Aston Martin considers IPO

Aston Martin, fresh from a maiden bond issue, said it was considering an initial public offering of its shares.

The British luxury sports car maker also said it was poised to launch a sales arm in China, and that it had renewed an engine supply agreement with Ford Motor to at least 2016.

The company said an IPO was not imminent. Ulrich Bez, the company’s chief executive, told reporters at a business briefing that the company had not appointed advisers. However, he added: “We will be ready if the time is right.”

Aston Martin last month completed a £304m bond issue, for which the company was assigned “junk” status by agencies Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s.

The company is majority-owned by Kuwait’s Investment Dar, which bought it from Ford in 2007 in a deal worth £479m ($766m). The Kuwaiti group has long been rumoured to be considering an IPO that would allow it to offload the investment.

“It would be quite a normal step for a private equity house that at some stage they get a return on their investment money and grow their business further,” Mr Bez said. “My personal interest is that the business grows and flourishes.”

Aston Martin, based in the English Midlands town of Gaydon, saw its sales collapse during the financial crisis, from 7,300 a year at their peak in 2007, to fewer than 4,200 last year.

The carmaker, which last year launched the One-77, a £1.4m supercar, says that it has raised the amount it commands per car from an average of £70,000 in 2007 to £104,000 last year.

The company said on Wednesday that the V12 Zagato concept car it recently raced at the Nurbergring would go into production on a limited basis.

However, Aston Martin has largely missed out on surging demand for premium cars in China, the world’s largest car market, where Germany’s BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz have been recording record sales recently.

The carmaker has four dealerships in the country, but lacks a fully fledged sales operation.

Michael van der Sande, the company’s chief commercial officer, said that Aston Martin expected to receive a Chinese import licence that would allow it to establish a sales operation “imminently”. He said it planned to expand from four to 12 dealerships in China over the next two years. Separately, Mr Bez said that Aston Martin had extended its agreement with Ford, with which it produces engines in Cologne, under an agreement that had been due to expire in 2012.

“The extension will be four years-plus,” he said. “We will have a 12-cylinder engine and we will have an 8-cylinder engine.”

Aston Martin has in recent months sounded out Daimler and other premium carmakers about co-operating on engines and in other areas such as safety technology, to allow the sports car maker to reduce its reliance on Ford.

Ford on Wednesday declined to comment on its supplier relationship with the UK company.

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