To Live or Let Die?

Does Aston Martin want to keep the Gaydon Era cars on the road, or let them die a cruel death of decay and Internet infamy?

I think Aston Martin is making a big mistake here (that they may not even realize).

DB9 written off, 2008, 15,000 miles, limited damage

I’ve been seriously considering this question recently as an owner of one of those cars (a 2005 DB9 Coupe).   Has Aston Martin made a deliberate decision to ignore the high costs of service for the early cars accelerating the death of these vehicles?   Or, are they oblivious to this situation merely looking forward at new models and, by this inattention, are inadvertently contributing to the demise of vehicles they would prefer to keep alive and proudly representing the marque?  They tout the high percentage of all Aston’s ever made still being on the road – but this seems to be related to the vintage classics, not the newly emerging modern classics.  Without some change in Aston’s course, the result will be the same either way, the Gaydon era cars are now dying off and decaying in large numbers.

Gaydon Production Line

The Gaydon era cars are the DB9’s and Vantages (along with their evolutionary variants) that started being built back in 2004 at the new Gaydon, UK factory and continue through today.   When the DB9 was introduced there was a surge of sales never enjoyed by Aston before (that likely saved the company).  These cars weren’t cheap when they were sold with prices north of $175,000 USD.   But they have been suffering tremendous depreciation over the years.   Decent examples of the early DB9’s can be had for under $35,000 USD today.  Only the more limited editions seem to have been spared the worst of the depreciation, with DBS’s holding on near $100,000 USD.

With the age of the vehicles increasing, their values dropping, and the introduction of the DB11, the DBS Superleggera and the new Vantage enticing existing Aston owners to upgrade, the second hand market is teeming with early Gaydon era cars.   This is terrific for many would-be new owners of lesser financial means (like me) looking to buy their dream car that is now within reach.    This class of owner has some disposable income, but has little hope of ever dropping $250K USD on a brand new Aston model.  They are realizing that rather than buying a new Porsche 911 or BMW M car (like everyone else) for more than $80,000 USD they can get a gorgeous pre-owned DB9 for under $50K.  And by doing that, they join the Aston Martin family and have a truly rare and beautiful automobile.

2005 DB( with left front fender damage – salvaged

An owner buying a second hand Aston is also deeply worried (with good reason) about the costs to maintain their new mistress.  They can afford the original purchase, but what about the service?   Even with the modern manufacturing techniques introduced at Gaydon under Ford’s ownership, the cars were still considerably hand crafted.  With the earliest Gaydon era cars now 15+ years old, they will certainly be showing signs of their age.   Things that affect any and all cars will start to deteriorate.  Rubber doesn’t last forever and gets dry and brittle (used in door seals, hoses, belts, etc.)  Leather that was once supple starts to get dried out and crack.  Batteries only last 5-10 years.  ‘Filled for Life’ fluids need to be changed else it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  This doesn’t mean the cars are crap, but that they need attention to keep them in terrific condition.

But, the costs of dealer maintaining an Aston Martin are very, very high.  Chip in your windshield?  Something that costs under $200 USD for a Honda Civic to replace is a whopping $4,300 USD for a DB9.  Consider that this is potentially 10% of the current cars value.  Why is that?  Aston may argue it based on volume, and truthfully, it is to a degree.   There are a million Honda Civics out there, so companies making windshields will tool up and make competitive options, and competition and volume brings prices down.  They sell them at a lower price and make it up in volume, and this enables them to pay for the tooling and costs of holding inventory.   Aston doesn’t get this luxury.  With maybe 15,000 Gaydon cars sold, how many windshields will they sell in a year?   They still have the expense of all the tooling (or at least their OEM supplier does), and have to recover it over a very small number of sales.  I get that – but…

DB9 written off with $130,000 of damage from a large stone

Aston is also a premium brand, and knows it.  They have certainly calibrated their Parts and Service departments around this.  If an owner can afford a new quarter of a million dollar Aston Martin, they can certainly afford a $4,300 windshield.  A mere pittance.   Aston most certainly has a premium amount of markup on their parts, and the Parts and Service departments are profit centers helping keep the Dealers alive.   Fair enough, but this works only for that class of owner.

The owners of a second/third hand DB9 can’t afford to dealer service a car for EVERYTHING that it needs.  They don’t have $10-$20K USD per year to invest in a car that is decreasing in resale value.  They are PASSIONATE about and LOVE their cars, but they just don’t have the means to service them entirely using the traditional Aston Martin service model.  They can and want to change their own oil, their brakes and their tires just like any Honda owner could.  They will buy some of the parts where available through the aftermarket.  They will check out forums (like http://www.PistonHeads.com and http://www.6SpeedOnline.com) and websites and Youtube channels (like www.Aston1936.com and www.Redpants.lol) for ‘how to’ instructions for the most common issues.  When something more complicated goes wrong, they will still reluctantly look to an official Aston Dealer for help and repairs (and be glad the Dealer is there for them).   In short, they love their cars and will look for ways to maintain them on a reasonable budget.

Salvage titled DB9 being brought back to life by an enthusiast

But, if an owner of an early DB9 suffering from a handful of routine normal wear and tear issues (cracked windshield, old battery, lumpy idle from weak coil packs, dead TPMS sensors, needing brakes and tires) arrives at a Dealership, they could be facing a $15,000+ USD repair bill.   As overwhelming as this is, it may cause them to immediately look to dump the car onto the Internet market at a discounted price (feeding the downward price spiral).  Or, worse yet, defer the needed maintenance even further turning the car into a less than desirable beater wagon full of ‘issues’ until she won’t start any more or is unsafe (and off to the worst death of all, the dismantler/breaker).  Either way, the result is one less Aston on the road, one unhappy owner, and a Dealer that got ZERO revenue rather than $15K.   Nobody wins.

Aston Martin Can Save the Day

Consider this.  Back in the 1970’s, the phone company had a monopoly on services.  A phone call from the United States to the United Kingdom would cost $5 USD per MINUTE (and those were 1970’s dollars).   The phone company had invested dearly in transatlantic cables, and needed to grind the revenue back out of us to pay for it.  The result was families that used the service as little as possible, and for as short as possible.  “Happy Birthday Mom.  Merry Christmas and Happy New year.  I’m alive and doing well.  Love you, call you next year”.   Five minute phone call, $25 to the phone company.  Huge profit margins on sadly low volumes. Only corporations and the rich had the means to use the system extensively, and the phone companies managed some profit.

Eventually the phone companies tried something.  They lowered the costs of the service so the middle class could afford it.  They cut their profit margin drastically.  To their surprise, volumes of calls skyrocketed, and so did their profits.   Making a modest profit on massive volumes makes them more money.   Customers happy, Phone Company Happy, and Mom’s all over the world were happier.  Everybody wins.

Can’t Aston Martin do the same thing to save the Gaydon era cars from their impending doom?  Wouldn’t the world be a better place if it did, keeping these beautiful cars on the road for generations to come?

All they would need to do is reduce the prices of the existing parts for these specific modern classic models.  The coil packs for my DB9 won’t fit a DB11, so they can still charge what they want for the current models whilst offering saving on the old ones.  Their initial investments in design and tooling for the parts is likely fully recovered by now (or as recovered at it will ever be).  Rather than selling just ten $4,300 windshields a year, could they cut the price to $1,000 and sell 100 of them (ten times more), and save the day fixing 90 more cars and still making the same profit?  And wouldn’t that make 90 more dealer relationships that might one day lead to more sales?

From Salvage to Pride and Joy (credit to Justin Lowhorn)

How about the labor costs of Dealer service?  Honestly, I don’t think they are that bad.  In my area the Aston Martin Dealer service rate is $175 USD per hour.  A local Toyota dealer is $165.  Not as cheap as your local mechanic/specialist down the street, BUT, the dealer has skills and equipment that the guy down the street doesn’t.  I don’t want an untrained technician fiddling with a complicated and bespoke Aston Martin issue.  The dealers have to pay to send their Master Technicians to Gaydon for training.  They pay to own special sets of tools needed for repairs.  They pay to own the fancy master computer that can talk to our cars and update the software.  They should be due a premium for this over the local mechanic, and this is fair since we rely on them to have that knowledge and those tools.  Could they offer a modern classics discount on the labor rate?  I would think 20% off might be possible and still leave them a decent margin.  Again, is it better to have 100% of nothing, or 80% of a large amount of work.  Work begets more work, so scaring a Gaydon era owner away with high prices doesn’t help anyone.

Hello?   Aston, are you out there?

So what does Aston Martin say on this?  I have no idea.  I’ve tried multiple times through a couple of channels to get their attention and ask this question to get a fair and considered answer, but when I’ve asked I either get no response or a response that they (personally) don’t know and will try and find someone to ask.  Then dead air.  I get it, I’m a nobody.  Or, maybe they don’t have an answer since it’s something big and fundamental that needs to be decided at the top of the organization.  Do they want to keep these cars on the road?

To Live or Let Die?

I am a staunch supporter of ‘Live’.  I would love to have a real and positive conversation with the leadership at Aston Martin wise and brave enough to consider this decision (Mr. Palmer I am at your disposal – please contact me so I can write a follow-up).  It can’t be an easy one to convince your peers (and now your shareholders) to lower prices to make more money.  Be brave.  We are waiting out here.  We all want to call our Mom’s.

[Dear Readers – please help me out – perhaps one of you either works for Aston or knows someone inside the Aston Machine.   If you could pass this article along to them I would truly love to have a dialog with Aston about this to learn their position and share it in a positive way, whatever it is.]


Aston Martin Quarterly Magazine

I originally wrote this article for the Winter 2019 edition of the Aston Martin Quarterly magazine.   I’ve heard it got published, but my copy of the magazine has never showed up.  Maybe my mailman keeps pinching it.  Regardless, I think all Aston owners should be active members of the Aston Martin Owners Club (AMOC) and with that you’ll receive the quarterly high quality coffee table editions of the AMQ magazine.  If you aren’t yet an AMOC member, please consider signing up here.

16 thoughts on “To Live or Let Die?

  1. Scott MacKenzie

    I have a 2007 DB9. I just spent more than 10% of the value of the car replacing all fluids, coils, plugs, and a few other issues. I didn’t do it myself because my wife hides tools from me for good reason. Yes the depreciation hurts, and I realize that I will never get my money back when I sell. However, except for a few items, using the various forums, I can find an identical part through the Ford, Jaguar or Volvo dealer. I have found an inordinate number of similar parts on my wife’s 2002 T-Bird and my DB9. I think there is an opportunity for smaller manufacturers or local companies to pick up and produce some of these parts, or find a company that is competent to restore your Aston – like Steel Wings in Ivyland PA.

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  2. Bernard Mishkin

    Can any Aston enthusiast recommend a competent independent Aston repair and service garage in the Los Angeles area?
    I too am sick of paying high prices and having poor service from the local Aston dealer repair shops!
    I support your efforts Steve!
    PS I have 2007 V8 Vantage

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  3. Robert Haywood

    Steve,
    You are to be applauded! You have put into words what many of us feel.
    I am the very proud owner of a 2005 DB9, number 2038, with 39.5k miles on the clock. Apart from a set of Carbon Black edition rims, the car is as ‘ex factory’ as it could be and is maintained by an AM trained independent technician. Fortunately, this chap is as keen on Astons as I am and the service he provides is second to none (in my opinion) at a fraction of the price of a main dealer.
    As an example of main dealer malaise, not long after I purchased the vehicle, it suffered a major electrical failure, the main computer board in the car shorted, causing a significant part of the loom to burn out. The cost of sorting it all out came to about £9.5k, but the real point of the story is that the first replacement board that the factory sent to the main dealer, only they being allowed to install all the flash coding, for security reasons, was in fact faulty. Not too bright, you would have thought that the factory might have tested it prior to despatch, but what really hurt was the fact that it took the main dealer 4 weeks (!) to discover that it was faulty! I am convinced that I was charged for that time too!
    I have little faith in main dealers, considering that they are really only motivated by sales of new models, despite the fact that their staff contend that they love working on Gaydon era vehicles as well as the even older models.
    At present, the technician that I use prefers to use original parts and since I have required very few, apart from the electrical components as above, I have not winced too much at the total cost of maintaining such an elegant car since the labour rate is about half that which the main dealer charges, so, overall, tolerable bills.
    Having said this, I totally support your view that reduced prices of spare parts, in line with true costs plus a modest margin perhaps, would be a real boon to owners of older vehicles that do not deserve to be consigned to the scrap heap (the cars!) due to excessively expensive spare parts.

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  4. Martin Schmidt

    You’re absolutely right. Unfortunately I’m absolutely positive that Mr. Palmer in terms of Aston Martin is not only incompetent but, even worse, he’s arrogant. I’ve written personally to him concerning some of the modern Astons but never received an answer. So I’m afraid that the chances Aston accommodates our interests are very little.
    My 2009 DB9 is looked after by two different mechanics: for the usual problems a very good oldtimer specialist is workung on my DB9, for special high end issues and inspections I bring my car to the dealer. Nevertheless it’s dear enough but saves a bit.
    What I will do is give your article to the officila Aston dealer here in Munich with whom I have a good relationship. Maybe he can promote our matter.

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  5. Graham Rollins

    AML to my mind is becoming a lost cause despite me owning one with pride. Someone thought the marque would be a money spinner (which it could well be) but it’s value is based on multiple aspects and it holds pole positions on many of them. To my mind their desire to break into differing categories of automotive design is at risk of weakening their exclusiveness. Back in the 1960s a single product of exquisite design would suffice, along with the feeling the owners were not in it just for the returns £/$. Volume is not king! Style is and style is more than just it’s looks. I’ve lusted after an Aston for many years but would have been content never to have owned one because even second hand (back then) were beyond my reach.
    I’ve owned my DB9 for 6 years, but contrary to your admiration of the dealer network I wouldn’t let them service my wheel barrow.The only enthusiasm they have is for lightening your bank account. (That said, non of our European quality manufacturers are slow at overvaluing their expertise)
    There is (as it’s always been) a slow attrition of these fabulous marques by premature obsolescence AKA db4/5 and 6 until the last few are worth millions.
    In the meantime we won’t stop people who think they have the whip-hand from exploiting “the enthusiasts”. Until we can beat them at their own game people like yourself and many other quality bloggers are the forefront of the knowledge acquisition. Then we have small engineering firms around the country who will seize the the opportunity to exploit the price void.
    I have a neighbour who road tests new developments for AML and he regularly tests in the USA but is very reserved when it comes to the politics of the company. I’ll raise the subject when I next see him.
    Keep up the good work.
    Graham.

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  6. Hi Steve,
    This question and article is spot on. As you may recall I have a 2005 DB9 with about 23K on the clock. I love the car and because of the costs, I have a personal mechanic that performs the regular maintenance on it. The only thing I ever had the dealer do was finish the replacement of a starter that was without a doubt bad from day one. What I mean by that, was we disassembled everything we could and picked up the parts prior to sending it to the dealer to finish the repair. This saved me thousands. However, this should never have been necessary.

    Aston (the corporation) is more than arrogant, they also don’t seem to learn from their past (almost fatal) errors in managing things. I have tried to work with them on multiple occasions as part of our TV production, it usually takes a phone call from one of my friends over at the Aston museum in England to get their attention. And that’s when I’m giving them FREE international exposure as part of a show that’s airing on Discovery or History channel. Even then it’s like pulling teeth. While in comparison, I was eagerly welcomed by Mercedes, Audi, and on numerous occasions been treated as an honored guest over at BMW.

    If you may recall a couple of years ago, Aston tried to restrict sales of it’s parts shipped to the US from the UK. Forcing us to buy them from the dealerships. Another very short sighted and stupid decision. So, no I really doubt any of us will get their attention and the hope of changing their culture toward maintaining Gaydon era cars is highly unlikely.

    My family once owned several dealerships (Chevy, Acura, Honda, Buick) the profit center was of course the service center. Second was used cars, new car sales were mainly useful to attract ongoing maintenance and customer loyalty. Pretty much the story with any make. The depreciation on these cars seems to bottom out around $35K and then slowly creep up from there. Look at the DB7 era as a guide. By allowing a portion of these cars to be sent to the junk yard, it will in time make the remaining examples much more valuable. But at this rate, it’ll be a couple of decades before the cars see a real jump in appreciation, but they certainly will do that. The design and beauty of the Gaydon era cars, is timeless. Unfortunately, the computers don’t age well and making certain parts difficult to find or expensive to source is not smart of Aston.

    I agree there is a huge opportunity to create a new program in the US that focuses on this era of cars to allow more of them to remain on the road in an affordable manner. Aston should not see this as something “below” them, they should see it as an opportunity for growth. Some DB9 owners will become DB11 owners. Some will buy new cars. All will keep the dream and the passion alive and spread it to a younger generation. To ignore this, will lead to yet another corporate failure in the future. But I don’t have any idea how to get their attention. They truly don’t seem to care.

    I wish we had an “Aston Workshop” (located near Durham, England) here in the states. If it was centrally located, there would be a huge demand for it’s services. I have become friends with Robert, the owner and founder and they do what Aston refuses to. They buy ANY Aston, bring it back to life and resell it to the next caretaker. Any era, it does not matter. I saw them working on a totally wrecked 2011 DBS, here in the states it would have been scrapped. But they were rebuilding it. Even I had to ask why… it was that messed up. They offer reasonable service and repair costs to any Aston owner, and they are as knowledgeable as you will find anywhere in the world. Really good people work for Robert and the quality reflects their passion.

    That’s what we need in the US, 3 shops, one located on each coast and one in Texas. But even then Aston is a stumbling block. They don’t want independent shops, so they restrict sales of their parts to the dealers only. It’s a short sighted and stupid business model because those of us who are passionate about the Gaydon era cars and are keeping them running, can’t afford AM service centers. Nor should we need to.

    There is a reason that so many people in this space choose a similar aged Porsche over the Aston. The Porsche is better balanced and usually faster, but pretty common. The Aston is more beautiful but rare and it always attracts attention. So often the decision comes down to maintenance costs and the scare factor of the unknown. I have a Porsche roadster, and I drive it several times a week because it’s not expensive to run and I’m not as worried about it getting a door ding. The Aston, I take out on longer trips and usually only when I know that I have a safe place to park it at the destination. Now how silly is that? But that’s the culture created by Aston. The cars are both worth about the same. But I am more worried about the DB9 all the time. It takes some of the fun out of the machine.

    I ended up with the Porsche by accident. I had a 2007 Mercedes S600. Yup, V12 bi-turbo, the beast had a faster 0-60 than a Ferrari in ’07. The most comfortable car you can imagine, a beautiful machine that cost more than the DB9 did in ’07 as well. BUT, it became a maintenance nightmare. The parts were expensive, it was hard to find someone who really knew how to work on one, the dealer would drain my account if I took it there. Yup, I owned TWO V12 beasts… it was fun for awhile. Right up until the point that I added up how much the S600 was costing me on a monthly basis. About $750 on average a month over a 2 year span. So I had a car, everyone loved to ride in and everyone admired that knew what it was. But then when I decided to sell it, NO ONE wanted it, they were all (rightfully) afraid of the thing. Sound familiar to anyone out there? So the only way I got out of it was to trade it to a specialty, low volume dealer who was willing to take it on.

    That was a year ago. The Porsche cost me $0 over the past year to play with. And now mentally I’m a bit scarred and take the Aston out less than I did previously. So yeah, if I could get the DB9 serviced somewhere without burning loads of cash, then I’d drive it more. But as is pointed out in this thread, that’s not really possible. So purely by accident, I drive a Porsche while my beauty sits lonely in the same garage. THIS is the culture that Aston created for itself. This is why there are so many low mileage Astons for sale at cheap prices. Americans in general are afraid to drive them so they just sit around and look pretty. Sad…

    I wish I knew someone who would pay attention to our cries for help. Together, the Aston dream could be stronger than ever and shared by more people. But as word spreads that the cars are too expensive to maintain as they age out, then the desire to buy them will decrease. More will be scrapped, and those that are left 30 years from now will be owned by wealthy collectors. Perhaps that’s the plan of the current management team at Aston. But thinking like that, is what almost killed off the company 3 other times in the past. When it happens again, there may not be a white knight to save it a 4th time.

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    1. Richard Keenly

      Brian, I don’t know where you live, but if you’re anywhere close to the Bay Area there is an independent shop, just like you are looking for. The Owner is an Aston Trained Mechanic and is shop is Peninsulaeuropean.com
      Dick Keenly

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  7. Lou Dell

    Having read this article as I was just sent information on a DB9 at a $44K price which is well under my budget however the cost of service and parts is the only think that keeps me from pulling the trigger.
    Great article.
    I believe Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest man on planet earth, learned early on to make small reasonable margins and seek volume….

    Like

  8. Jose Pi

    Well written article! Kudos to folks like Richard Seidlitz from Redpants.lol. We will come to depend more on innovators and enthusiast like him to keep our passion alive, and the newer classics going. P.S. Check out the new supercharger article from Rich @ redpants.lol.

    Like

  9. Russell Taylor

    Hi Steve, saw this news today. Maybe the new boss will be open to some changes of attitude.

    Aston Martin has replaced CEO Andy Palmer with the current head of Mercedes-AMG as the ailing luxury sports carmaker tries to revive its fortunes.

    The company named 54-year old Tobias Moers as its new CEO in a statement Tuesday. Palmer, who has held the role since 2014, will step down at the end of this month, it added.

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    1. DAVE

      Have always admired the marque for it’s sheer beauty and styling. Makes a Porsche look like a proper garden variety wheel barrow. That said it would be a sad demise of AM of they do not stand by the brand in terms of older emerging classics like Porsche does with its 911 marque! The arrogance of the Palmer era hopefully will die under the German, Moers! I own a couple of British classic marques and the AM DB9 is a classic in the making providing the company is there to stand by the marque. Glad to see offshore investment in the brand that takes away from the arrogance of the old schoolboy network.
      I will continue to use outside technicians and where possible for consumable items use 3rd party parts but for more critical components go to AM. Thank you Steve for your channel on YouTube and also your blog. long may it continue.

      Like

  10. Richard Keenly

    I use an independent—Aston Trained—mechanic in San Mateo CA. Great guy, excellent service, no up-selling and very fair prices. Peninsula European. I just picked up my 2008 Vantage V8 from having it serviced yesterday and he told me not only did Aston replace their CEO, but have laid off about 350. He speculated Aston’s problems emerge because of their large portfolio of offerings and engine options now they’re also working with Mercedes.

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    1. Hi Richard. Thanks for sharing. Great to know there is a source on the Pennisula for service. What’s your technicians name? Tim Lyons?

      Yes, Aston is in trouble (as usual). I think they had a period of respite with the Gaydon cars (DB9, Vantage) because they finally hit on the perfect equation, but I don’t have the same passion about the new DB11, etc. Excellent cars, superior in mechanicals, electronics, etc (Mercedes incluence), but the car overall doesn’t make me go wow. Hopefully they survive.

      Thanks for sharing.

      Like

      1. Richard Keenly

        My Aston Technician’s name is Robbie Allen. He’s British and Aston trained in the UK. Robbie worked for several Aston Dealers In CA before setting up his own shop (Peninsula European) in San Mateo a few years ago.

        Like

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