Interviewing senior car company executives is often a delicate process, one where artful answers have to be carefully unpicked - and where the leaders often only drop hints rather than actual facts. But that's categorically not the case with Tobias Moers, who is every bit as forthright as Aston Martin CEO as he was when he used to run AMG. What was meant to be a gentle opener when I speak to him at Gaydon - what was as he expected when he joined, what was different - is knocked over the pavilion roof.
"The company was in trouble, which I expected," he says, "but it was worse than I thought, about as bad as it could be. I found a great team here, and that is good, but for sure we had to change a lot of things to save the company."
The turnaround plan - dubbed Project Horizon - was defined within a month of Moers' arrival as CEO last August, and many of its higher priority actions have already had ticks applied to them. The first and most urgent was rationalizing production, with sports car assembly at Gaydon now reduced to a single line and huge amounts of complexity taken out.
"When I came here, we had almost 400 cars in the factory here," Moers says, in a disbelieving tone, "it was crazy - this was for a production of 15 cars a day. We had 70 stations on two assembly lines. Now we have 23 on one assembly line. We had all the material, every part, on boxes lineside just like you used to have in a high-volume old-school site. Now everything comes kitted for each car."
There is a note of wonderment in Moers' voice as he describes this and the obvious contrast to the way AMG was run under his watch. Other changes include the decision to use the new, state-of-the-art paint shop at St. Athan for the company's sports cars as well as the DBX - they will return to Gaydon for final assembly - and a cull of many of the separate facilities and divisions that had proliferated in Aston's fat years leading up to its IPO. "We're putting everything together. We had so many separate organisations and units, we have no need for that... and you feel a team spirit which wasn't here when I first arrived. That was another astonishing thing - seeing how many silos there were in a small company like this."
Together with a dramatic overhaul in Aston's sales operations - the company stopping its former practice of building cars for stock - the plan has already created what Moers describes as breathing space. "It should not matter if you build 15, 20 or 25 cars a day - it should always be with similar efficiency."
Moers is complimentary about much of what he inherited, praising Aston's core team and describing the freshly launched DBX as the "best handling SUV you can get in the marketplace at the moment." But his first nine months in charge have also seen some radical changes made to Aston's product strategy.
Mid-engined supercars will still play a significant part of Aston's future, with the Valhalla set to the launch first, followed by the Vanquish. But the plan to create an electrically turbocharged and hybridized V6 to power the Valhalla has been axed. "If that engine had been ready to go, I would have been happy to go with it, but it was not here unfortunately," Moers says, "I can understand the idea behind it, but in a company like this you should not spend all of your money, your CapEx in creating an IC engine while everybody is moving into electrification or pure electric."
Instead, Moers confirms both Valhalla and Vanquish will get AMG-sourced V8s, albeit ones that will be effectively built around Aston's requirements. "We're going to create a bespoke engine for Valhalla out of the V8 toolbox of AMG, and the Vanquish will get another," he says, "we will be able to make substantial changes, much more than before, you cannot just take a Black Series engine for example and just put it into a mid-engined car, you need to change it - and we will do that ourselves."
The V8s will work with an advanced hybrid system that Aston will build itself, and which won't come from Mercedes. "We will create it," Moers explains, "an electric drive front axle will be standard in that segment by then, so we have to create that ourselves - also a gearbox which is capable of electrification."
Meaning a system that can add electrical power to both ends, like that of the Ferrari SF90, one that will likely give the Valhalla a similar (or greater) level of performance, albeit getting to market several years later.
Even before arriving at Aston Moers knew plenty about hugely complicated supercar projects - and acknowledges that he is probably the only person in the world to have driven prototype versions of both the Formula 1 engined AMG Project One and the Aston Martin Valkyrie.
"They are not rivals, they are totally different cars, they could not be more different," he says, "the Valkyrie is, from a car perspective, not really a car - it's a two-seat Formula 1 experience. And the Project One is much closer to a normal, standard vehicle, but one with a powertrain that is very bespoke."
Of course, the Valkyrie also has an unobtanium powertrain in the form of its high-revving naturally aspirated Cosworth V12. Moers admits that this "sounds unbelievable when it is unleashed", and also admits he has been wondering about the possibility of using it in other projects: "I think about it, because it's a huge investment [for one car]. I try to be creative about what else we could do with that engine. But probably not put it in a DBS."
Aston's other V12 engine - the twin-turbo unit that serves in DB11, DBS and the forthcoming V12 Speedster - didn't make a great first impression on the company's new boss.
"Yeah, it was impossible," he remembers, "Silverstone, five degrees Celcius, wet surface, no traction control and it was impossible to drive the car properly around the corner without spinning."
But the venerable V12 has been retuned to improve its manners and is now set to enjoy a medium-term future, although one that Moers admits probably won't take it to the end of Aston's combustion era.
"For sure it's a legacy engine," he laughs, "but it's a cool engine, a heavy engine. We've done some work on it regarding driveability and in the V12 Speedster it is... but by Euro 7 I think it's over, it's not direct injection, it's still port injection."
Moers is willing to discuss future product strategy in frank detail - although doubtless keeping some key details under wraps. He says that the company's sports cars - Vantage, DB11 and DBS Superleggera - will be sharpened with heavy facelifts, but all will remain combustion only until eventually replaced by next-generation electric models, avoiding the cost and complication of hybridization.
But the DBX will be offered as a plug-in much sooner, with Moers confirming that this will be using a version of the forthcoming AMG V8 plug-in architecture, the same one that is set to carry '73' branding when fitted to Mercedes models. Before that we should expect a faster version of the combustion DBX, one that company insiders have already said is reckoned to be in with a good shout of proving itself the fastest SUV on the Nurburgring Nordschleife. "Let's just say there is a car from a competitor that has its life a bit too comfortable at the moment," Moers says, "Lamborghini is doing really well with the Urus."
Further out, Moers insists he is not afraid of the challenge of ensuring Aston's full EVs are able to deliver an appropriate level of emotional appeal.
"You make an assessment about speed and acceleration and performance with all your senses - it's a bit how it sounds, and a bit how it feels. These cars tend to lack feeling, but you can get creative."
At which point I make the mistake of suggesting that Moers time at AMG should have given him an appreciation of the importance of natural sound and fury, nominating the soon-to-retire 4.0-litre V8 as a great example.
"But it isn't natural, not at all," Moers laughs, revealing the presence of an active system I never even suspected, "it took me nights and nights with the guys to create that sound and that feeling - but you really can make it."
Time is running short, but there's time to (briefly) cover a few more topics. Does Moers believe in e-fuels? Not to the extent of wanting to follow Porsche's lead in actively pursuing them: "if there's a breakthrough then perfect, we can always go back to combustion engines. So, what is the risk of not being in? Nothing. What is the risk of not backing electric drive? The entire company."
Plans to relaunch the Lagonda brand had already been put on ice before Moers arrival, and it looks set to stay there for considerably longer. "We just have to focus fully on Aston Martin," Moers says, "I like the idea of doing a Lagonda, but we have to keep it on the side at the moment."
Motorsport is another topic that gets dispatched quickly. Moers says he took the decision to kill Aston's long-running WEC programme on the basis of "cost and value - it just wasn't aligned", but he remains a big fan of customer racing through GT4 and GT3 cars. There isn't time for any discussion of the Aston Martin Formula 1 team's so-far shaky debut season, but Moers insists the connection is already proving its worth: "Bahrain crashed our website as so many people tried to engage with our configurator."
For my final question I opt for one I once threw at Moers' predecessor, Andy Palmer: which company does he most want to beat? Palmer's answer touched on several rivals against different parts of the portfolio. But, after some thought, Moers opts for one.
"In every respect Ferrari is the market leader in mid-engined programmes; if I could achieve that level, I'm happy," he says, "I know there is a huge challenge, but for the mid-engined programme for sure it is Ferrari. They stand for that; it is their very purpose. And if you can catch up with these guys, what an unbelievable journey it would be."
So no shortage of ambition, then. But as the man who joined AMG when it had 120 employees, rose through the ranks to take command, and then left with more than 2,000 people working under him, Moers has proved his ability to deliver transformational change. If he can give Aston the commercial security it desperately needs, who knows what he might be able to build on top of that.
1 / 15