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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 March 2007, 23:07 GMT
Trophy hunters ready to bag Aston Martin
By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News, Geneva motor show

Aston Martin
As well as looking pretty good, Aston Martin has a strong brand
For trophy hunters in the world of finance, Aston Martin has always been Big Game.

Most financiers are satisfied with merely owning one of the sports cars.

Others will not be happy until they own the entire marque, which parent company Ford Motor has put up for sale.

"It's a classic trophy asset," says Simon Dorris, partner with automotive strategy firm Lansdowne Consulting.

"It's got a very strong brand identity," adds Christian Boettcher, also a partner at Lansdowne.

Fresh models

The opportunity to cull the big one would come at a price, though.

Aston has a fairly fresh model line-up
Christian Boettcher
Lansdowne Consulting

Six months ago, Ford put a price tag of about 1bn on its Warwickshire-based pride and joy, attracting some 30 interested buyers.

On display at the Geneva motor show are some of the reasons why.

The DB9 coupe and the V8 Vantage are here, alongside the supercar Vanqish S which costs almost 180,000.

"Aston has a fairly fresh model line-up," says Mr Boettcher, insisting that this is a good starting point.

Mum chief

Back-stage at the Aston stand, chief executive Ulrich Bez is posing for the photographers, clearly proud of what is for sale.

But when asked whether he would grant BBC News an interview, he merely smiles.

"No," he says.

"Because the questions you ask are not about the cars, they're about how it's going and so on, and we're not answering such questions today."

Minority stake

Aston Martin chief executive, Ulrich Bez
Ulrich Bez is proud of the cars

Yet, even without Mr Bez's answers, the imminent sale of Aston Martin to a consortium, led by long-standing Aston partner David Richards, is not a well-kept secret.

"It looks like Prodrive is the front runner," says Mr Boettcher, referring to Mr Richards' racing company, which runs Aston's racing team.

Mr Richards' consortium, which includes Egyptian investors Naeem Capital and other interests, is expected to have negotiated a price much lower than the initial asking price - perhaps even as low as 500m.

Though at this price it will probably not be an outright sale.

"Ford is going to keep a minority stake," predicts Mr Boettcher.

Keeping Bez

Such a solution could help Aston's new owners overcome a major long-run challenge: to carry forth the development of future models without the backing of a major automotive group.

Having Ford onboard could give Aston's new owners access to Ford's development expertise and parts bin, reasons Mr Boettcher.

Mr Boettcher also points out that there is a big difference between running a racing firm and a car company.

"I don't think they [the consortium] understand end consumers well," says Mr Boettcher.

"But they've got a good chief executive."

Most industry observers predict that the 1,700 people jobs at its modern Gaydon plant are safe.

And they expect Mr Bez, an engineer who has worked for Porsche and BMW in the past, would stay on as chief after a sale.

This would be very good news for the consortium, says Mr Boettcher.

End of an era

Aston Martin is a both profitable and successful part of Ford's Premier Automotive Group, alongside Land Rover, Jaguar and Volvo.

Yet Ford is selling Aston because the US parent itself is in dire financial straits, having clocked up a $12.7bn loss in 2006.

The sale will bring to an end a 20-year long fling, which started when Ford bought a 75% stake in Aston Martin Lagonda in 1987 and the remaining 25% six years later.

And, if history is anything to go by, it will probably not be the last time Aston Martin is sold.

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