Aston Martin’s bonkers brand extension: the Cygnet

I posted last year on Aston Martin's plan to launch a small city car based on the Toyota IQ.

At the time it seemed like a crazy brand extension. And brandgymblog readers shared this view, with 87% rating it a MISS in our Hit and Miss survey.

Well, I have now seen a Cygnet for real driving up my local high street in a particularly horrible orange (see below). And boy, it is a brand abomination.

It has issues on two fronts: first and most importantly, in terms of how many are likely to be sold. Second, in terms of brand image effect.


Cygnet insideLack of brand added value = low sales

The Cygnet is a "re-skinned" version of the Toyota IQ. It has a re-styled outer body and sexy interior. But the same engine and drive-train. Its like an Aston Martin special edition of the IQ if you like.

Given the IQ list price is £11,000, what would be reasonable to pay for the AM Cygnet? £15,000? £20,000? Well, the Cygnet sells for a whopping £31,000.

So, the big question is how many people are ready to pay 3 times the price of a Toyota IQ for a fancy interior and the Aston Martin badge.

The initial target for the Cygnet was reported as being between 1,000 and 2,000, which is a bit vague. This would mean the new car would add between 20% and 40% to the company's car volumes. Although it would add much less in value terms, given the other cars in the range have a list price of £90,000+. But I guess a c.40% volume increase would be good and broaden the brand's user base.

However, Initial reports suggest that "The sales of the Aston Martin Cygnet are not as high as hoped". Aston Martin CEO Ulrich Bez claims the reason for disappointing initial sales numbers is that the company doesn’t have enough on stock. So, we will have to wait and see how the sales figures pan out.

Brand image effect

A trickier question is the one about brand image. This is harder to assess than sales levels. Now, you have to work really hard to launch a "toxic" brand extension that is SO bad it negatively impacts on the sales of other products in the range. Toxic brand extensions tend to have performance or safety problems, such as the Persil Power laundry detergent that supposedly rotted clothes.

So, what about the Cygnet?

Well to my eyes it is a real stinker, as it betrays the brand's core values of "Power, beauty and soul". One of the many critical comments on a car website summed it up well: "It's a f***ing disgrace! The only idiots that I can see buying one is people who already own an Aston & want a runabout for their wife/kids.. What's next? Ferrari vans?"

Aston Martin makes high performance sports cars. So an Aston small city car would need to a high performance sports car for the city. Not a Toyota IQ with a nice paint job and fancy leather interior. Look at the brand's range of cars, and the Cygnet looks like its on the wrong website.

Screen Shot 2011-10-31 at 09.08.05

I am gobsmacked by the CEO Benz saying:  "I don’t know why people criticize this. It’s a luxury piece, a great car to go around town in. Why would you take a Vantage through London when you could have this?" You would drive a Vantage through London because you want to drive an authentic sports car, not a re-badged Toyota.

In conclusion, even if the Cygnet is a betrayal of Aston's brand values, its probably not bad enough in brand image terms to put people off buying one of the other sports cars in the range if they really want to. The key issue is sales of the Cygnet. I just hope that there are less people than Benz thinks out there ready to pay £30,000+ for a re-skinned Toyota.

In a follow-up post next week I will look at another car brand extension that was a great success: The Porsche Cayenne. I will suggest what Porsche did differently when they looked to stretch their brand into a new market segment, this time the 4×4 SUV market.