Matt Becker: PH Meets

Having spent over a quarter of a century at Lotus, Chief Test and Development Engineer Matt Becker left in 2015 for pastures new. Arriving at Gaydon as Aston Martin's Chief Engineer for Vehicle Dynamics, he immediately set about improving the way Astons feel, handle and engage with their drivers. His fingerprints are all over the brand's new Second Century philosophy, nowhere more so than in the vastly improved dynamics of the DB11. We sat down with Matt at the launch of the DB11 V8, to discuss the future direction of the luxury brand, and whether driver engagement can remain a priority.

What do you do when the V8s go?
What do you do when the V8s go?
Today's launch is all about the addition of a V8 petrol engine, but how do you embrace electrification in a luxury automotive brand?
"We've got our own Tesla benchmark car. I really like electric cars because I think the instant performance you get is so impressive - people think of electric cars as milk floats but obviously times have moved on and they're now a lot more exciting than they used to be. Aston is all about beauty and we can do that with an electric car. The biggest challenge for Aston will be sound: how do you create an exciting sound with an electric car?"

So how do you?
"I've no idea! You can't. So another attribute has to be at the forefront of electric cars to make up for one of the most important attributes we're going to lose."

And autonomous cars? Aston is such a performance-driven brand - how does automation fit in?
"We're thinking about autonomous cars, for sure. What you'll end up with when we go to autonomous is a choice - you switch it off or on - so the car still has to be engaging when you switch autonomy off. If we think a car we develop will be 70 or 80 per cent autonomous, you'll concentrate a lot more on things like ride quality and road isolation than you will if you have a car where autonomy is only going to be used 30 per cent of the time - in a sports car, for instance. You then switch your attributes to be more focused on handling and steering and performance rather than ride. Autonomy is exciting, but it's scary - it really is. It's going to be a challenge."

What will happen when there aren't any more V8s?
What will happen when there aren't any more V8s?
Hybrid hypercars with F1 tech: what's it all about? One big vanity project?
"It shows your technical expertise as a company; I think it's great. All the companies and OEMs are battling against each other; it's like Formula One - you have a set of rules and everyone comes out with their own car, but look at how competitive those cars are with each other - it's incredible considering they're all designing them themselves.

"But look at the Valkyrie relative to the Mercedes hypercar [just launched at Frankfurt] - the Mercedes has gone in a slightly different direction - I don't know what the weight of that car is, but I'm sure it's quite heavy. Whereas, if you look at what [Adrian] Newey's doing with the Aston (and I'm working together with him), it's all about aero, it's all about mass, so the cars are headed in slightly different directions. But I think it's great because it shows how technically competent the company is. Look at the Bugatti Chiron - they'll never make any money on them but it's a technology demonstrator for what they're capable of doing."

What's your input on Valkyrie?
"The Valkyrie project is run by Dave King's department [King is Chief Special Operations Officer, in charge of AMR and the motorsport side] - once the car gets going, I'll be involved. Because I'm not a racing driver, I'll be the road car side where I say, "It doesn't feel quite right for the road" - so I'll make sure it drives like an Aston when it needs to. I know what Adrian wants; he wants a car with a linear feel to it, that feels like an Aston at anything from 10mph to 200mph. He wants that connection in the car, that it feels appropriate."

Becker gets involved with this "when it starts moving"
Becker gets involved with this "when it starts moving"
Which other auto brands are doing innovative, exciting stuff right now, from an engineering point of view?
"I'm a real Porsche fan, I really admire them. It seems like anything they bring out, whatever segment they go into, they smash it every time. You can see they're a bit Germanic, but just look at how many cars they sell and how profitable they are as a business. How many five-star reviews they get every time they bring a car out..."

You did a lot of consultancy in your 20-odd years at Lotus: are you working on Aston Martin Consultancy projects, like the Miami apartments?
"No, I'm surprised I don't. When I was at Lotus, the main part of my job for many years was doing third party engineering consultancy where we used to get out to China, India, Malaysia, all over the world doing consultancy on dynamics development, whereas that side of Aston Martin hasn't really taken off - it's been mainly all to do with design-based stuff like the Miami apartments. It's not to say we won't go to the engineering side in the future; we're just not at the moment."

How do you make this exciting at road speed?
How do you make this exciting at road speed?
Would you recommend automotive engineering as a career?
"There are a lot of people who would kill for my job. It's an exciting place to be and I think automotive engineering has such a wide scope. Once you get into the field - there's electrical, body design development, chassis development, NVH [Noise, Vibration, Harshness] - such a wide span of what you can do. It's a good career to get into. The only thing I would say, is it doesn't pay as well as being a stockbroker - they earn the money to be able to afford to buy the cars, but then again, we get to drive the cars all the time..."

Aston Martin's CEO, Andy Palmer, is an engineer by trade, and he scouted you for the job at Aston. No pressure, then. How is it having an engineer as your boss?
"He's pretty good - he respects and trusts me. He drives the cars occasionally with me, but not so much any more - he's a busy man - but he trusts me to get on with it. He'll always come back with comments, I have to have an answer for them, or I'm in trouble."


P.H. O'meter

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Comments (13) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Porsche911R 21 Sep 2017

    Looks like he should have got a job at Porsche :-)

  • gm77 21 Sep 2017

    Good point. They need some help with the set-up of their vehicles

  • giveitfish 21 Sep 2017

    2 comments? That's all? I do wonder about this place sometimes.

    This is the guy who defined the standard of feel and handling against which all other performance cars should be judged. I'd love to hear more about how he goes about doing that and the experiences he's had.

  • AshD 21 Sep 2017

    Back in 2000 i spent the day being instructed and taken round the Hethel track on a driver training day by Matt. Great guy and Aston are very lucky to have him.

    it's clear that he, and his father, pretty much defined Lotus' dynamic characteristics and in doing so set a benchmark for the industry.

    I dearly hope he's passing his knowledge and experience on to others in Aston.

    Great interview

  • blearyeyedboy 21 Sep 2017

    More articles like this one, please!

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