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The Car Design Review 5 Interviews: Marek Reichman, Aston Martin

16 May 2018 | by Maxine Morland

Aston Martin is going through the most pivotal change that the company has ever been through. With programmes coming thick and fast, we are growing exponentially.  We’re also in profit for the full year for the first time in 104 years and what this means to the design team is that there is money to invest back into the products.

We have a new vision for the future. Our ‘Second Century Plan’ will deliver a new model every year for six years but that is just the core. Outside of that, we’re also producing special vehicles and numerous one-off commissions.

I’ve got a fantastic team and I don’t think there is a better place to be a designer. We design traditional GTs, we design a revolutionary front-engined sports car, we design an SUV, we design a radical mid-engined sports car with the greatest aerodynamicists ever. We’re designing a new car every nine months; previously we did one car every 12 years – that’s the enormity of the change.

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The company has seen – through design – that the brand purpose is ‘for the love of beauty’. I’m protecting it by really embedding it in the culture of the business. For many brands this could just sound like words, but we are a company that is true to its values and always has been.

We create every single millimetre of product through design and engineering. The two are inextricably linked. With all of the products we develop, the core of why they are beautiful is their proportions. You can look at an original Lamborghini Miura and it is proportion that gives it beauty. The technology is way out of date, and the way the glass fits isn’t as accurate as it is today, but the proportions are timeless.

I think if you’re an independent car designer your primary responsibility is to create something which has your values in it – but it has to make a difference. If you’re embedded within a brand, I think your primary goal is to really represent the brand because the only thing that a customer sees is the product.

I also think that it’s absolutely our responsibility to generate products that will secure the future of the company. Design has to change the visual landscape but represent, wholeheartedly, the brand.

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What we design isn’t a Thomas Ingenlath or a Laurens van den Acker or a Marek Reichman [car]: they’re Volvos, they’re Renaults and they’re Aston Martins. We all have the responsibility to make sure that there will be a Renault, a Volvo, an Aston Martin in 25 or 125 years because while we are responsible, we must ensure that people love the product.

Talking to the customers can hinder as much as it helps but I think that as a brand we’re fortunate in that it’s a luxury product. I can pinpoint the customer and I can talk to a relevant percentage.Last week we had an event for Valkyrie. There were 35 people in the audience and they’re all customers. I can get direct feedback and I’ve gained a lot from it.

Do you react and change what you’re going to do? Maybe five or 10 per cent of the time. Our customers are people who really know what they want. Most of them are knowledgeable as well, they’ve done their research, they’re prior owners in multiple instances. They are passionate. I think whenever you’re passionate about something you want to learn and you want to know more. They come with knowledge and that’s great as well because then you feed them your knowledge and they put all the pieces of the jigsaw together. Part of it is bringing them on a journey as well.

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Balancing consistency with evolving the brand is one of the hardest parts. You want to push and change and evolve and revolutionise because now the competition is greater. The way we’ve managed to do it is that we’ve always had a core. But outside of that core, we’ve always had the ability to do specials with which we can test and push and really force the balance.

Many people might say, ‘Why are you doing a submersible? Why are you doing apartments in Miami? Why have you designed a boat?’ We’re diversifying, which makes designers think – and quite often, out of diversifying, you find a creative solution for something. It may be as simple as paint, or a reflective surface. In most instances it’s materials, for example the use of carbon or ceramics.

We’ve learned so much about screen coatings because submersibles typically sit on the surface of the water in very hot places, with solar loading. You sit in a glass bubble, and they get really, really hot. What you don’t want to do is take energy away from your battery cell, as you’re diving, to keep you cool.

Submersibles use these incredible coatings. You can be in direct sunlight and sitting in there you can see out, but you don’t get any solar loading. We’ve learned a lot about the coating of windscreens from that diversification.

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So you diversify the product and you learn. But you’ve always got to fundamentally protect your core – your brand values.

I think as we get into the world of autonomy and I’m able to call my car through my device to take me from A to B because I live in London and there is no point owning a car, or if I’m a millennial that doesn’t even have a driving licence then that’s one form of ownership or usage, but I think for premium and luxury we’re all going to want more. Those customers will want more personal products, ones that are different to mass products. 

Consider watches. Digital ones are more accurate and don’t require servicing, but you’re not going to collect iWatches. You’ll collect Swiss watches – and I think cars will be the same. The last petrol-engined cars will be luxury cars. They’ll probably be sports cars. They’ll be very fast and they will be the last.

Think about how horses are used now, compared to the late 1800s or early 1900s. It’s all about racehorses or showjumping for entertainment. I think it will be the same for petrol-engined products. People will still want them but products will diversify, from one extreme to the other.

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We are expanding rapidly now. Gaydon was the first independent Aston Martin design studio and this was only opened in December 2007. We’re now about to open our second studio, in Milton Keynes, which will be on the Red Bull Racing campus. It’s about the same size as this one, so we’re doubling our capacity. Gaydon has five plates, and Milton Keynes will have five plates plus a virtual reality suite.

We’re also setting up brand centres; the latest has just opened in Tokyo. We’ll have product planners there, we’ll have strategists there, we’ll have people who understand the local market. They can tell us what trends need to happen and that can feed back to Gaydon. I’ll have designers embedded in these places too. I imagine that before too long we’ll have three or four studios on a global basis, such is the scale of our expansion.

For a young designer, the opportunity and scope is huge. We’re a small team and we’ll always be a small team, because I believe that’s the way that you should create and design.

One designer is responsible for one car. You may need help at times but if you come here and you prove yourself then you’ll have your own car – and your own car will be out there on the road in three years’ time. 

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This interview is from our Car Design Review 5, a beautifully-produced 200-page book published this Spring and containing the past year’s finest concept and production cars, plus trend reports, an in-depth feature on our lifetime achievement award winner, industry legend Wayne Cherry, and interviews with many of the world’s foremost designers. If you’d like more details or the chance to purchase your own copy, go here.