A Conversation with Aston Martin

I couldn't think of a pic to use for this blog post so I went with a pretty one with lots of colors. It isn't completely random, though: I do mention a special offer on a set of wheels in the Redpants Updates section at the end!

My chat with Aston Martin

I mentioned in my last blog post that I've been chatting with one of Aston Martin's top executives. The nature of the conversation is one I find rather interesting because it has to do with Aston supporting independent operators ("indies") like myself. Yes, there's an obvious bias here.

The question is a simple one: How can Aston Martin support indies?
The answer isn't so simple.

Aston Martin Lagonda is a company with suppliers, franchised dealerships, lawyers, and an incredibly harsh operating environment. Making everyone happy is difficult, if not impossible. And, to complicate matters, there are customer expectations to meet. Making everything work as a business takes a ton of planning, coordination, and cooperation on so many levels that they have to calculate all the variables involved. Indies like myself are something of a wildcard in their equation. Things are supposed to be straight forward: Aston Martin has suppliers whose parts go to Aston's factory to build the cars. Those cars go to dealerships to be sold. Parts also get sent to dealerships to maintain and repair the cars they sell. Aston is, itself, a supplier: they send cars and parts to dealerships, and the dealerships perform maintenance and repairs with Aston's support.

But business in this industry never quite goes that way. Aston Martin's cars depreciate... badly. Service costs do not. And services with a premium tacked on, like those at Aston Martin's dealerships, compound a problem many owners face. In a nutshell, nobody wants to spend $650 on an oil change for a car worth less than fifty grand.

When I first bought my grey V8 Vantage several years ago, I intended it to be for sunny Sundays with meticulous dealership maintenance. Not only was this car an exotic (my first!) it was also my dream car. I was going to keep it pristine.

Obviously that plan went out the window.

(Side note: I'll have a blog post about how my immaculate car plan came to a crunching halt, along with information about diminished value claims, in an upcoming blog post!)

The first dealership-performed service on my car was the aforementioned $650 oil change. (No, I didn't pull that number out of my ass earlier.) The next service was over $1400. Not long after I had both upstream o2 sensors replaced to the tune of nearly $800. It was all just too much, and I decided to make a breakaway from dealership service.

Fast-forward a few years and I've got this website, showing people how to do work themselves, selling the parts and supplies they need, and making Aston Martin ownership more reasonable. The flip side to the work I'm doing is that it can take business away from dealerships. Customer that were beholden to their services can now handle maintenance themselves, saving literally thousands of dollars during the course of ownership. It takes a lot of money to keep a dealership afloat, so they aren't going to be happy to know that someone is causing them to lose business. So why would Aston's executives want to talk with me unless it's to reign me in? The bottom line is that I'm supporting the brand as a whole. Here's a lightly-edited excerpt from one of my emails to Aston:

I’ve been responsible for people buying Astons, and for people keeping them when they wanted to “get rid of” their cars - usually due to cost of ownership or frustration with lack of resources for owners. Depreciation on modern Astons is absolutely brutal, and it affects new car prices. By making used cars more desirable, it helps support prices for the new cars. Some of the people that have told me they bought an Aston because of my website bought their cars from dealerships, so dealerships are getting more sales. There’s an incredibly damaging perception of modern Astons being fragile, slow, and expensive to own. Dispelling the mystery of Aston ownership, even if a customer has no intention of having it serviced anywhere other than a dealership, brings more people to the brand. I’ve also seen a few people enter the brand by buying a used car and eventually buy a new one to replace it. Aston owners tend to be very loyal so long as they don’t have reason to leave (reliability issues, bad experiences with dealerships, absurd maintenance costs they don’t want to pay). So bringing new customers into the brand is going to have a real, meaningful impact on AML in the long term. Younger people that buy into Astons are also typically up-and-coming, so they’re likely to buy more expensive, and likely new, Astons in the future.

The other question that comes up often is how my prices for parts and supplies can be so different than dealership prices. Here's another excerpt:

I’ve been careful to not upset dealerships (insofar as I’m able to avoid it), and I’m quick to defend them when people complain about their prices, and explain why they have to charge the prices they do. My customers specifically do not want to use dealerships - whether it’s due to price or because they want to do things themselves - so I don’t consider myself a competitor. I do sometimes get asked about the differences between my pricing and that of dealerships, and my typical response is along the lines of overhead. Dealerships have a lot of overhead costs that I don’t have to worry about: startup costs, the cost of the property and its maintenance, and the occasional remodeling, the cost of employees’ salaries and benefits, the cost of insurance, the cost of inventory, financing costs, legal, taxes, and a ton of other things... it’s a completely different business that an online website. Plus dealerships have many things I don’t: an AMDS (which is tightly restricted by AML, and seriously expensive even if it was available outside of a dealership), direct reachback to corporate and the factory, and tons of knowledge in their experienced technicians. So although more expensive, they have access to far more that I can offer. While I do help people with some technical questions, I usually refer them to their dealership for anything that isn’t a simple fix. And many people that contact me are just looking for information, and have no intention of doing anything themselves - they simply want to be an informed customer when they go to the dealership.

Aston Martin realizes that grassroots efforts like mine are driving a meaningful interest in the brand. When a person has trouble with their car and doesn't want to go to a dealership (for whatever reason), Aston knows it's far better that they find a resource like Redpants that is going to do its best to help them out rather than leave the brand as a jaded former-owner. So the conversation I've been having with them is how to accomplish this. I'd love to work more directly with Aston Martin, but doing so may upset Aston's franchised dealers. That said, I've talked to a few owners of dealerships and they aren't entirely against what I'm doing. (In fact, one of them - who I met at the British embassy a couple weeks ago - invited me to visit his dealership to discuss ways to get more involved.) But even so, dealerships typically don't want to lose business to outfits like mine, so they're going to prevent Aston Martin Lagonda from working too closely with me. Aston Martin wants to find ways to get more in touch with customers like mine, but in a way that doesn't alienate their dealerships. It sounds easy, but there are so many things involved that it isn't easy at all.

Needless to say, the conversation continues.

Redpants Updates

I've added a pre-order listing for my high-flow intake filters. They're still not available yet, but should be soon. Any orders received will ship as soon as the filters are ready!

I've also added a pre-order listing for air box delete brackets. I've been testing these and putting them through some severe situations, and they've been passing each test with flying colors!

Most of you have probably seen the video about the coilovers I was having made. To be honest, I'm pretty upset about it. Based on the video, they're exactly not what I want. I didn't see the video or know anything about what would be in it until it went live because I didn't want to cause any bias, so I was rather... surprised. I don't sell anything I don't endorse, so I won't be releasing the coilovers for sale until they meet my expectations. If that can't be done, I'll change course to another supplier (yes, I've already got one in mind). Tavarish liked the results, but they aren't what I asked for - not what you guys have asked for.

In case you've missed it, here's the video:

If you follow the Redpants Instagram and Facebook pages, you've probably seen the blue wheel special. That finish is Clare's favorite, so we want to see a set of wheels in that color on an Aston Martin. Although it's a stunningly beautiful finish, it's way outside the norm for what would be put on an Aston. So we've made a special offer: First person that orders a set of them and gives us pics that we can use for marketing gets a $500 credit for parts from Redpants!

Last, and definitely not least, Aston Martin's new performance sub-brand, AMR (not to be confused with Aston Martin Racing, the racing team), has just announced their initial product offerings! These include things like racing suits and helmets, titanium exhaust, aero kits, and most importantly a lightweight flywheel and dual-plate clutch package. I think the clutch package is going to be a huge hit, especially given the price. I'll be making listings for these parts soon!