Home » World News » The Aston Martin DB11 quietly sources its V8 engine from Mercedes — and it shows how small luxury automakers depend on larger ones to survive
The Aston Martin DB11 quietly sources its V8 engine from Mercedes — and it shows how small luxury automakers depend on larger ones to survive
When Ford dropped Aston Martin in 2007, the luxury carmaker pivoted to keep up engine innovation and design, resulting in a technical partnership with Mercedes-AMG to source the eight-cylinder engine for the 2020 Aston Martin DB11 V8.
While the DB11's high-income segment might raise concerns about individuality, Aston Martin reprogrammed the motor's computer controls, changed its intake, and massaged the exhaust to maintain its distinct sound.
With former AMG boss Tobias Moer having replaced CEO Andy Palmer earlier this year, the Gaydon, UK-based auto company hopes to climb out of its sales slump.
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It's far more complicated, and more expensive, to manufacture a modern automobile than most of us could ever imagine. This is doubly true for those scratching out an existence at the ultra-luxury margins of the industry, where development costs are rarely ever recouped by volume sales and product decisions have almost zero margin for error should they not connect with the core group of buyers — whose support is key to keeping the lights on.
In an automotive industry increasingly driven by consolidation, where not even major operations like Chrysler, Fiat, Nissan, and Mitsubishi can find a path forward without joining together in elaborate networks of takeovers and mergers, smaller concerns have also had to forge similar partnerships lest they be swallowed whole by red ink or a deep-pocketed competitor.
Perhaps no vehicle illustrates this better among high-end brands than the 2020 Aston Martin DB11 V8, a respected and stylish grand-touring coupe that'=s looked across the English Channel to pull its entire drivetrain from a most unlikely Continental source. It's a unique partnership between two seemingly disparate, high-performance badges — Aston Martin and Mercedes-AMG — and one that may eventually be undone by the same pressures that brought it about in the first place.
Everybody needs somebody to lean on
One of the most storied builders to have emerged from England's early automotive industry, Aston Martin can trace its operations back more than a century. During that time, the modest manufacturer has laid claim to numerous racing victories, countless gorgeous sports cars, and of course more than one starring role in the James Bond franchise.
The road to its current independence has come at a cost. After a decade or so of ownership by Ford that ended in 2007, Aston Martin was forced to take stock of its future. The technologies it had relied on from the Blue Oval naturally had an expiration date, especially in the fast-paced world of engine design, which was increasingly challenged by the twin specters of emissions regulations and efficiency expectations.
With the end of the line approaching for its Ford-sourced V8 and V12 engines, Aston Martin quickly realized that it had the budget available to replace only one of those power plants in house. Logically, it made sense for the company to continue to forge its own twelve-cylinder future, as that motor had long been indelibly associated with the Aston Martin image, and development began on a new turbocharged design in 2011.
That V12 emerged just over five years later, and can today be found in the top-tier versions of the Aston Martin DB11, as well as several other models. The hunt for a new V8, however, shifted the Brit builder's gaze from Detroit to Daimler, resulting in a "technical partnership" that saw Mercedes-AMG play a major role in developing the next eight-cylinder to be found under an Aston's hood.
It was a deal that also netted parent company Daimler a 5% stake in Aston Martin, as well as the commitment to provide the automaker with access to electrical and infotainment systems to be used in future vehicles.
In many ways, it was the perfect illustration of car companies expanding their purview to become technology vendors, with the well-funded "haves" such as Mercedes-Benz and Toyota (which regularly licensed out, and eventually gave away, its hybrid battery know-how) bolstering automakers with smaller research and development budgets.
Altogether, the partnership played a key role in newly-minted CEO Andy Palmer's "second century" plan for Aston Martin, which committed to a return to profitability fueled by repositioning the brand's perception on the global stage, as well as through an expansion of the vehicle range to include an SUV and a new set of mid-engine sports cars.