A consortium that includes Canadian billionaires Lawrence Stroll and André Desmarais is buying a major stake in struggling British car maker Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. whose best customer is James Bond.
The group is investing £182-million, or $318-million, as part of a £500-million financing for the car maker, which has been beset by plummeting sales. The consortium will initially acquire a 16.7 per cent stake, but it plans to increase that to 20 per cent.
Mr. Stroll is leading the consortium and he will become the 106-year-old company’s executive chairman. Under the deal, he is also injecting £55.5-million in short-term funding to immediately stabilize the company’s finances. The money will be refunded as soon as the rest of the financing is in place.
Mr. Stroll built his fortune in the fashion world and has become an avid Formula One fan. He currently owns the Racing Point F1 team, but plans to rebrand it Aston Martin F1 under a 10-year sponsorship deal that begins next year. Aston Martin will continue to sponsor the Red Bull Racing team this season. Mr. Stroll’s 21-year-old son, Lance, drives for Racing Point and he finished 15th in the drivers’ standing last year.
“Aston Martin Lagonda makes some of the world’s most iconic luxury cars, designed and built by very talented people,” Mr. Stroll said in a statement. “Our investment announced today underpins the company’s financial security and ensures it will be operating from a position of financial strength.”
Other members of the consortium include Mr. Desmarais, the former chief executive of Power Corp.; John McCaw, former part-owner of McCaw Cellular; and Mr. Stroll’s long-time business partner Silas Chou, a Hong Kong-based investor.
Aston Martin’s chief executive Andy Palmer told Reuters that Mr. Stroll brings several advantages to the company. “He brings with him his experiences and access to his Formula One team,” Mr. Palmer said. "We’ve talked a lot in the past few years about wanting to be clearly rooted in luxury and obviously Mr. Stroll knows an awful lot about luxury.”
Aston Martin has struggled since going public on the London Stock Exchange in 2018 at £19 a share. The stock price has sunk to £4 lately, although it jumped to £4.73 on Friday after the announcement.
The company, whose cars have appeared in 12 James Bond films, issued a profit warning earlier this month after announcing that its deliveries to dealers had fallen by 7 per cent to 5,809 last year. Full results will be released at the end of February, but the company said its operating profit for 2019 was expected to fall to between £130-million and £140-million from £247-million in 2018. It added that 2019 had been “a disappointing year with trading weaker than anticipated, particularly for Vantage and in Europe and the U.K. across all car lines.”
The profit warning raised fresh concerns about the viability of the car maker, which has gone bankrupt seven times in its history. It has blamed the slump on rising marketing costs, foreign currency exchange and a drop in the average selling price as buyers moved toward its Vantage two-seater sports car, its cheapest brand which sells for £120,900. The company plans a major restructuring, which will include management changes and job cuts aimed at saving £10-million annually. The weak performance also meant Aston Martin faced a cash crunch and had exceeded the conditions on a $100-million line of financing.
The company has been betting much of its future on the launch of its first SUV this summer called DBX, which has received good reviews. It said Friday that orders for the DBX have been climbing and now stand at 1,800, which was “materially better than for any previous model.” It’s also launching a Vantage Roadster this spring.
“Having been no stranger to bankruptcy during its 106-year history, the company’s board will have been fully aware of the stakes following a disastrous 2019, which made a mockery of the company’s £4-billion valuation at IPO,” Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said in a report on Friday. “Focus is now likely to fall on CEO Andy Palmer and whether he is the right man to have behind the wheel as Aston Martin looks to find another gear.”
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