, it is certainly true that in this era, craftsmanship took priority over profit.

That’s the legend of Aston Martin, straight from the company website. You can’t beat it; it positively drips with British charm. There’s Sir David Brown himself, the brilliant and driven man who combined hereditary wealth and self-made ambition. There’s the clubby atmosphere of Ye Olde England, neatly evoked with the image of an old school or business “chum” asking a “favour”. The Kamm-tailed DB6 itself, the deliberate evolution of the mass-market popularized DB5 into something a bit more refined and interesting. The anecdote ends with the brilliant revelation that Brown lost money on each one! What could be more fascinating, more desirable, more wonderful than a monstrously expensive automobile that still lost money for its maverick namesake? It’s a brilliant, lovely, immensely charming tale — and it might even be true.

Those days, however, are long gone. Thanks to the recent news of Aston’s accelerator pedal recall, we all now know that the legend of David Brown’s labor of love was long ago replaced by a Chinese-manufacturing nightmare straight out of the Banksy-directed opening for “The Simpsons”. Corners were cut. Profit was maximized. Mistakes, as they say, were made. And now comes the reckoning.

Some time ago, I wrote about disposable luxury in the context of Porsche’s current product lineup. At the time, I cited the Hublot “Big Bang” as the ultimate in luxury ephemera, meaningless cost without quality, prestige without provenance, flash without substance. The current lineup of Aston Martin products, however, gives Hublot a run for its (considerable) money.

The older I get, the more I fret about the distinction between fake and real. Note that I didn’t use a word like “authentic”; that will take you down a hipster rabbit hole where you end up deliberately consuming the worst junk of a previous era because it is somehow “genuine”. Real is a proper enough word for what I seek. It will suffice. With regards to products, it simply means that you are getting what is promised — by the marketing, the promotion, the brochure, the legend, the rumor, the image, whatever. If that is the case, then I consider the item “real”. Otherwise, it’s “fake”.

Examples. If you buy a chicken from a local farmer, kill it yourself, and eat what you cut out of it, that’s real. A Chicken McNugget is mostly fake, filled with (admittedly tasty) junk. Rolex, for all their arrogance and ridiculous advertising and deliberately constrained production, is real. They make their own movements or openly use a supplier’s, the firm’s ownership is descended from the founders, and the manufacture of the watches is undertaken in-house. The quick-bake “reboot” watchmakers, from Hublot to Bovet, are mostly fake. They sell deliberately obscured mystery-meat products with a frosting of sickeningly sweet prestige marketing and faux exclusivity.

In the world of clothing, Kiton is real and Kenneth Cole is fake. One company produces what it sells; the other farms out generic designs to dimly viewed overseas production facilities. As expensive as a Kiton jacket or suit might be, it’s easy to see where the cost comes from: high-end materials sewn by Europeans earning a living wage. With Kenneth Cole, the price mostly reflects the expense of marketing the product, which arrives in containers from Asia at a cost that, compared to the in-store retail, is essentially negligible.

For most of its existence, Aston Martin was an automaker whose reality, if you will, was beyond question. Owned by people like David Brown and Victor Gauntlett, the firm produced Astons in an inefficient but admirable fashion. To the people who believe that a product is valuable in proportion to the effort lavished upon it, there was nothing quite like an Aston Martin, unless that something was a Bristol. Even Ford’s purchase of Aston Martin seemed vaguely aristocratic, connected as it was with the introduction of the splendid and ambitious Vanquish. True, the V-12 seemed to have some relation to the Ford Contour, and the engines came out of the Cologne plant that was once infamous for (under)powering the Mustang II, but wasn’t that a traditional aspect of British engineering, making do?

The DB7 was probably the first warning sign. Not because it was a “Jag in drag”. Quite the contrary, that was the kind of lash-up which gave us GM transmissions in the Silver Shadow and Japanese electronics on Triumph motorcycles. Needs must when the devil drives, and all that. Rather, it was the subcontracted assembly that rankled, the idea that this junior Aston was really an Aston in name and appearance only, that “real” Astons still came from Newport Pagnell and the DB7 came from Bloxham. The DB7 could have been sold by another company under another name, had that firm been first with the money. It wasn’t engineered in-house, it wasn’t built in-house, it shared almost nothing with its predecessors. The whole thing felt just a little too clean-sheet, like a recently de-pledged fraternity house re-colonizing with a bunch of people who wouldn’t have made in through the last rush.

When Ford found itself overdrawn at the luxury bank, Aston was shuffled off to a coalition of anonymous investors, mostly Kuwaiti fellows apparently. The Newport Pagnell plant was shuttered in favor of the clean-sheet Gaydon facility, cranking out an indecent number of V8 “Vantages” every day. The average transaction prices of the cars dropped, even with high-end fluff like the DBS and the One-Whatever for the oil-rich markets.

If you’ve been watching faux-luxury brands of all types over the past twenty years, you know what had to happen next. There was a publicity barrage, of course. James Bond found himself back in an Aston Martin in a product-placement tie-up that was as depressing and morbid as the movie surrounding it. As the actual cost of producing Astons fell through the floor, dozens of them appeared in press fleets. I don’t attend Aston events but I have enough autojourno friends on Facebook who are friendly with the company to be frankly shocked at the kind of press program they have. It’s the sort of program you can only have when you’re swimming in cash and the product doesn’t cost very much money behind the scenes. There are full-page advertisements in luxury publications, watch tie-ins, an endless parade of the sort of frippery that would have made David Brown’s old chum turn his nose up in unfeigned disgust. All of it costing substantial sums that seem difficult to easily distribute among even the Vantage-inflated sales numbers of today.

Now we see how it was done. How the press programs got so massive and indiscriminate, how the advertisements became so pervasive, how the publicity machine seemed to have limitless juice. In a sadly ironic reversal of the David Brown story, it would appear that the “cost” of modern Astons has been substantially reduced below retail through the introduction of lowest-bidder Chinese components, right down to the second-most-important interface between the driver and his $200,000-plus Aston DB-Whatever: the accelerator pedal.

There’s nothing expensive about an accelerator pedal. Toyota and Honda don’t even bother to have them made in China; American suppliers like the infamous CTS knock ‘em out for pennies. Surely there was a facility in the UK that could have made them cheaply, that would have been accountable for flaws, that wouldn’t use “counterfeit plastic”, whatever that is. What level of cost-cutting could possibly be going on when it’s necessary to use a cheaper grade of plastic in a part, just to win the bid for an Aston Martin contract? Now that the Toyota Camry’s CTS pedal has been cleared of wrongdoing despite being constructed without bushings to save cost, couldn’t Aston have used those? Isn’t a pedal designed to be profitably installed in a $17,000 Toyota good enough for a DBS?

No, it wasn’t. It was too good. Aston Martin, the luxury prestige brand that launched a thousand Robb Report advertisements, needed something cheaper and worse than what a Camry gets. Consider the numbers: 17,500 cars affected. How much money was saved by going to China? It couldn’t be ten dollars a pedal, because I doubt a CTS pedal costs ten dollars. Retail on some CTS pedals is under sixty, after all. Perhaps it was five. That’s a savings of under $100,000 over a production run of cars with a likely total price of $2,187,500,000 or more.

To put that in perspective, a back-cover ad in the Robb Report costs about $45,000. So for the price of two back-page advertisements — or, rather, to make two back-page advertisements feasible — Aston’s current ownership knowingly compromised the cars. And only the most optimistic fool on Earth would think the accelerator pedals was the only parts where this kind of devil’s bargain was made.

Saving money on parts so you can buy full-page ads or send compliant journalists to Europe is the accepted way to build and promote “luxury brands”. Expecting anything else is probably naive. Yet it needs to be said — must be said — that Aston Martin was once better than that. A Chinese accelerator pedal and a full-steam assault on the media might be the modern way, it might be the MBA way, it might be the shadowy Kuwaiti investor way. But it wasn’t the Aston way. It wasn’t David Brown’s way. It’s the triumph, yet, again, of the fake over the real. Which makes it a tragedy for anyone who might ever purchase an Aston Martin, and for all of us who never will, too.

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137 Comments on “There Once Was A Dream That Was Aston Martin...”


  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    There is nothing wrong with the DB7. It is similar to Rolls-Royce and Bentley sharing parts/platforms.

    • 0 avatar
      twotone

      A beautiful classic car. However, the back says 1960′s Mustang rather than Aston Martin to me. And, the automatic transmission!

      I love the “Positive Earth” on the tach. You can trust the Brits to do everything backwards.

  • avatar

    My god, you could have summed this up with less comparison paragraphs! We get it already.

    The older Martin’s were a blast to drive. The newer ones are too god damn big and bloated, but still fun. The ownership upkeep is ridiculous for those of us not in the 1%. Did I mention they’re too god damn big?

    Oh, and I like my Hublot, thank you very much.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Consider the story regarding Irv Gordon’s 1966 Volvo P1800 and now it has held up over the years and miles (as well as other ones of that era), and then contrast it with any Aston Martin built in the last 8 years or so.

    • 0 avatar
      Otterpops

      Would you like it as much if they didn’t advertise, and if you’d paid something close to what it actually cost to make?

      I’m not sure you understood what this article was about.

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        I thought it was obvious, cost cutting for the sake of profit yet relying on and projecting the image of old world craftsmanship to justify the pricing essentially making a mockery of the word “bespoke” ( I/wonder if AM uses that word in their advertising and press releases?).

    • 0 avatar
      ellomdian

      No, but seriously – why? Why do you love your Hublot?

      Is it because you spent a lot of money on it? Because I can’t really see very many good reasons outside of the conspicuousness of the consumption to go for the Hublot. Even Richard Mille has fans in the horology world, but Hublot’s seem to be very much sold to people who 15 years ago would have bought an ostentatiously fancy Rolex. When the signature owner of your watch is Bernie Ecclestone, you should probably just kill your brand and start over – god knows it’s easy enough to fool people with money as long as you can track down an old name and spoof the heritage…

      While you might not consider yourself in that elusive 1% club, you are insinuating that you have driven a variety of cars that 99% of the people on this forum will have been lucky to have sat in, that one time.

      And as long as you are on the rant about comparisons – cheaping out on engineering in your Aston is like putting pot-cast parts in your timepiece; Aston (much like Bentley) has re-positioned itself as a new-money lifestyle brand at the expense of decades of earned image. Great for the bottom line for a few quarters, really bad for the long term health of a ‘prestige’ brand.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      You could have summed up your post in one sentence! “My reading comprehension is poor and I like overpaying for crap.”

  • avatar

    This should have been an Avoidable Contact.

    My one drive in a V8 Vantage was a huge letdown. The car felt like Chinese junk in a fancy wrapper. A Jag XK or F-Type does it better for half the price.

  • avatar

    I wanna be like James Bond. I don’t care about the more powerful models that cost less. I want a DBS (or whatever Bond drives at any given moment)

    • 0 avatar
      krayzie

      Yea and just like James Bond you probably want to wear a Swatch I mean an Omega with an ETA movement filled with cheap Chinese parts as well.

      • 0 avatar

        Actually, I have 2 Citizen Skyhawk (Atomic times), 1 Citizen Skyhawk Navihawk (Blue Angels) and one Omega Speedmaster Professional (Moonwatch) which my Grandfather gave me when I turned 30.

        • 0 avatar
          Piston Slap Yo Mama

          I wear my uncle’s beat up Timex. He fought in the Pacific theater in WWII and later helped rebuild Japan. I’m named after him. He kicked major ass and despite being an enlisted man, he commanded the respect of high ranking officers. That watch is imbued with meaning and significance – not lame consumerism and meaningless look-at-me bling. I’m sure if you saw it on my wrist you’d jump to conclusions about my place in society.
          You’d be wrong.

          • 0 avatar
            Otterpops

            Even a new Timex is “real” the way this editorial means. It’s a relatively cheap, durable, and keeps good time. It is sold entirely on this basis; it does not pretend to be anything else.

            Luxury goods, including some “swiss” watches, made in China (sometimes just as well as they were made in Europe) for a fraction of the cost of the traditional production, being sold for vastly more than they actually cost to make, and vastly more than functionally identical items made in the same factories but with Chinese brands on them…those are NOT “real.” The only value added by the luxury brand, the only benefit you’re buying with the extra money you spend, is psychological. In that sense, even an acknowledged fake luxury item is more “real” than the genuine article.

          • 0 avatar

            My grandfather and uncle were Marines in the Korean war.

            I kept his shotgun and a 1911 pistol.
            Also have some of his gear including an 8-Track.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I’d love an Omega (prob a Seamaster) but they are so damn expensive. I stick to my Orients and have another Rado automatic coming.

          This gold filled (cheap) Seamaster I was watching did $451.00 being sold by a pawn with no service history (albeit with a box and new strap)
          http://www.ebay.com/itm/331118186640?ssPageName=STRK:MEBIDX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1426.l2649

        • 0 avatar
          krayzie

          I wasn’t joking about the crappy parts in modern ETA movements, didn’t know until The Swatch Group in Bienne couldn’t manage to service my 20 years old Valjoux 7765 chronometer Tissot properly with new replacement parts (I did not make this up, Swatch is now offering to buy back my watch that they have destroyed). Now my daily beater in recent years has been a modern Grand Seiko. Nice to know the Japanese still knows a thing or two about real quality, but don’t expect any respect coming from the dude next to you wearing an assembly line mass produced modern Rolex (before you say I made this up too, go read it up on WatchTime).

      • 0 avatar
        racer-esq.

        Do you know any issues with ETA movements or are you just making up things? My understanding is they are the Hydra-Matics of the watch world.

        Not that anyone should pay $10K plus for an ETA movement in an ugly, poorly made case (e.g. Big Bang).

        • 0 avatar
          krayzie

          I wasn’t joking about the crappy parts in modern ETA movements, didn’t know until The Swatch Group in Bienne couldn’t manage to service my 20 years old Valjoux 7765 chronometer Tissot properly with new replacement parts (I did not make this up, Swatch is now offering to buy back my watch that they have destroyed). Now my daily beater in recent years has been a modern Grand Seiko Automatic. Nice to know the Japanese still knows a thing or two about real quality, but don’t expect any respect coming from the dude next to you wearing an assembly line mass produced modern Rolex (before you say I made this up too, go read it up on WatchTime).

      • 0 avatar
        ...m...

        …hey man, if it shoots industrial-grade lasers, carries explosives, and a garrote, i don’t care if it’s pink and made by sanrio…

        …uncle piston is an awesome name, by the way, right up there with father torque…

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    Interesting article, and echoes my sentiments on exclusive cars these days. As cool as many of them are, I just can’t get that excited over them, and certainly not enough to think about scrounging up the money it would take to buy one (assuming I could, which I can’t). The performance often doesn’t back up the price, living as we do in a world where 500 hp cars can be built or bought for well under six figures. And, as Jack outlines, there isn’t an underlying quality to pay extra money for, either. More and more, anything beyond a 911 Turbo doesn’t seem to offer much other than extra cachet and maintenance expense.

    People have been trained to chase the prestige. Why spend the money for a well-built reasonably-sized house when you can have a McMansion for similar money and just pretend that you don’t hear your spouse coughing through the walls? Who questions the quality of their $100 jeans that fall apart far faster than a $30 pair of Levi’s?

    Companies will sell us what we want, and what we’re brainwashed into wanting is whatever the media machine tells us is desirable. Most people barely know what “quality” even is, and they don’t care. When it comes to cars, most people think: “1) What will my friends think of it? 2) Does it offer toys and let me slog through rush hour in reasonable comfort? 3) Can I afford the monthly payment?” #1 has by for the greatest importance, and will colour how the person feels when behind the wheel.

    The importance of quality varies by culture, I think. In North America it’s become far less important. China and Russia are similarly blinded by prestige. While German cars have fallen a long way, I think the culture in general still gets it to a large degree, as do the Swiss and Japanese.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      America is incredibly demanding of quality outside of the new rich. The kind of product reliability that is completely acceptable in Europe is appalling to “the customer is always right” Americans.

      Look at VW’s continued failure to convince Americans that its cars are worth buying, the latest being the laughable 100,000 mile ad.

      The Japanese are different, they have a unique obsession with durability and repairability. As someone that has owned Japanese, American and German cars the Japanese are at the top in terms of durability and repairability, then come the Americans, with the Germans in last place.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Reliability is only ONE measure of quality. And I would argue that as we are at the point where all cars are reasonably reliable it is not even a particularly important measure. A Camry is a perfectly decent car, but if you buy one it will be the same as the other 499,999 Camry’s Toyota flogs in the US every year. I like a little exclusivity, and some interesting touches, and yes, even a certain image. And THAT is why people will pay 3x as much for an Aston Martin as for a Corvette that will run away from it. I would rather have a car that is nice inside, has a bunch of thoughtful little touches, and drives just so, even if it costs more to buy and run. Those are more important measures of quality to me.

        Ultimately, once you are past Corolla/Camry levels, cars are about wants, not needs. And as usual, I find it highly amusing that a man who owns 2-3 Porsches is ranting about this sort of thing. So AM cheaped out on a throttle pedal and is recalling it? Who cares? Beautiful cars, if I could justify the expense I would buy one just to look at it. And at least they seem a lot less likely to burst into flame than a Ferarri.

        • 0 avatar
          racer-esq.

          And had two Phaetons. Jack is trapped in a strange place where he demands Corvette quality but is worried the fast food drive-through girls won’t think that is cool enough.

          The only thing unique about this compared to any other Aston part made in the last 40 years is that the low quality part was made in a different continent. And from what I’ve read they used to outsource the aluminium panels, back when they were hand beat, to China, so even the relationship with China is not new.

          • 0 avatar

            Corvette quality? Sorry, hahaahaa, that made me laugh way too hard. As a previous owner of 2 high-end corvettes (if you can say that), no. Nope, no, never, will Quality be in the same sentence as Corvette. Fun, yes, Not quality.

          • 0 avatar
            racer-esq.

            What years and what issues?

        • 0 avatar
          Brian E

          This gets into a discussion of market fitness and specialization, design quality, manufacturing quality, and acceptable quality levels. For many (probably most) people, a new 3-series has a perfectly acceptable quality level. A ten year old one probably does not, where a ten year old Camry probably does. The new BMW has a higher level of design quality in the material selection and driving feel, but is very likely worse in regards to long term durability.

          Design quality is hard to define, but it’s basically what JD Power is trying to measure in their initial quality surveys. It’s also highly subjective and can be distorted by brand perception and cost indicators.

          Personally, I couldn’t buy either one. As an engineer, I find it hard to stomach the idea of buying a car that’s less well engineered than I would have done if I were working on the project. I also couldn’t buy something that seems to be designed by people with no passion for driving.

      • 0 avatar
        JuniperBug

        As I said, I was referring to the culture in general. I spend considerable time in Germany and speaking with Germans, often in their native language. Trust me: Germans value quality and precision more than North Americans do.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          Their definition of quality is different. To an American something is high quality if it never needs maintenance or repair and works OK (until it doesn’t). A German expects something to perform to a higher standard even though it might need more maintenance along the way.

      • 0 avatar
        jeffzekas

        Agree with racer-esq: my grandfather was German and demanded everything be well made (he was an engineer); my brother is a mechanical engineer and laments products “made to last only a certain amount of miles before they fail”/

        • 0 avatar
          Brian E

          Having extensively dealt with Germans, Americans, and Japanese in the context of product quality, I offer these stereotypes to be taken with a heaping spoonful of salt:

          The German view is that a quality product should exude pride in the design and materials and last and perform to specification with regular care and maintenance. It is acceptable if parts break – it will eventually happen to everything, after all – as long as with prompt repair, the product can be restored to its original function.

          The American view is that the quality of the product can be analyzed and defined, and since most products will be replaced at some point, it only needs to last until its replacement period. It’s OK to reduce quality if the actual impact is negligible and it leads to cost savings. If the product lasts longer than it needs to, you spent too much time designing it and it probably costs more than it should.

          The Japanese view is that precision is key to product quality. Tolerances must be defined and narrowed as much as possible in order to create a product that is as close to the platonic ideal of the design as can be achieved.

          All of these views come with a big heaping helping of cultural pride and nationalism that can obscure glaring defects. In my opinion, the German approach can lead to too much acceptance of part failures over time, the American approach leads to acceptance of products that are lower quality than they could be because they meet the defined threshold, and the Japanese approach leads to cost and productivity problems and has also led to utter and complete failure of heavily software-based projects. The ideal combination would be a German approach to subjective quality, an American approach to design quality, and a Japanese approach to manufacturing.

          • 0 avatar
            Carzzi

            This, at least from the Japanese manufacturing tolerance pov. Recall the Mazda transmission study at Ford’s Batavia plant conducted in 1985, as recounted by Taguchi and many others.

          • 0 avatar
            wumpus

            After having worked with German electro-mechanical equipment (industrial AEG stuff), I learned to use the phrase “German Engineering” for swearing. Poor design throughout (although at least on of the critical pieces was better than US equivilant), complicated by useless parts of little utility and great likelihood of failure.

            I can’t say I’m impressed with much Japanese digital electonics (Tiawan and Korea are another story), but the attitude above certainly works with analog.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Before I even read this, and given my opinion of your last essay on this topic (which I actually forwarded to many of my friends & relatives who I believed would glean even an ounce of the metric ton of appreciation I had for it), I JUST knew it was gonna’ be fantastic.

    And it didn’t disappoint.

    Thank you, Jack.

  • avatar
    jdh

    Off topic, but most people considered Japanese electronics in Triumph motorcycles to be a huge upgrade over the original Lucas bits.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Absolutely, and the Hydra-Matic in Rolls-Royces was also an upgrade.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Jack, you’ve never dealt with vintage British motorcycles if you’re going to quibble about Japanese electrics in a Triumph. Having owned (so far) four Meriden Triumphs, one Small Heath Triumph, and three Hinckley (current) Triumphs; going to Japanese electrics was the second best improvement they could make to the bikes. The first being an engine that didn’t date back to the late 1930′s.

      I’ve still got one of my Hinckley machines, a ’95 Trident with 115k on the clock and only one major repair in the nineteen years – a sprag clutch failure in the starter. And I’ll have it for another 50k, at least.

      About ten years ago at a Triumph gathering, downing more than a few pints with some of the old Hinckley crew, I got the story that in late ’88 when the design was finalized various suppliers were invited to bid on the bits that the factory wasn’t going to make themselves (electrics, instruments, controls, etc.). Lucas showed up to bid, and was immediately shown the door. The parting comment was, “We can’t afford to have your stuff on our bikes.”

      • 0 avatar
        JuniperBug

        The way I read it, Jack was doing the opposite of quibbling over the addition of Japanese electronics in British bikes.

        • 0 avatar
          Jack Baruth

          Correct.

        • 0 avatar
          MK

          I think you should re-read it, he’s stating that the act of adding more reliable electricals to the machine makes it “less real” and being stranded by “real” electrics from Blighty is part of the “experience” of owning British equipment in “Your Authentik Ownership Experience” (TM).

          I have no real opinion on Astons, they’re sexy as hell but the last generation looked a bit too much like my buddy’s Jag and how are you gonna get the panties to drop with that?? Plus I’m a cheapskate and can’t tolerate unreliable crap cars that need constant repairs without offering at least something of value to me, the customer.

          The same with watches and whatever other luxo-dreck impresses the goofballs on South Beach. Everything is outsourced at some level, if the quality sucks (old school definition of quality – a product meeting customer expectations) but people still buy it, the quality doesn’t suck.

          Honestly if they had used Toyota accelerator pedals and it was found out, you can rest assured some goofball on a forum would make it his goal in life to whinge and moan about it.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            This appeal to tradition only goes so far.

            I haven’t seen a rumble seat on a car in ages. Am I being cheated out of an authentic automotive experience because my car doesn’t have wooden spoke wheels or a magneto or a shifter mounted on the running boards?

            The idea that authenticity is defined by whatever was going on when we were two years old can only take us so far. I’m not thrilled with cheap Chinese components, either, but the old days had their problems, too.

          • 0 avatar
            JuniperBug

            MK: So you’re disagreeing with both me and the original author, about what the author actually meant?

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            >> a bit too much like my buddy’s Jag and how are you gonna get the panties to drop with that??

            Just get a really cute dog. Works better than any car.

          • 0 avatar
            MK

            Juniper – Ahso it is, then I must blame the IPA and speed reading, as long as we’re good with Japanese electrics and Brit bodies then all is right in the world.

            And mcs- I tried that (yorkie) but I can’t still cant get the mrs to wear panties.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            KAMAZ Trucks (made in Russia).

            Discuss.

    • 0 avatar
      Ron

      There was a reason why Lord Lucas was known as “the Lord of darkness”.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    You’re very likely right when you say that this isn’t only happening with accelerator pedals. The problem is not the potential increase in unit cost on this one part; it’s what would happen to their cost if they didn’t count pennies on ALL of their parts. All cars are engineered to a cost, and rather than accept a higher cost than they were expecting or engineer to use an off the shelf design, Aston chose to play games with their supply chain.

    I’d put forth the proposition that modern automobiles are too complex to be “real” in the way you’re describing. They are either mass produced in ways that are designed to allow multiple suppliers to interchangeably produce any component of the car (all the better to reduce supply chain risk) or they share major components with some existing mass-produced car (ala Toyota engines in Lotuses). Any attempt to avoid parts-sharing with a more pedestrian model will result in the type of supply chain stupidity we’re seeing here. Parts sharing is not a panacea either. As part of the Ford umbrella Aston probably had at least some input on design and EOL scheduling; when riding on someone else’s design, you have to accept their decisions on design and availability.

    In most markets, the sweet spot for product quality is in the middle of the volume market. When you stray too far from that sweet spot in the direction of higher cost, it’s unlikely that the manufacturer has sufficient volume to ensure the quality of their production or process. In the lower cost direction, the manufacturer is more likely to make product quality tradeoffs to cut cost. In either case the failure modes are remarkably similar. That’s not to say that a more expensive product might not be better, but it’s unlikely to be the more consistent experience across multiple units. I can’t count how many bad meals I’ve had at expensive, supposedly high quality restaurants; on the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad meal at a Chipotle. With complex technological products, the situation is even worse due to the prohibitive cost of truly bespoke production and engineering.

    Volvo and Mazda executives have often talked about the challenges of trying to play in the global auto market at their current volumes, which are several orders of magnitude greater than Aston’s volume. Almost all of their competition is affiliated with one of a small handful of global automotive giants. Aston needs to find a supply chain partner for these mundane parts ASAP, and start focusing on one or two core areas of expertise instead of trying to manage manufacturing of its own accelerator pedals.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      You make a very compelling argument. It’s easy to underestimate the impact of economies of scale on unit cost. When you intend to produce millions of a product – say accelerator pedals – the cost of engineering, tooling, and developing a supply chain can be spread out much, much more. There is a reason why you’ll see bespoke sports cars with what seem like less refined parts than what you’ll find in mass-produced cars.

      In the end, you wind up paying more for exlusivity, but not necessarily getting more quality in that bargain. Or else, you get a car like the McLaren F1, which by all accounts was an extremely high quality, exclusive product, but cost an absolutely obscene amount of money.

      I wonder what prices would be like if there were a greater demand for quality products outside of the car world. If everyone demanded quality houses, for example, economies of scale would conspire to produce quality building supplies and processes for less money, instead of the stick-framed houses which are ubiquitous in North America but all but unknown in much of Western Europe. Unfortunately, the market favours the lowest common denominator, and our culture is trained to chase “cheap exclusivity,” without realizing that it’s an oxymoron.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Brian E, this is a brilliant comment.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      With a global market, one automaker can’t afford to be too inefficient while the competitors aren’t.

      The boutique brands with lower prices, such as Saab, could not survive in such an environment. Firms such as Aston barely get by, and will make even less sense as time goes on.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      Aston is ~5% owned by Daimler AG, which is supposed to be its supply chain partner.

      • 0 avatar
        Brian E

        Daimler? I think I see the problem here!

        Seriously, it’s not enough just to have a partner on a few things. You have to know what you’re good at and get EVERYTHING else from the partner where possible.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Exactly right. And ultimately THIS is why even though my old Range Rover cost $76k when it was new 13 years ago, it is not as well made as a $20k Camry. To be made like a Camry, it would have cost $250k. People have this completely false expectation that more expensive equals more reliable, when really the opposite has nearly always been true.

      The tiny niche manufacturers have nothing like the r&d and testing budgets of a Toyota.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The exotic cars are also something closer to handmade. Handmade is great for cake and pie, but it is far from ideal for automotive reliability.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          Even for cake and pie, handmade is going to result in some GREAT pies, and some bad pies. Mass production results in mostly good pies, but no great ones and only a few bad ones.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            If it’s handmade, then the individuals who make it will probably have a great deal of influence over the result (which is why you don’t want to eat a cake that I’ve baked.) And even the good ones will make the occasional mistake.

            Lean production can be great, because it’s consistent. But because it’s produced in large volumes, the product will probably be made to appeal to the middle, not to the most enthusiastic. Enthusiasts are just a tiny minority.

      • 0 avatar
        racer-esq.

        The beigemobile Camry is not the only high quality car out there. Toyota also makes the 4Runner and Land Cruiser in much smaller quantities than the Camry but still bulletproof. And the Range Rover had a lot of volume, especially combining the Discovery that the Range Rover shared its platform with. Mazda makes the Miata absolutely bulletproof as a small manufacturer with relatively small volume for that car.

        Volume plays a factor in quality, but there are clearly other factors.

        What’s really impressive is how much failure LR/RR engineered into solid front and rear axle body on frame trucks with pushrod V8s. The most easy design to build durably. I really wanted to get a stickshift Discovery, but when I did research I was shocked at all the issues people have with old Discos.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          Lean production scales well. It makes it possible to build in small or large volumes with the same levels of assembly quality.

          If TMC could figure out how to replicate German suspension tuning and the nuances of German styling, Lexus could own the world. I’m surprised that they haven’t figured those out yet.

          • 0 avatar
            krayzie

            That latest promo on the new Lexus IS with the chief engineer says TMC is doing exactly that lol! Hoep they don’t replicate the reliability of the Germans tho!

          • 0 avatar
            05lgt

            PCH, have you driven the newer GS and IS? The Germans had to slip some, but the suspension tuning seems matched or bettered to me.

          • 0 avatar
            Otterpops

            Unfortunately that also means that fuckups scale well.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          Toyotas truck production is orders of magnitude higher than Land Rovers. And they STILL have massively deeper pockets from the sales of all those Camrys and Corollas to draw from. And a huge parts bin, and all the other advantages of being a full line gigantic manufacturer. Land Rover could not even afford to replace their ancient Buick-based V8 until BMW bought them out.

          After years of record sales increases, JLR combined sales last year reached 400k, which is what Toyota sells in JUST Corollas in JUST the United States every year.

        • 0 avatar
          Brian E

          The most closely guarded secrets in any manufacturing industry concern quality. Nobody shares. You learn it as you go and if you’re very lucky it’s written down within your company. If you’re not lucky, when the one person who has accumulated all the wisdom of the years decides to retire (or worse leave for a competitor), you get to learn those lessons all over again.

          Toyota makes an awful lot of cars. That means that they’ve learned an awful lot of lessons that they can apply even to lower volume products, in addition to the benefit of still being able to share a large number of parts. Everyone likes to rag on them for their recent troubles, but for the most part they’re attributable to a combination of software quality problems (which is a totally different problem space!) and design quality reductions designed to reduce cost first and foremost. To further my culinary analogy, they decided to go from Chipotle to McDonalds quality and hope nobody could tell the difference. People could. Lesson learned, hopefully.

          • 0 avatar
            mike978

            “If TMC could figure out how to replicate German suspension tuning and the nuances of German styling, Lexus could own the world. I’m surprised that they haven’t figured those out yet.”

            TMC just need to get Mazda driving dynamics and exterior styling then they would be set.

      • 0 avatar
        wumpus

        GM and Ford had greater budgets for years. Only Toyota prized “appliance virtures” above all else. Well, until Hyundai included a warranty that caused the bean counters to demand reliability above all else.

    • 0 avatar
      Otterpops

      It isn’t just about what the car IS, it’s about what it is sold as. If something is sold based on a myth of handmade individual expert craftsmanship but it’s built by the same robots and or sweatshop labor as items sold as mass produced, mass-market costing one tenth as much, it’s “fake.”

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    So save your money and buy a SRT-8 Chrysler because chances are it has higher quality components.

    Got it. Thanks for the heads up. I can cross Aston Martin (except for an actual DB9) off my “Lottery List”.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    I understand that hype and glitz are what sell today, but in all fairness most real Aston Martins stopped serving as transportation sometime in the ’70s. I had a friend whose parents had a V8 Volante in the ’80s. It would have taken an F1 team to keep it running long enough to put on 25K miles. Lagondas were infinitely more complex than that car. Another friend had me hunting for a Virage several years ago. He was intrigued by their tremendous depreciation. The only ones on the market at the time that had more than a few miles had complete engine rebuilds by 40K. They may be useless for different reasons now than then, but there are reasons that only the David Brown era cars are valuable.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Ultimately, the DB cars are pretty terrible as cars too. The six is underpowered and fragile, they rust horribly, and the handle like trucks by most accounts. They are valuable because they are very, very, very pretty, and the James Bond connection. A Jensen Interceptor is a better car than a DB5 or DB6 in most ways. A Jaguar xke is a massively better car for MUCH less money then or now, but too common to get the huge bucks. Exclusivity has always been very expensive.

  • avatar
    MeatLock

    Great read, especially the beginning concerning what is ‘real’ and what is ‘fake’, as the quality that goes into a product is something that I care much more about rather than the brand that is on the front.

    What was most important to read regarding this story – which is making the rounds on many car and non-car related websites – is that in all the years covered by the recall, 75% of Astons sales amounted to 17.590 cars. I have gotten into over the past few years trying to find car sales and production totals for vehicles, and besides the Aston Martin’s historical section on their website, a breakdown of annual sales for each model has so far been impossible to find (if someone has this info, or can pass a link to it, I would very much appreciate it).

  • avatar
    James2

    Speaking of Bond, how does one explain that, at least in Skyfall, the DB5 is actually older than Daniel Craig?

    • 0 avatar
      gmichaelj

      As the Bond “franchise” never says never (or perhaps will die some other day), I think we have to go with a philosophy of either forgetting about earlier stories, or we have to adopt an Archer like perspective where 50′s mainframe computers exist next to iPhones and brand new El Caminos.

      • 0 avatar
        kmoney

        Skyfall does actually allude to the fact that the Bonds are the same person. Bond’s wife’s (from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”) headstone is next to his parent’s when they pan over the graves in final scenes at the Skyfall estate.

        I guess if the man can remain in his early 40′s for slightly over half a century the car may be also be blessed with the same powers.

  • avatar
    kars

    so what cars do you (anybody) think deleiver the real deal?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    “A Chinese accelerator pedal and a full-steam assault on the media might be the modern way, it might be the MBA way, it might be the shadowy Kuwaiti investor way. But it wasn’t the Aston way. It wasn’t David Brown’s way.”

    Right, but Aston Martin was continually broke in this time, as I recall.

    Just sayin’.

  • avatar

    I’m not going to disagree with you, but I’m going to put on my Serious Business Person hat and say that it’s hilarious that the two examples of car companies doing things the ‘real’ way either went out of business (Bristol) or nearly went out of business (old Aston Martin).

    The inefficient, traditional, honorable way does not always keep the doors open at the factory.

    This is fine and dandy for car enthusiasts who would happily cheer their favorite carmaker to the grave and then mourn its passing (Saab comes to mind), but it’s not exactly great for prospective buyers. Who wants to buy a car, when you’re not sure if the company will be around in a year or two? Look at Fisker for that kind of drama.

    I’m not saying that there’s no way to do business doing things the right way, that there’s no room for a Rolex in the car industry (Pagani is still trucking along, for instance), but don’t forget that urging a company to stay traditional may be urging it to fail.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Better for a company to fail in tradition than succeed in logic

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Saab is a bit of a special case though. It died of neglect. GM took the best that they had to offer then starved them of funds Until they were no longer a viable business at all. Saab circa 2000-2003 had very competitive and compelling product with a slight pricing problem. Ten years later they had the very same product with a huge pricing problem.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I have no quibble with the idea that the new way leads to problematic quality and hollow exclusivity.

    I just don’t think the old way was any better, and in most cases it would have been even worse. Do you really think that a DB6 wouldn’t have had ten components fail just as unjustifiably as this pedal assembly? You know it would have. The Camry of the time (most likely an Accord) would have been better built and more reliable, just the same way today’s is.

    You’re not actually looking for “real.” You’re just looking for high quality. And you’ll usually find it in the mass-market products by manufacturers that have internalized the benefits of quality. You’ll almost never find it in the “real” stuff, no matter how much the craftsmen slave over it.

    This is why I feel “meh” about a 458 Italia; can appreciate Porsches to a degree; but would probably make bankruptcy-inducing financial decisions to get an updated recreation of a NSX.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Rolex vs Timex. Which keeps better time and lasts longer for much less money and maintenace.? Which is cooler, makes you feel good and impresses the “right” crowd?

      One is not wrong and the other right. Personally, I could not care less about watches or shoes, but my BMW makes me smile where a Camry makes me wish I was driving something else, and ultimately that is what matters. I don’t care if it has a crappy electric water pump that will need replacing at 80k.

      • 0 avatar
        jeffzekas

        My BMW made me cry every time I wrote a check for $1,000 which is why I shall never own another. Sorry, but $4,000/yr for maintenance is a little to much for a smile.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          If you are spending $4k a year you are doing it wrong. Maybe in a single bad year, but certainly nowhere near consistently. Plus by the time you are spending money on maintenance it should be paid for.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    I once asked a Cadillac salesman why GM puts a $1 jack in a $50,000 car.

    He replied, “Because they ran out of 50¢ ones.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    Still it’s a beautiful car and if I had 6 figures to blow on a car I’d love to give it a proper go.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    It seems to me that the Aston Martin is real, since the company that has the rights to the name is producing the car, it’s the accelerator pedal that’s fake. The Chinese manufacturer said they were made with “real” DuPont plastic when in reality the were made with an inferior plastic.

    Now if you want to talk about value or quality, well it be best to look at Mercedes-Benz, because from this point forward Aston Martins will pretty much be made with mostly MB components

    … and Bentleys are VWs, Rolls Royces are BMWs

  • avatar
    Captain_Slow

    Excellent article Jack, as usual.

    The real vs fake debate is an interesting one even if you apply it elsewhere in the auto industry.

    BMW is an interesting example, they still advertise their cars as being the “Ultimate driving machine”. Purists might say that the E30/36/46 was the last real 3 series worthy of the name, but even the E90 in excellent drivers car and undoubtedly worthy of the name. Especially when compared to its competition in the entry level luxury market. Those cars would be real.

    The F30 3-series, in contrast to either its predecessors or its current competition, is most certainly not the best drivers car in its segment, nor does it really live up to “the ultimate driving machine”.

    The same comparison can probably be made quite effectively for any number of other car brands/models.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Currently, in that segment, the Lexus IS350 is the Ultimate Driving Machine.

      It’s depressing!

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        The is350 is not even available with a manual transmission. To me that takes it right out of contention as a “driver’s car”, even if it has slightly better steering feel than a 3-series.

      • 0 avatar
        Captain_Slow

        I’ve heard a lot of good things about the IS350. I think the ATS, at least in certain trim, also deserves a mention here. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say the ATS is the only honest product Cadillac currently makes. I’ve always viewed the 3 series, at least from E30-E90 as falling along a spectrum with rawness at one end and refinement at the other. Your preference between those (and views on used car maintenance) determined which one you’d wind up driving. The ATS is definitely towards the raw end of that spectrum, and from what I’ve seen, the newest IS is more on the refinement end. The F30s I’ve seen/driven felt like they were trying to be Audis, and doing a poor job of it.

        It’s easy to take the argument too far and get into “brand purity” arguments, of the sort which you’ll find on most BMW/porsche/etc forums, but there is some truth to it. It’s an interesting argument for quite a few brands it seems. Aston, BMW, Porsche, Lincoln?, Mercedes (to an extent).

    • 0 avatar
      jaybird124

      What Captain Slow said is the nail on the head!!
      I’ve been a dyed in the wool BMW enthusiast since I was 13. I worked for them and owned almost a dozen BMWs. All the new models are complete sell outs that would have never passed as a BMW even 7 years ago. Heart Breaking.

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    As the resident status expert, this real vs fake argument is really about identity. And the better defined the identity, the more valuable the identity as a signaling device.

    For example, picture a person like the Japanese parasite single working as a secretary. She wears a Louis Vuitton handbag (one for each day of the week); wears the latest Uniqlo and Zara clothes mixed in with a few European pieces. Her makeup is M.A.C. You would be quite jarred to see her driving a Hummer H2, wouldn’t you?

    It’s jarring because it’s not expected. It’s the sign of individualism to pick and choose, but it’s also the burden of subcultures that you’re judged based on the tightness of your consumption constellation within the expected confines of your social station.

    So a hardcore biker is expected by people who don’t even like them to wear the leathers, sport the tattoos, and grow that beard out. We would dismiss the biker as a fraud if he was driving a Vespa.

    As a side note, Paul Fussell was correct in creating a category that transcends the socioeconomic system. His mistake, which was never pointed out in his lifetime, was to call it Class X (which, by the way, is the etymological origin of the cohort Generation X). He was so proud to be a member himself. Unfortunately, it’s such a nebulous term as to mean nothing. There’s no guarantee that one Class X liberal arts professor has anything in common with another Class X computer programmer who engages in base jumping.

    I know why he used the wrong label; and if you Google it, you’ll come right back to this thread because I’m the one who figured it out: Class X is the wrong term, it’s subcultures that transcend class.

    It only makes sense: subcultures aspire to be themselves, rather than upper middle class, super proles, or upper class. You’ll find subcultures from every socioeconomic group, whether it’s the cosplay otaku, skateboarder, or guitar playing club racer. They’re defined by what they like and don’t like.

    But don’t assume a subculture is totally parallel to the country’s class system. Subcultures, if anything, fall in the lower levels of a socioeconomic system. Why? Because they have so little value-add outside of their own peer cultures, just like the incarcerated and adults dependants.

    Man, I should write for a living.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Man, I should write for a living.

      Try it: Ur Turn TTAC

    • 0 avatar
      WaftableTorque

      I forgot to mention that subcultures and socioeconomic rank are analogous to Schrodinger’s cat and quantum mechanics. The cat is a thought experiment where it could be both dead and alive at the same time according to the mathematics. But once you open the door to find out if it lived or died, the answer collapses into the binary dead/alive.

      Because subcultures aspire to be themselves, everyone else is an outsider who is neither above nor below them. So they do transcend class by being unmeasurable. But once they find a real job where their income comes from providing value-add, the so-called door is opened and the entanglement of the wave function collapses back into the socioeconomic ladder.

      I better stop. I think I lost everyone at the very first paragraph.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    I am sure that under Sir David Browns patronage, Aston martin did rather well. What must also be realised is that man was a mechanical genius. And many folks here are far too young to know of the core business of David Brown ,the company. It was gears and machines for making gears.There was also a successful tractor business . Aston Martin therefore was more a tax dodge and a hobby rather than a core wealth generating exercise.
    Todays Astons come across as an English Nissan 370 ZX.

  • avatar
    azmtbkr81

    I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what a video of an ’80′s El Camino had to do with Aston Martin. It is amazing how similar the two vehicles look from the front.

    You’ve highlighted the death spiral that all brands that trade on quality are at risk of entering. No matter if out of greed of financial necessity past reputation will only float a business for so long. Once a company enters the spiral it is extremely hard to recover. Sony, Lincoln, Milwaukee Tools, and Cannondale bicycles are just a few examples of once “Premium” brands that have now fallen into big box mediocrity.

  • avatar
    cargogh

    I remember reading an article in Car and Driver about Lagondas in the 8os. The hand hammered fenders were set on linen. I guess those days are gone. But they had troublesome electrics right from the start. On the other hand, I’ve never in my life heard even one Pagani owner report a single problem.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    This is the sort of cynicism that U.S. domestic manufacturer’s engaged in, in which sales hype was more important than the actual product. Consumers were treated as dupes who would always be loyal to the brand. Decontenting is something you expect on fleet vehicles, not on premium rides like an Aston. This is rather surprising given the rise and fall of British Marques, that anyone would be foolish enough to cut corners on quality and think it wouldn’t eventually bite them.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    ‘“counterfeit plastic”, whatever that is’

    Permit me to illuminate from my professional experience (mechanical engineer) with this subject. As you know, there are thousands of grades of plastics produced my plastic mfrs all over the world.

    ‘Real’ plastics are traceable with lot codes, and comply with performance specifications found on mfr-supplied data sheets. Even the color is controlled by the resin mfr so as to maintain repeatability over years of production. ‘Real’ plastics are then molded by mfrs all over the world, including China.

    The quality of the end product depends upon good design, good molds, good processing my the molder, and the use of ‘real’ plastics. A shortcut or error in any step will ruin the end product, and it can happen anywhere in the world.

    ‘Counterfeit’ plastics have no pedigree. Such material may match your desired color, but they will not match the performance or molding specifications of the real thing. It turns out that it’s not that hard to produce plastic resin pellets that look similar to ‘real’ plastic. These ‘counterfeit’ plastics are often readily available, while ‘real’ plastics can take 8-12 weeks from a reputable supplier with high production demands.

    So when a company like Aston Martin wants to cut costs on an accelerator pedal, they find an assembly house in China who looks at the many components in it, and said assembler says sure, we can do this job. Luring Aston is the low tooling cost, which may be 20% that of a western molder. If this is really a $5-10 assembly, then Aston might have paid $$50-100k to tool it in China.

    This is when the shenanigans begin. Schedule pressures mount, and the Chinese molder is asked to hit a deadline; wishing to save face, they comply. What they don’t mention is that the specified resin was purchased from a guy down the street who happened to have black plastic available. The molder might have paid for it in cash, and it might have been delivered in a brown paper bag with no labels or other traceable markings on it. Said bag might be sitting in a moist warehouse, and the dryer which it passes through just before molding might be broken. Everybody is happy until a field failure occurs, at which point engineers get involved, plant visits are made, and the cost of quality skyrockets. Then it is sternly communicated to the low-cost mfr that yes, we really did mean it when we specified this particular plastic resin. Not only that, but we’ll be checking your work from now on, so we want a sampling plan at your end as well as ours just to make sure.

    The scenario I described above (cash transactions, paper bag deliveries, moist warehouse, broken dryer) is real – it happened just this year on one of my company’s premier products. And it continues to happen the more we outsource.

    I’m not letting Aston Martin off the hook, but it’s entirely possible that they didn’t know what was happening. Many mfrs get quality products out of China because they ask the right questions and have boots on the ground there. But it’s foolhardy to expect good parts in return for an electronic drawing package, a few e-mails, and a purchase order.

    As for cost-cutting, cheaper grades of plastic don’t achieve this, especially at Aston Martin’s volumes. They probably specified the good, expensive stuff for mfr in China. It’s the assembly labor and tooling cost that they saved on, but then someone in China probably switched the resins. And as for the bushing-less Toyota pedals: the magical properties of some plastics really can negate the need for bushings, and can even work better. I have no problem with that in principle, but any new design demands good execution.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian E

      Great post. To amplify a few points here:

      1. Tooling costs really are much lower in China. This is mostly due to the cost of the steel. Chinese manufacturers are also remarkably willing to iterate through poor initial mold design by building and scrapping several tools. What’s not as clear is whether it’s better to actually manufacture the parts halfway around the world or do it locally. Unless your tool has problems, once warmed up even a single cavity tool can produce parts quickly enough to make the amortized cost of labor negligible, and producing locally can enable you to keep a much closer watch on your quality and supply chain. You do have to have the mold put on a boat and shipped, which takes approximately forever.

      2. If you are going to manufacture in China, having “boots on the ground” as you put it is essential. You cannot run this process over the phone or with occasional visits. You also cannot run it in English. You will ask a question and get yes or no answer that can be highly misleading at best. This is partly cultural and partly due to the difficulty in nuanced real time translation.

      3. Poor planning on critical lead times is the single largest opportunity for the introduction of counterfeit components in a supply chain. When you hit a snag because you didn’t order your resin 16 weeks in advance of production, you might not be as inclined to ask questions when your subcontractor suddenly comes up with the right quantity of pre-mixed material. Even if you do ask, will you get the right answer without having someone on site to ask locally and in the right language? Don’t count on your manufacturer being willing to stand up and say “you screwed up your procurement, so not my problem”.

      4. Chances are, the elimination of the bushings in the Toyota pedals actually improved product quality. Never use two parts to do what can be done just as well with one. Abysmal software quality likely played a much bigger role: http://www.edn.com/design/automotive/4423428/Toyota-s-killer-firmware–Bad-design-and-its-consequences

    • 0 avatar
      VA Terrapin

      Interesting stuff SCE to AUX. Your explanations about your professional experiences in dealing with outsourced manufacturers are a lot more illuminating than merely reading about “Chinese-manufacturing nightmare” and “Chinese junk” from TTAC’s xenophobic lead editors.

      The one problem I don’t see explained in your post is that Aston Martin seems to have allowed this accelerator issue to go on for years before doing something about it. Why didn’t Aston Martin do something about this sooner?

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        TTAC is that I’m not really familiar with the Aston Martin case.

        If the issue was fatigue-based, it would mean that a long time could elapse before failures occur in the field. Given Aston Martin’s low volumes and low miles driven on their cars, this is entirely plausible. A small engineering staff is also likely spending their time on actual problems, rather than verifying quality through routine testing.

        We once had a custom cable connector common to all of our products receive a re-sourcing and redesign by an engineer eager to show progress. He tested exactly 3 units before this item was shipped in mass production. At its worst, we were receiving 4000 per month for repair, and this debacle eventually cost the company over $3 million in repairs, not to mention sowing bad will with our customers. Some customers got so fed up they turned to producing clones rather than have us repair them.

        We eventually fixed all the problems with a very robust design that was also very affordable, but it took two years and a small team of people to get it right.

        The morals of the story:
        1. A little due diligence goes a long way.
        2. Don’t lie to yourself. Test realistically. If the design is poor, fix it.
        3. The Fram oil filter man was right: you can pay me now, or you can pay me later.

  • avatar
    George B

    Jack, what do you think of high-end “tuners” who take a good mass-market car and convert it into a more exclusive product? For example, a Dinan BMW. It starts out as a mass produced luxury car, but it gets rebuilt as a low-volume exclusive car with performance upgrades at a high price.

  • avatar
    Tstag

    Aston have done the right thing here and recalled there cars. I have no problem with what’s happened. The wider issue for me is lack of investment in Aston. They need new cars quickly and really should get on with some of their more ambitious plans like a Lagonda SUV. I for one would welcome a Mercedes buy out. Or even a JLR merger. The current owners need to get on and do stuff

  • avatar
    ccode81

    I’ve suddenly started to love Lexus LFA after reading this article.

  • avatar
    Power6

    Very astute point about the LFA…pretty much sums it up. Even the Nissan GT-R is “real” it is truly the best its maker can craft for the price of the product. Who would have thought these mass market makes have the most true luxury product.

    I love your viewpoint but yet struggle with your angle Jack, you are a product snob always eager to bring up some obscure brand I have a Google to keep up, but yet not appearing fantastically wealthy, with fancy jackets, watches etc. How you afford such a lifestyle we’ll never know. Some of us don’t bother, my daughter gets college education and whatever else I can give her by not blowing money on luxury lifestyle, that is a way better investment to me. A watch is about the dumbest thing to spend big bucks on, because the craftsmanship buys you nothing at all. I know you have mentioned the good feelings from a handcrafted piece on your wrist but that doesn’t rate with me just smacks of wasted human productivity. My titanium Casio runs on the sun and is always in time via atomic clocks for $60.

    I’m not dumb enough to think we don’t all consume more than we need. We are here because we love cars that we want when all we need is a Corolla. A car is something you can get inside and drive, and enjoy, create great experiences. My philosophy on life is “experiences not stuff”. A watch, a designer coat, falls under jewelry, something to have, to make a statement “I can have this” or whatever it is you need to say. This is “stuff” not “experiences” so to me is of little import. Maybe if I win the lottery I will feel different, if the economics are a bit different. I can have a Rolex now if I want sure, but I don’t care one bit, that money is in the bank. I’ll trade it for a great experience any day.

  • avatar
    PenguinBoy

    In the old days, a lot of the difference between mass market and luxury products was craftsmanship. The high end products were built by more skilled craftsmen, out of better materials.

    Modern manufacturing processes are designed to reduce variability, and so these days craftsmanship has less impact on the end result.

    Modern quality standards put a lot of emphasis on properly documenting the production process so products can, in theory, be produced anywhere with the same results.

    Since there is less differentiation between the actual products, building the brand becomes more important – which leads to the “fake luxury” Jack describes here.

    Unfortunately some of the low cost producers have been squeezed so hard they make little or no money, and they are tempted to cut costs. The Aston gas pedal is one example.

    Even some of the real Aston Martins had some mass market parts in them, such as the 727 TorqueFlite on automatic models. But at least they weren’t fake TorqueFlites, and hopefully the gas pedals were supplied by a couple of skilled craftsmen working out of a shed in Shepperton…

  • avatar
    probert

    “counterfeit plastic” is a magnificent phrase.

    The question of real is an interesting one. The watch description is worth exploring. Here you have an object that has a movement that is magnificently crafted, utilizes the finest materials and costs a whole lot of cake. But it is less accurate and functional than a $20 digital seiko.

    But this is a specious argument because it doesn’t matter. The reason it doesn’t matter is that no one who owns the watch will ever look at it to tell time. Cell phones tell time via updates that generate from atomic clocks. The watch has no function other than a symbol that says ” I am rich enough to have this object that has no function”.

    Ironically as its function in the world diminishes (let’s say it is glanced at occasionally because it’s pretty, and the owner says “oh it’s 3:32″ – so it has some function) it becomes more desirable. Whereas some former luxuries – say an olivetti typewriter simply vanish.

    The same can be said of cars like an Aston: most will tiptoe from garage to garage – it is hard to think that any urbanite will park them on the street. They will be on the street for the minimum time necessary and most of that time will be at urban speeds. It’s hard to imagine an uber wealthy person using them for grand touring – for distance either a train or a plane will be the ticket (Americans: in other countries 250mph mag lev trains will get you places in cosseted luxury).

    So in an age when a decent econobox will have the performance of a super-car of the not too distant past – a car like the Aston exists for the same reason a rolex exists and that reason has no relationship to its purported function.

    Real is an interesting question.

  • avatar
    robc123

    Shouldn’t there be a renaissance in bespoke luxury?

    It seems “upscale” everything is happening, why? where is the glut of consumers for this? middle class shrinking, boomers with no money for retirement, inflation, 52% on food stamps, degrees worth nothing- when the scale moves up but the demographic shrinks- but the items are really just shiny crap- where is the money coming from?

    Fake luxury needs volume to work- real high quality does not, cannot not.

    Is this all to address the 3rd world new middle class that don’t know any better?

    • 0 avatar
      wumpus

      That bit about the 99%/1% split wasn’t just an excuse for drum circles.

      Actually, fake luxury has never needed volume to work. Volume is when it becomes “former luxry” and the status symbols move on (the money used to come in here, but don’t count on it anymore. Maybe moving from the .1% to the rest of the 1% is now “money volume”).

      As long as “branding” is what makes an item valuable, volume is just a branding/profit strategy, nothing else.

  • avatar
    96E36M3

    Well written, sir. It was pleasure to read. This is the type of auto journalism, and social criticism I find rewarding. I enjoyed the ‘british-isms’ as well. Well done.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Since you enjoyed this, make sure you read Jack’s prior essay that’s somewhat related, that he linked to within the text above.

      That essay is Exhibit A as to SunnI don’t read a single glossy, mainstream auto rag anymore, limiting myself to (for the most part) TTAC, Hooniverse & Curbside Classic.

      Some of us have grown jaded with & cynical of the “automotive press,” and all their bullish!t.

      For us, Jack cements our resistance to all things faux-and-douchey.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    I miss the Cygnet too.
    Now THAT had some solid pedals!

  • avatar
    tkewley

    I think Jack draws a very broad conclusion from a very specific failure. There are a couple more realistic conclusions to be drawn:

    – Aston didn’t do their due diligence on supplier quality, and it has bitten them in the ass;

    – The Ford-era Aston was run as a modern corporation – i.e. with the view that profit is required to keep the doors open, and reducing costs, at least in the short term, raises profits. One consequence of this is that, yes, the current V12 is essentially two 3 liter Duratecs jammed together.

    All of that said, the VH platform cars were the best engineered and highest quality Astons ever built, and by a not-insigificant margin. And that “Duratec” V12 is a far better engine than the ancient Aston inline 6, or the later (early ’70s) V8. To suggest that the David Brown era cars were somehow “better” is romantic delusion. Admittedly, in terms of pricing, they make Porsches look like a value proposition, but such is the nature of the exotic car market.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    For what it’s worth, however decontented, Aston made money for the first time since, well, the beginning(?) under Ford, and I don’t think cheap plastics from China is much less reliable than skillfully ‘handmade in a shed from a block of copper’ by a 75 year old In England. And IIRC the Duratec V6 was originally a projec started by Porsche, then finished by Ford with much help of Cosworth, so putting two of those together as a V-12for Aston makes more sense than having one of them power a mundane Mondeo.

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    If you want to talk about bogus brands, try a new Roll Royce.
    The wraitha ppealed, i thought here is a stylish car built beyond question have more than adequate power and decent handling.

    What you get its plastic doorhandles that look like art deco metal. Ugly chronme colored window switches that feel cheaper than a toytas because thyea re trying to be soemthign they are not. A choppy runflat ride which is smmoth on big bumps but shdders over mahole covers, Mas for the sake of mass. Auto door closing, which is a gimick and the switch is ergonomicaly hard to reach.

    Basicaly a 7 series in drag, and not a great 7 series at that.

    If you wnat authentic, real and hanmdmade, then you need to go to the componant car industry. Look at SPF GT40, it6s biult by hand just as Loloa did int he 60′s, look at a rossion, its performace shames so many.

    People dont buy these in droves because they dont have the Badge which is apprently necessary to convey authenticity/wealth. People also dont buy these because what counts a ag reat car, is not necersarily dynamics, but paper spec enhanced by PDK, one lap wonders like the new GT3 which is a truly cynical marketing excercose devoid of alomost everyhting that made the last GT3 so great.

    Maybe the Alfa 4c will be a real deal car. Point is most people who buy cars have no clue, they want
    “luxury” convenienbce and paper spec. Lets not forget the badge which conveys “claas heritage and taste” The manufacturers have learned how to mine Badge. My point is there are many great authentic and good cars out there, but even places like TTAc love the badge cars.

  • avatar
    Morea

    Aston Martin has an active racing program.

    Race cars are the epitome of real.

    • 0 avatar
      Otterpops

      Did the Chinese gas pedal go into the race cars?

      How real is a NASCAR-badged Monte Carlo?

      How much authenticity does Porsche’s racing program confer upon the Cayenne and Panamera?

      • 0 avatar
        Morea

        No, Not, and None to each question respectively.

        The point is that race cars are real because they are hand assembled. Each is unique. Used ones have battle scars. Some are better than others and have the trophies to prove it.

        Street cars are factory made. They are all the same. They are garage-kept and polished to within an inch of their lives. Any battle scars are from shopping carts rolling into them. They have no trophies.

        The street cars are only to raise funds for the racing program. (See the origin stories of Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Porsche, etc. each company sacrificed precious capital in their fledgeling enterprise just to go racing.)


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