Aston Martin

VW and Tesla – a match made in heaven?

ELON MUSK must be ecstatic. Having already conquered the world with Paypal, taken on NASA at the space exploration game and threatened to revolutionise mass transport with the brilliantly-named The Boring Company, he’s now got a new suitor. The world’s second biggest car company, no less.

That’s right, word on the street is that Volkswagen is interested in buying a stake in Tesla. Admittedly, Volkswagen hasn’t successfully shot one of its own cars into space but it has pulled off a few other tricks of its own – after selling 21 million Beetles and popularising the hot hatchback it’s gone on to snap up Audi, Porsche, SEAT, Skoda, Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini, along with superbike specialist Ducati and truck builder MAN. They’re behind only Toyota in the car-building stakes, and still on an upward trajectory. What’s more, they’re on the cusp of launching their own sub-brand, called ID, which focuses on zero emissions vehicles.

But owning Tesla – or at least, a bit of it – seems like an entirely smart move. Not only does it give VW access to all of the Californian start-up’s battery tech, which for years has been ahead of everyone else in the electric car game, but it also gives it access to all those Tesla-branded smart chargers you see at motorway service stations. The other day I called into Fleet Services on the M3 and saw a line of six of them sitting unused while Nissan LEAF and Mitsubishi Outlander owners were practically trading blows over the Ecotricity ones nearby, but if VW and Audi owners were able to use Tesla ones too in a few years’ time, it’d make more sense for everyone.

But I’d like to think the suits at VW are interested in what I think is something even more remarkable that’s potentially on the table; the creation of a brand’s street cred out of nowhere. Think about how long it’s taken Toyota to win over a generation of cynical Brits with Lexus, and yet in half the time there are now car mags urging you to go electric and buy a Model 3 over a 320d. The internet’s even invented its own term for someone prepared to defend Elon Musk’s offerings, even in the face of outright hostility from the rest of the motoring world – the Tesla Fanboy. That such a term – and the people behind it – exists at all just shows you how much currency the cars created by someone I’m still convinced is a real-life Bond villain have with today’s buyers.

Yet here’s the weird thing – Tesla, for all its trick gullwing doors, ability to defeat McLarens in drag races and to make cars that can drive themselves, is still struggling to make long-term profits. It’s moved the motoring game and brought us some very cool cars at the expense of….well, at the expense. So, in other words, it’s where Aston Martin was 30 years ago.

What it needs is the equivalent of the DB7 – a brilliant car that transforms the company, bankrolled by someone else. VW and Tesla, then, are a match made in heaven. Your move, Elon…

Why a V8 Aston Martin deserves to be James Bond’s next co-star

HE OTHER week Prince Charles dropped in to see Daniel Craig to see how work on the new James Bond film is shaping up. Which is probably a good thing, because I’d like to think he also had a quiet word with the film’s producers and asked them nicely to hurry up with making it.

But with the world’s cameras firmly trained on the Prince of Wales’ visit it almost felt as though a crucial new detail from the film, confirmed by the official James Bond Twitter account, seemed weirdly overlooked. I’d been expecting the Aston Martin DB5 – having already shown up in Skyfall and Spectre – to make a comeback, but what I hadn’t been counting on was one of my favourite film cars of all time, the Aston Martin V8 from The Living Daylights to rock up as well.  

But some fan footage taken during the filming confirmed possibly the best bit of movie-related news I’ve heard all year. Until now, the 1987 Aston has spent most of its time sat in museums looking a bit unloved, but look on YouTube and there’s a short clip of sweeping along a rather stunning-looking Norwegian road, being chased by a cameraman in a helicopter. I’m not entirely sure how the film’s makers are going to explain it, seeing as Bond fans will know that a car with the same registration was blown up on a Czechoslovakian hillside fairly early on into The Living Daylights, but I’m glad that it’s back.

More importantly, I’m hoping that Aston’s glad, too. For years the DB-generation Astons have been the real stars of its heritage operations, so much so that it’s started making some of its biggest hits again for (very rich) car nuts. Last year it announced a run of DB5s virtually identical to the one Sean Connery turned into a household name in Goldfinger – complete with primitive 1960s navigation system, fake guns and revolving numberplate – and now it’s resurrected the DB4 GT Zagato, a super-rare 1950s model reclothed in a sleeker, Italian designed skin to aid aerodynamics.

But the Astons I – and a lot of other people of my age, who are now in the position to buy old cars – grew up with were the much later V8s, and I bet I’m not the only thirtysomething for whom Tim Dalton’s much grittier take on saving the world was James Bond. I would love to see Aston Martin giving its V8s – particularly the Vantage, with its colour-coded, blanked-off radiator grille and 400bhp on tap – the same treatment as its DB models of the 1960s, and for a limited run of re-created models to head back to the showrooms. I’ll never be able to afford one, of course, but in a world of plug-in hybrids and me-too crossovers there’s definitely room for a car like it.

Until then I’ll carry on waiting for the next James Bond film – which is already about six months late, no matter how brilliant it is. Perhaps another member of the Royal Family can have a quiet word with them…

Aston Martin Rapide E – licensed to be sensible

SPOILER alert – by which I don’t mean the enormous thing you’ll find sprouting from the back of Honda’s Civic Type R. The next Bond movie is the one where 007 finally settles down for a lifetime of school runs and trips to Sainsbury’s.

Forget any rumours you might have read about the next cinematic outing for Britain’s top MI6 operative being a modern-day retelling of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Or that its working title, Shatterhand, alludes to a SPECTRE mastermind previously only mentioned in the books and thus sets Bond up for a showdown with Blofeld’s right-hand man. Nope, the 25th film in the series is the one where 007, having chatted up Madeleine Swann in the last movie, gets married, takes her on a honeymoon to Prestatyn and they have kids a year or two later. Awwww, Daniel Craig’s take on the orphaned assassin has finally grown up!

I know this not because I’ve got pals at Pinewood Studios, but simply on the choice of car that’ll he be driving in the next film. Elsewhere in the press you might have read about how the new Aston Martin Rapide E is the first time that a 00-agent has been assigned a zero emissions car – nothing wrong with that, of course – but the thing that grabs me that, no matter how cool it looks, it’s a four-door saloon.

A four-door saloon. It’s only the second time in the entire history of the Bond films that’s happened, and on the last occasion it was an Avis-rented BMW that Pierce Brosnan promptly did the right thing to by sending it straight off the top of a multi-storey car park. The fact that 007’s next set of wheels is an Aston Martin, of course, is entirely right. But why does Bond need an extra set of doors? Has he been told that the Ministry of Defence, due to ongoing budget cuts, is insisting on car-sharing with colleagues and that from now on, he’s going to have to give 004, 006 and 009 lifts to their next missions?

I know that Aston Martin is very keen to, er, plug its first all-electric model on the big screen but James Bond is the sort of bloke with no need for a big boot and decent rear legroom – in other words, he needs the newly-launched Vantage, which thanks to its Mercedes-sourced, twin-turbo V8 is not only more sensibly reliable than the Astons of old but looks the part and sounds great too. It has room for our plucky Brit, a femme fatale, some concealed weaponry and nothing else. Now that’s a Bond car.

That’s why I can only assume that Bond’s married-with-children in the next film, because the Rapide’s more B&Q than Q-branch. That, or they’ve picked completely the wrong car.

The Nobe electric car looks cool – but not enough to invest in

The Nobe 100 is an eco-friendly electric car inspired by small 1960s cars(1)

IT’S NOT every weekend that you get asked to help put a car into production.

Don’t worry, nobody from Vauxhall has rung me up, asking whether – as that bloke from The Champion – I have any tips on what I’d like to see in the next-generation Adam. Nor am I loaded enough to be one of those lucky souls invited to, er, help Ferrari develop its next model by paying for a one-off track-day special that you’re only allowed to access three times a year.

But some Estonians have asked me to bung them a couple of quid to help get their retro-styled electric three-wheeler off the ground. They obviously haven’t approached Deborah Meaden and Duncan Bannatyne yet, but as a car nut I’ll save them the trouble.

Nobe – an eco-friendly start-up specialising in microcars, not a mis-spelling of Leicester-based supercar maker Noble – is using a crowdfunding site to attempt to secure £800,000 for the new car. Apparently the thing that’ll excite Greenpeace types is that it’s zero emissions and easily recyclable, but the bit that grabs me is that it looks good. The front end looks like it could’ve come from a shrunken Borgward Isabella (you’ll have to Google it), the way the rear end tapers to a set of full-width lights is lovely, and the delicate chrome details between the two are distinctly 1960s. Oh, and there’s a very faint whiff of Jensen Interceptor about that rear glass treatment.

It’ll also has room for three, will sit at 70mph happily enough and promises a two-hour charging time, but I’m not exactly going to be taking out a second mortgage or hounding my bank manager any time soon. There have been plenty of miniscule motors over the years, from Messerschmitts and Minis to modern day Smart cars, and none of their creators needed to use a crowdfunding site. The asking figure of £800k also sounds a bit far-fetched, when you consider that Aston Martin apparently had to raise £200 million to help develop their new DBX off-roader, likely to be called the Varekai when it makes production.

All this coming from someone who’s owned two Minis, once bought a Renault 5 for £100 for a laugh and is currently restoring a Reliant Robin. I completely get the point of cars that offering up motoring fun in pint-sized packages, but if the Nobe’s that clever an idea I’d expect Dragons’ Den types would be queuing up to invest in it.

Best of luck, chaps, but I’m out.

Jaguar Land Rover has a great opportunity right under its nose

Currently the Jaguar Land Rover range starts with the XE saloon

WHAT’S your worst nightmare? Perhaps it’s giving an important work seminar wearing nothing but a bikini – even though you’re a bloke – or being locked inside a hi-fi shop overnight with every stereo system set to play Justin Bieber’s greatest hits on repeat, ad nauseam.

For me it’s trying to explain Jaguar Land Rover’s plans for world domination to someone who doesn’t understand cars. The Jaguar stuff’s fairly simple – you start with the wonderful XJ, replicate in slightly smaller sizes and then chuck in a two-seater sports car for good measure, but I’m completely lost when it comes to Land Rover. There’s no Land Rover-shaped Land Rover any more, a Discovery that looks just like a Range Rover Evoque, and a big Discovery that’s now tremendously ugly. Then there’s the Range Rover, but it’s accompanied by another Range Rover that obsesses over Nurburgring lap times and looking good outside footballers’ homes, a really small Range Rover that now looks a bit like a Land Rover Discovery Sport, and the Velar, which sits somewhere between the two.

All of which hurts my head (and probably yours) slightly. So rumours that JLR’s looking to expand its range of offerings even further are going to have me reaching for the Nurofen.

The manufacturer’s Indian bosses are reportedly thinking about snapping up another brand to boost its luxury offerings, with everything from Aston-Martin to MG under consideration. Even Jeep’s been linked to a potential deal, although this would be a bit like Liverpool snapping up Arsenal.

Then there’s serious consideration apparently being given to launching what’s being dubbed the ‘Road Rover’, which would be a sort of tarmac-orientated twin to Land Rover’s current offerings.  All of which would make it… a Rover, surely?

Rover would be a great name to bring back. If VW can successfully turn Skoda from the butt of motoring jokes to a champion of sensibly-priced family cars, how hard can it be to turn an (admittedly tarnished) British brand back into the luxury name known for cars like the P5 and P6? BMW so nearly did it with the 75 but famously bottled it in 2000. Jaguar Land Rover, with its clever engineering and healthy cashflow, might just crack it.

Admit it – a properly engineered Rover with wood, leather and some Jaguar-esque tech beneath the skin really wouldn’t be a bad thing. Better than presenting that work seminar in a bikini, anyway…

The new TVR Griffith is mad. Which is why you should love it

TVR chose to launch its new Griffith at the Goodwood Revival last weekend

THE NEW Ferrari FXX? Sorry, not really that fussed. The Aston Martin DB11 was lovely, but hardly astonishing. And I was a bit ‘meh’ about the McLaren 570S, to be honest.

I’m sure all three are resolutely thrilling on the right bit of racetrack but it’s entirely forgiveable to be a bit blasé. We’re used to seeing shiny new supercars from all three, all of which are a modicum more impressive than the last one. It’s a bit like Liverpool doing rather well in the Premier League – just like they did last year, and the year before that.

But a new TVR is more like Leicester thundering in and unexpectedly snatching all the silverware, against ridiculous odds. The latest Griffith is the car that so many of us wanted to see, but none of us really believed was ever going to happen. Only that last Friday, after more than a decade of waiting, it did.

Barely a week in and there have already been plenty of comments that it doesn’t look bonkers enough to be a TVR – even I think it’s got shades of Jaguar F-type, but that’s hardly a bad thing. It’s also been fitted with ABS and a sophisticated power steering system but otherwise it’s business as usual for a carmaker that’s crafted its reputation on being ballsy where everyone else plays safe.

It has a V8 not a million miles from what you’ll find in a Ford Mustang but it’s been breathed on by Cosworth so it’s developing something in the region of 500bhp, with a Porsche-troubling power-to-weight ratio of around 400bhp per tonne. Gordon Murray – of McLaren F1 and Mercedes SLR fame – has helped out with the underpinnings, so it shouldn’t drive like an old-school TVR. It’ll be much better than that!

Even the Griffith’s launch makes it loveable. TVR could’ve done the sensible thing and flown out to Frankfurt, where everyone else is unveiling their new metal at the moment, but it decided instead to do it at the Goodwood Revival, a classic car event known for being consciously stuck in the 1960s. It’s emphatically not the place to launch a brand new car – but TVR did it anyway.

In fact the only thing that’s missing from this curiously British resurrection is the old Blackpool factory being brought back into action and giving Lancashire its sports car crown back, but that would be far too predictable for the new boys at TVR.

So they’ve decided to build it in a small town in Wales instead. There you have it – Ebbw Vale is Britain’s answer to Maranello…

Good news 007 – even Aston Martin is downsizing these days

Even Aston Martin realises that we live in an age of austerity

M PAUSED reflectively for a moment. “The latest figures from the Minister of Defence have arrived. I’m afraid there are going to have be some changes for the 00-section”.

There was a brief silence as the assembled MI6 bigwigs braced themselves for the bad news. They knew all along that austerity had been a fundamental part of Government policy for years, but they’d never expected it to hit Her Majesty’s flagship network of foreign operatives directly.

“I’m terribly sorry, but if we’re going to meet all these spending targets then agents are just going to have to start flying Easyjet and Ryanair, like everyone else,” M sighed with resignation. “And 007’s certainly going to have to stop ordering all those blasted vodka martinis. Doesn’t he realise that he shouldn’t be ordering all those drinks on expenses?”

Q Branch, for all its years of jetpacks and exploding pens, was right in the firing line. There’d be no laser-equipped watches when the shop up the road from MI6 was selling perfectly good Casios at a tenner a pop. Certainly there wouldn’t be any more jet packs, stealth boats or exploding pens.

But M drew a line when he picked up the Aston Martin brochure. The battle against SPECTRE, the depressed-looking faces in the room were surely about to reason, could just as easily be fought with a Dacia Sandero or Skoda’s new Citigo. But MI6’s top man was having none of it.

“Happily, Aston Martin has realised budgets here are a little tighter than they used to be,” he announced. “The DB11 was beginning to look a little unfeasible, but thanks to the changes they’ve made I think we might just be able to afford it.”

M pointed out that for the past year or so the DB11’s only been available with a twin-turbo 5.2-litre V12, accompanied by a rather hefty starting price of £157,900, something which even those pesky world domineering sorts with their hollowed-out volcanoes and white cats are baulking at these days. But now there’s a new version which comes with a smaller engine that’s kinder to the environment – a 4.0-litre V8, no less. It’s still equipped with two turbochargers and pumps out 503bhp but it’s still cheaper than the full fat DB11 – it’s now £144,900.

Okay, so a 13-grand saving isn’t a lot but it does make DB11 ownership that tiny bit more affordable. It’s also lighter than the V12 car and, Aston insists, better through the bends as a result, which counts for a lot when you’re attempting to outrun the bad guys.

Which means that even in Theresa May’s era of austerity Bond can have a decent company car. Good to see 007 doing his bit to help the nation’s finances…