Aston Martin – Buy the Cars and the Shares

This is quite a U-turn for us – a full hand-brake, opposite-lock wheels-spinning 180-degree about face. Ever since the shares were launched at £19.00 each, we have been fearful that Aston Martin (ticker AML) has been trying to do too much, with too few resources. Now that the shares are almost in penny territory we say BUY! Fill your boots – or at least fill that curvaceous trunk at the rear of your gorgeous Aston Martin.

Our previous articles, Great New Aston Martin Models in Geneva – but What About The Shares?, No U-Turn on Aston Martin (AML) – Yet!, and Aston Martin Still Has a Mountain to Climb* may have given the impression that we felt AML was on the downhill road to bankruptcy.

So what has changed?

Lawrence S Stroll

Since our last report, Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll has bought a quarter of the company and installed himself as Chairman. More importantly, he has assessed the company as a businessman rather than as a car enthusiast. So he can see that everything hangs on getting the new DBX model (a long overdue SUV) into series production. So the peripheral distractions – such as re-introducing the Lagonda brand as as an EV – need to be abandoned to focus on what counts.

Do we think Aston Martin has a long-term future as an independent car maker? In a word, Nope, Not A Chance! Okay, so that was four words – what do you want, a financial analyst that can count??

We still see AML being bought by Daimler Benz or Geely (see our earlier article about their ambition). The difference now is that Aston Martin will be bought from the shareholders, not the receiver.

Aston have announced that they intend to restart production in the new factory at St Athan. There may not be a huge launch event for the DBX, but you can be sure there will be plenty of column inches to cover it.

The night is always darkest before the dawn. Right now, things look a bit iffy for AML, with closed factories, a high-interest loan to service and all the challenges of building a new car in a new factory – and then launching it into a market new to the company. However, if you wait to see how the company performs launching and building the DBX model this summer, the opportunity will be gone. They closed last night at 59p, having been as low as 49p this week. By Chrismas, the shares will be back at £5.00 each, as the financial world recognises the turn-around of this magnificent company.

Buy now. These shares are due to motor upwards! (Sorry, I so nearly managed to resist motoring puns throughout this article.) Then go and order a DBX.

IMPORTANT: Please see our disclaimer. We are only commentators. Readers must review any potential share purchases or sales ideas with their special advisors before going ahead.

Are Autonomous Cars Just Around the Corner?

Three years ago, we all believed that autonomous cars were just around the corner – and we felt that was a good thing. Retain human control for the fabled blast in the country, but let the machines take on the drudgery of commuting and long-distance motorway work – and getting us home from the pub!

Range Rover Sport that managed to drive the Coventry ring road

So what’s changed?

It was shocking to read, in Autocar, that Andy Palmer, boss of recently floated Aston Martin, quoted as saying “The idea of full autonomy being widespread in my lifetime is absurd. Full Level 5 systems are a moonshot.” As an aside, Mr Palmer was also scathing about Brexit, confirming that the delay was the worst of all worlds, preferring a decision, any decision, to be made to close down the uncertainty.

Andy Palmer of Aston Martin

We have some doubts about the direction of Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd as a company, but we respect Andy Palmer as a well-connected, senior car-industry figure. So when he says that full autonomy is a pipe-dream, we listen.

Another issue revealed to us is the autonomy “big accident” risk. When autonomous cars crash, they tend to be large ones! If humans have crashes, mostly they will realise that something has gone wrong and slam on the brakes at the last split-second. Whilst this does not prevent the crash, it does mean that some deceleration occurs before impact, and so the crash happens at much reduced speed. Typically, crashes in autonomous cars happen because of a failure to correctly interpret the surroundings of the vehicle. And thus the autonomous car hasn’t noticed anything wrong – so it ploughs into the obstruction at full speed! Ooops.

There have been two famous crashes, where Teslas have sped straight into the side of juggernauts parked across the highway. Speculation among the online community (oh dear, not the most reliable source then) is that the crashes happened because seeing a juggernaut sideways is such an unusual occurrence that the AI-developed software interprets the sight as an overpass bridge and so ignores it.

Finally, there is the fabled issue of how can one let a computer decide whether to swerve away from a man in the road, if that then endangers two children on the pavement.

However, we are not convinced that these issues will prevent autonomous cars. At its present stage of development, it appears that sensors, processing power and software are not quite there. But these are engineering problems that are easy to define and will be solved.

  1. Computers are very good at measuring distances and heights. Therefore, interpreting a truck as a truck and not a bridge can be pre-programmed. Likewise, new types of sensors will be developed so that cars will know much better than human drivers what is going on around the vehicle. Add to that car-to-car connectivity, so that each car knows the intention of all the vehicles within half a mile, and suddenly an autonomous car is much better placed to co-ordinate its movements with those of all the surrounding cars.

  2. We do not agree with the idea that humans are better at split-second, morally loaded decisions than computers. In a crash situation, the choices made by a driver will be essentially random, or pre-programmed by their normal reaction. Given a little forethought by the software programmers, 99.9% of situations can be managed for an optimal result rather than the vague human output.

  3. Convoys of communicating vehicles can travel closely together, allowing for more efficient use of roads, and greater fuel efficiency.

  4. We wonder if Mr Palmer’s reluctance over self-driving cars is that it removes a key justification for buying an Aston Martin – and that providing such systems is also beyond the capacity of a relatively tiny car company?
  5. However, combining human drivers with convoys of autonomous vehicles could be tricky.

It is this last point which is exercising us! We believe that fully autonomous roads will happen within the next 10 years. Our worry is that will the take over of roads by autonomous vehicles mean that car enthusiasts in their old-fashioned, petrol engined “classics” are banned from going out at all eventually?