Luxury, bespoke, customised – overused words that run the risk of losing their true meaning. But what does it really mean to design a car in today’s saturated market that encapsulates all these words yet is relevant to our changing world? Aston Martin has created such a car – co-created is probably the more accurate definition given that the base is the work of Toyota.
In a nutshell the Cygnet is a very small commuter runaround designed ideally for urban mobility. To this end it isn’t very unusual. The Cygnet, though, is one of the only cars in this genre that can be customised, inside and out, for an almost personal product.
Once you have specified your desired look from the almost infinite number of body colour and interior trim options, there is very little to associate this car with the iQ from which it borrows the skeleton.
We drove various shades of Cygnets, including the most luxurious Launch Edition that comes in white or black, around London – the city’s traffic almost an ideal location to test the car. In the passenger seat sat Aston Martin’s design director Marek Reichman to discuss some of the challenges he faced designing a small Aston Martin.
Design Talks Aston Martin makes fast elegant sports cars – James Bond cars. What made you venture in this very different direction?
Marek Reichman There is this house in St John’s Wood [in London] that used to have a beautiful garden but has now turned into a tarmac driveway for the owner’s cars: a Bentley, Aston Martin, Range Rover, Porsche Cayenne, a Mercedes E Class or S Class, a Smart car and a G-Wiz.
There is a huge opportunity here. The Smart has only two seats and the G-Wiz is electric but quite shocking. So if you want something that has the same quality as the other cars that you have in your range then the Cygnet is perfect and you can get four people in it.
DT Driving it around London’s congested roads, it seems the ideal fit.
MR The Cygnet is a perfect product for the city that meets the needs from a luxury perspective for an Aston Martin owner. If we attract some other customers along the way then that is great too.
DT Are you then predominantly hoping to attract your own loyal customers – this is after all a car that comes with a rather premium price tag?
MR Some of our customers will be people who have the assets to buy an Aston Martin, but don’t necessarily aspire to drive a sports car – and believe me there are plenty of people like that. They love the brand but we don’t provide anything but a sports car. I believe it will also bring people from outside the brand.
DT This car feels almost like a household product especially in the version you collaborated with designer Tom Dixon. Was this your intention?
MR Yes this is about thinking differently about luxury. I had product design and accessories in mind when designing this. The interior is almost like a woman’s luxury handbag.
Tom Dixon is a brand, a design icon that thinks differently and works on a global scale. We are also a lifestyle brand and we feel a connection here. Working with him encouraged us to think differently. We enjoy collaborating with the likes of him on projects outside the automotive world.
DT There is some brilliant design ideas inside the Cygnet such as the glove compartment that doubles as a portable bag. What inspired you for the interior?
MR Inside much of it has been influenced by some of the things we saw at the Milan Furniture Fair in terms of materials and colours. We also looked at what’s the most important thing in this car – the steering wheel, centre console and your entrance and exit points as this is a small car.
There is real stitching and we’ve added a little bit of drama to the stitch lines. There will be more accessories on offer such as a dog basket, for a small dog naturally, so you can carry your pet out of the car.
DT Leather is the dominant material inside. Did you consider working with more high-tech material?
MR I always approach the interior with the material and find the one that becomes most synonymous with the brand. For us it is leather. There is a reason why leather has remained a success in the luxury industry and not just with cars. It is such a fabulous material that has a sense of longevity. With leather you get this feeling you can keep repairing it, keep polishing it and it only gets better.
DT It is much easier to create an elegant car when you have room to stretch the vehicle, and play around with horizontal lines to create visual length. This is hugely more challenging in a car of Cygnet’s size. How did you approach this car?
MR It had to be an instantly likeable product with an instantly likeable face. ‘Oh that is a cute car, what is it?’ reaction. Therefore it has a cute face, has great proportions and doesn’t look silly. This is why we wanted to use this chassis because it is quite a serious proportion – very wide and you can forget that there is only half meter behind you.
DT You’ve faced some harsh criticism from some of the British motoring press since announcing this car. Why have the predominantly male press felt such anger?
MR When we had the Cygnet launch party in Italy all the guys were all over the cars. The mentality, however, is completely different here – British men don’t like small cars.
You see the Italians and the French, in Paris in particular, have been living with small cars for years. In Paris the parking situation is so that you often have to drive up the curb to park you car. So most sports cars are either kept in private garages, at dealerships or outside the city.
DT How will this car impact on the Aston Martin brand?
MR The whole evolutionary concept has to apply to cars as well. As Darwin said if you don’t develop and adopt you will disappear and if you don’t collaborate you’ll also disappear.
Space in the world is at a premium because the populations are growing and economies despite recessions are in growth, with people’s lives getting better in the next 10-15 years. We are just supporting this need.
DT [Chief executive] Dr Ulrich Bez has talked about expanding the Aston Martin range with two to three new models that include a sporty crossover to be born out of the Lagonda project. How far can you expand the product range and would you consider designing a two or three-wheel alternative city runaround?
MR I don’t see why not. It really is endless as the brand has so much potential. In the last five years our profit has been incredible and the investment is amazing. The only constraint is that we are an independent company so everything has to be profitable.
DT You recently opened a dealership in Mumbai. What are your thoughts on markets such as India, China, Brazil?
MR Yes we’ve just launched ourselves in India with this new dealership in Mumbai with New Delhi next on the agenda. In China they absolutely loved the Cygnet. I was at the Shanghai Motor Show recently and we showed the car to our dealers there. The reaction was great. There is huge potential in these countries.
Read Cygnet in the city published in the Aston Martin magazine.
Nargess Shahmanesh Banks
Aston Martin has since hinted at an electric Cygnet in the near future.
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