Aston Martin, film Bond’s favorite ride, faces new uncertainty

Iconic publicity still for Goldfinger with Sean Connery leaning against the Aston Martin DB5.

Aston Martin, the preferred ride for the film James Bond (not so much the literary version), isn’t having a good time. In fact, the maker of luxury-car makers faces a lot of uncertainty.

The Guardian, in a Jan. 7 report, said Aston Martin’s financial results are faltering.

James Bond’s favourite car marque is now predicting adjusted profits of between £130m and £140m for 2019 – almost half the £247m it made the previous year. Analysts had been forecasting profits of £196m. Over the first nine months of 2019, Aston Martin racked up a pretax loss of more than £92m.

But that’s not all.

The Financial Times (CLICK HERE to see a Bloomberg summary of the FT story) has reported that Geely, a Chinese automaker, is interested in acquiring a stake in the automaker. Here’s an excerpt of a Bloomberg summary of the FT story:

Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. of China has held talks with management and investors in Aston Martin Lagonda Global Holdings Plc about taking a stake in the U.K. carmaker, the Financial Times reported.

(snip)

The company said last month it was in talks with potential investors, and this week showed the depth of its financial troubles by reporting a severe decline in profit in its first full year as a listed company.

Geely is conducting due diligence, the FT said Friday, citing unidentified sources. A technology partnership is also a potential outcome of talks, the British newspaper said.

Some perspective: Aston Martin is a runt in the global auto industry. It was owned by Ford Motor Co from 1987 to 2007. Ford was in the midst of a financial crisis in the 2000s and unloaded Aston Martin to a group of investors.

In 2008, Ford sold Jaguar and Land Rover to India’s Tata Motors. Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover have all figured into James Bond films after Ford divested them.

Regardless, Aston Martin figures into the Bond film series since 1964’s Goldfinger.

Periodically, Aston Martin talks about diversifying from James Bond. No luck, so far. Four (or so) Aston models, past and present, will be in No Time to Die.

At best, Aston Martin faces an uncertain future.

UPDATE (Jan. 11): An outlet called Autocar, in a Jan. 10 story, reported that Aston Martin won’t proceed with a production version of its Raptide E electric car. Instead, the vehicle will become a “research project” for further Aston electrification efforts.

At one time, the Raptide E reportedly was going to be in No Time to Die but that didn’t happen.

Ford v Ferrari’s odd James Bond reference

Henry Ford II (1917-1987) in front of portraits of his father, Edsel Ford (1893-1943) and grandfather Henry Ford (1863-1947).

Obviously, this is a spoiler for Ford v Ferrari.

This weekend, the top box office movie in the U.S. is Ford v Ferrari, a depiction of how Ford beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in the 1960s. It also has a peculiar James Bond reference.

Early in the film, Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) is trying to persuade Ford Motor Co. boss Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) to get involved in international auto racing to boost the company’s image.

As part of Iacocca’s presentation he shows two slides of Sean Connery as James Bond — one a publicity photo for Goldfinger of Connery with the Aston Martin DB5, the other a still from Thunderball. “James Bond doesn’t drive a Ford,” Iacocca says.

“That’s because he’s a degenerate,” Henry Ford II, aka “Hank the Deuce,” scoffs.

This is a little odd for a few reasons.

In Goldfinger, Ford already supplied a fleet of vehicles. Ford Motor wouldn’t own Aston Martin until 1987. But the movie was the movie debut of the Ford Mustang (driven by Tilly in Switzerland).

The film also had a Lincoln Continental (crushed with the body of Mr. Solo inside), a Ford Thunderbird (with Felix Leiter as a passenger) and a group of Ford trucks (driven to Fort Knox).

Ford’s presence was even more prominent in Thunderball.

There was another Thunderbird (driven by Largo to SPECTRE headdquarters in Paris), two Lincoln Continentals, a Ford Fairlane (driven by Count Lippe when he meets his demise via rockets fired by Fiona Volpe) and another Mustang (driven by Fiona when she picks up a hitchhiking Bond).

On top of all that, Henry Ford II himself was an extra in the movie during the Nassau casino sequence, according to The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin. The auto executive’s fee was $35, according to that book.

Also, if anything, Bond and Henry Ford II should have been kindred spirits. Here’s a short passage from an obituary about Henry Ford II by the Los Angeles Times.

He was the international playboy who did as he liked, starring in the jet set gossip columns and making headlines as master of revels at famous watering holes in the Bahamas, Mexico and the Riviera.

“Never complain, never explain,” he said when questioned about a 1975 peccadillo.

Ford Motor had a long, on-and-off relationship with the Bond film series. Other Bond films with Ford vehicles include On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, A View to a Kill, Die Another Day, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

Three brands formerly owned by Ford, Aston Martin (sold in 2007) and Jaguar and Land Rover (sold in 2008) continue to appear in the series.

Aston Martin’s bumpy ride

Iconic publicity still for Goldfinger with Sean Connery leaning against the Aston Martin DB5. But more recently, Aston has had a bumpy ride.

Thanks to the James Bond movies, the cars of Aston Martin are seen as a fantasy. In reality, the company has had a bumpy ride for a while.

Aston Martin’s financial results aren’t pretty. Business Matters via Barclays spells it out.

“The company said it made a £92.3m pre-tax loss for the first nine months of 2019 – £13.5m of that was recorded in the third quarter to 30 September. It had achieved profits of £24m in the same nine month period in 2018.

“Aston Martin said revenues fell 11% to £250m in the last quarter – led by a 16% decline in wholesale volumes.”

From 1987 until 2007, Aston Martin was part of a larger automaker, Ford Motor Co. But Ford, facing a financial mess, sold the luxury-car maker to a group of investors.

Ford later sold off other European luxury brands (Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo) while it got its financial house in order. Land Rover and Jaguar, under their current owners, India’s Tata, also supply vehicles to Bond films.

Aston Martin still is going it alone. One of its intangible assets is its image thanks to the Bond films. But that only goes so far.

In 2014, Adweek wrote about how Bond doesn’t translate directly into sales. In 2016, Aston executives told MarketingWeek the company was relying too much on Bond and needed to diversify.

Now, it’s 2019 and things haven’t changed much. Aston Martin is building 25 DB5 replicas with gadgets for $3.5 million each (or so). The company is tethered to Bond more than ever.

Multiple Aston models — past and present — will be included in No Time to Die. One will be the DB5 that was first seen in 1964’s Goldfinger. Except, it’s not a real DB5. It’s a replica with a carbon fiber body and a BMW engine.

Real life has a way of intruding on the fantasy.

Bullitt: Movie auto history in Detroit

The original Mustang driven by Steve McQueen in Bullitt, on display at Ford Motor Co.’s stand today at the North American International Auto Show.

DETROIT — A car from the past was featured today at the North American International Auto Show, which normally introduces new models.

The car was the Ford Mustang driven by Steve McQueen in 1968’s Bullitt. It was one of two Mustangs in the film. The other was a stunt car.

One of the new models Ford Motor Co. unveiled was a 50th anniversary, 2019 “Bullitt Mustang.”

However, the new car may have been upstaged a bit by the original car, which was brought out as part of the new model’s introduction.

As part of the presentation, Ford used some of Lalo Schifrin’s score from the 1968 movie in a video promoting the new car. Also present was Molly McQueen, granddaughter of McQueen and Neile Adams. Molly McQueen was born seven years after the death of her grandfather.

UPDATE (Jan. 15): Hagerty, which insures classic cars, said in an e-mailed statement today that the 1968 Mustang from Bullitt, if it comes to auction, could fetch a price similar to the $4.1 million for the James Bond Aston Martin DB5 in 2010 and the $4.6 million for original Batmobile in 2013.

Limbo for the serious James Bond fan Part II

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Last week’s fuss/buzz/kerfuffle (take your choice) about whether Daniel Craig has quit or not as James Bond unleashed a heat, if not much light about what’s next for the film 007.

What follows are some observations until there’s some real news to chew on.

Both the Daily Mail and BBC were opaque: There were dueling media accounts last week by the Daily Mail (which said Craig quit and turned down 68 million British pounds to do two more movies) and the BBC (which said Craig hadn’t quit and a decision wouldn’t be made for “a while.”).

For many, the decision which to believe was easy. The BBC is a prestigious media outlet while the Daily Mail (or Daily Fail, according to its critics) is a sloppy U.K. tabloid.

Still, both relied on unidentified sources of information. The Daily Mail cited “insiders,” including “one LA film source.” The BBC cited “authoritative Bond sources” (Barbara Broccoli? Michael G. Wilson? An Eon publicist?).

In a lot of instances, you have to not identify sources to break a story. But there’s the drawback that, in the end, the reader has to trust the outlet. In this case, the two outlets — one prestigious, the other not — are equally opaque in how they obtained their information.

Tabloids have been right in the past: Tabloids have been correct about Bond news in the past. That doesn’t mean each new story — such as last week’s Daily Mail story about Craig — should get an automatic pass. But people do tend to forget when their information has turned out to be right.

One such story occurred four years ago when the Daily Mail insisted that Naomie Harris was playing Moneypenny in Skyfall. The initial publicity said she was playing an MI6 agent named Eve.

Harris denied she was playing Moneypenny. The MI6 James Bond website ran a story in January 2012 that amplified that point.

Although little has been revealed about her Bond Girl role in the upcoming “Skyfall”, a lot of talk has been generated by the casting of Naomie Harris. Tabloids ran wild with speculation that the actress would be playing Miss Moneypenny, but Harris has finally put that story to bed.

(snip)

Despite Harris categorically stating in the interview that she will not be playing Moneypenny in the film, one tuned-out sub editor at the Mail still managed to slip the falsehood into her unrelated travel report from the Maldives, printed in the same issue of the newspaper. (emphasis added)

Months later, the Daily Mail was proven to be correct.

Again, the Daily Mail has a bad journalistic reputation. But, for some reason, it has had 007 scoops proven correct. Many of them were reported by Baz Bamigboye, but he hasn’t been on the Bond beat since late 2014. Skepticism is understandable. Still, all sorts of stories about both Skyfall and SPECTRE were proven correct.

People, incorrectly, believe something isn’t official until there’s a press release: Contracts can be signed and commitments made — all very official, and legally binding — before there’s a public announcement.

Example: Ford Motor Co. hired Boeing Co. executive Alan Mulally as its new chief executive officer on Friday, Sept. 1, 2006. Mulally signed his contract on that date. His hiring, however wasn’t announced until four days later, Tuesday, Sept. 5, the day after the U.S. Labor Day holiday. The Sept. 1 date didn’t become public until a subsequent filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about terms of the new CEO’s contract.

In other words, Mulally was legally Ford’s CEO for four days before the company informed the public. That’s as official as it gets. A press release is the end of the process and not the beginning.

 

SPECTRE: newest twist on 007 product placement

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

No spoilers.

James Bond movies have never been shy about product placement. SPECTRE may just be a twist on a long-standing tradition.

For decades, the 007 film series produced by Eon Productions has cut deals with companies pitching their wares. Goldfinger did deals with Ford Motor Co. and Gillette. With Thunderball, not only did Ford provide vehicles but then-CEO Henry Ford II appeared as an extra. Moonraker had deals with Marlboro, 7 Up and British Airways.

By the time Pierce Brosnan was 007 (1995-2002), writer Bruce Feirstein, in his FIRST DRAFT for what would become Tomorrow Never Dies, didn’t even specify a car model for 007’s vehicle. It just said “(Insert name).”

What’s different about SPECTRE is it may amount to being product placement for a country — Mexico, to be specific — than a series of companies.

The Tax Analysts website, which is targeted at tax professionals, PUBLISHED A MARCH 3 ARTICLE detailing how SPECTRE’s script was altered to take advantage of as much as $20 million in Mexican incentives. (If you click on the link, there are spoilers.)

The incentives are intended to make Mexico look as good as possible in movies, according to the website. The country has reason to do so, according to AN ARTICLE IN THE WASHINGTON POST. Here’s an excerpt:

The Mexican government’s sensitivities to its violent reputation are no secret. When President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in 2012, he tried to minimize the focus on the drug war while emphasizing economic and political reforms. But ongoing high-profile violence, including battles in Michoacan and the disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero, has undercut that message.

None of this is happening in a vacuum. For blockbuster movies, access to the vast Chinese market is a must. The 2013 movie Iron Man 3 was a co-production with China. The 2012 remake of Red Dawn turned the villains into North Koreans instead of Chinese.

With SPECTRE, according to Tax Analysts, it was more of a direct subsidy. SPECTRE’s budget may exceed $300 million, making it one of the most expensive movies ever made.

Meanwhile, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio that owns half the Bond franchise, emerged from bankruptcy only a few years ago. It doesn’t even release its own movies, cutting deals with Sony Pictures (including the 007 films) or Warner Bros. (the now-completed Hobbit series). For MGM, $300 million is a huge bet, even for a 007 film and even though the most recent Bond movie (Skyfall) had a worldwide box office of $1.1 billion.

Put another way, $300 million is real money. Some Bond fans may get annoyed with product placement but they don’t have to sign the checks. As a result, it’s understandable why MGM would be willing to change SPECTRE’s story in return for millions of dollars.

007’s unheralded car

2006 Ford Mondeo prototype driven by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale

Ford Mondeo prototype from Casino Royale

The HMSS Weblog paid a visit to Momence, Illinois, over the weekend where the Ian Fleming Foundation was doing maintenance on vehicles that have appeared in James Bond movies. One of them isn’t thought of as a Bond car, even though it is.

It’s a Ford Mondeo prototype driven by Daniel Craig early in the 2006 movie Casino Royale, making it the first Bond car of the Craig era. Craig’s Bond in the movie would shortly drive flashier cars, such as an Aston Martin DB5 and a 21st century Aston. But the Mondeo is the first car Craig/Bond is seen in.

The foundation sought the Mondeo from Ford Motor Co. after the Casino Royale came out. The developmental prototype wasn’t built for everyday driving and not intended to go out on city streets. It’s just another example of the magic of the movies to make things seem what they aren’t. The only clue in the movie was the fact the Mondeo never drove in traffic, only by itself.