Interview: Philip Eaglesfield, Aston Martin - Global President of UK and South Africa
PUBLISHED: 13:53 18 June 2019 | UPDATED: 13:53 18 June 2019
© Thousand Word Media
Phil Eaglesfield had been with luxury British brand Aston Martin for the past 25 years. Now he's in the driving seat, and the future looks electric
It's a glorious day up at Gaydon - one of those heart-soaring, top-down, early spring days which whisper that the long, lazy days of summer are on the way.
The honey-coloured facade of Aston Martin's HQ is bathed in sunshine, the rill flanking the entrance as jewel-like as the brace of red DB11s on submerged plinths. They're reflected in the sparkling blue and make quite an impression. But it's not just the weather that's dazzling.
The luxury British marque has just posted a 39% increase in global sales and a 12% growth in core car sales.
In the first quarter of 2019, retail growth in the Americas has almost doubled.
It's proof, if proof were needed, that CEO Dr Andy Palmer and his team are riding the wave of Aston Martin's product development and global expansion, a strategy as aggressive as the fleet's unmistakeable grilles.
He calls it "offering resilience to wider automotive trends". Everyone else calls it a remarkable rebirth: a rebirth which has just won Dr Palmer Autocar's 2019 Editor's Award.
"Three core models brilliantly replaced, a new factory close to opening and the first car to be built there almost ready for launch," Autocar lauded on Twitter.
But that's only half of the story.
To tell me the rest is Phil Eaglesfield, Global President UK and South Africa.
He's been with the company for 25 years, starting out as an expediter chasing parts, then a buyer, then a purchasing manager before moving to logistics.
After that, he ran the parts and service business, moving into his first global role in client services, looking after customers all over the world.
Twelve months ago, the UK top job came up.
"Less travel, fewer planes, more traffic jams," he laughs.
Joking aside, it's given him, he says, a deep understanding of both Aston Martin's customer base, and the business.
But this lofty mantle doesn't appear to have phased him, let alone changed him. He feels lucky, he says, to be in his dream job.
This quietly-spoken amateur landscape photographer ("I work with things that go really fast, so I try to photograph things that don't move") - and a formidably talented one at that - is sitting opposite me in an Aston Martin bomber jacket, chinos and the kind of trainers skateboarders wear.
Behind him in a vast glass atrium is a stunning DBS 59 Superleggera in racing green, one of only 24 commissioned for private buyers, built to commemorate the marque's legendary 1959 win at Le Mans.
Next to it sits Aston's Red Bull F1 car, and in an ante-room, the extraordinary Valkyrie, a limited-edition hybrid designed in consultation with Red Bull Racing's Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey.
Just 125 will roll off the production line - 25 for the track only - and already it's a sell-out. This one is parked, and it still looks biblically fast.
At first, Phil looks slightly uncomfortable in interview, but as we talk, suited visitors who walk through the glass doors make a beeline for him, hands outstretched with beaming smiles.
His face lights up.
"Good to see you," says Phil, shaking one man's hand, warmly. "We'll catch up later, yeah?" he says to another. "How long are you here for?"
He greets each one like an old friend - but these are big shot industry experts from across the world who are powering the future of automotive.
"We have all sorts of people coming here," says Phil. "Industry visitors, people coming from abroad, customers. There's always something interesting to see out there.
"The whole idea of coming to Aston is to see where the magic happens, where your cars are made, the craftsmanship, the work that goes into them."
Aston has been sprinkling its magic on the car industry since 1913 when Lionel Martin - after whom the company is named - and Robert Bamford started production at the beginning of the First World War.
It was an interesting time to start making cars - making anything, for that matter - but by the 1950s, the marque, beloved of Prince Charles and for 30-odd years a Royal Warrant-holder, had become a byword for luxury and performance in British motoring.
When James Bond spied a DB5 as his automobile of choice in the 1954 film Goldfinger, its status as a British cultural icon was sealed.
Interestingly, if you're up for channeling your inner Secret Service Agent, the team is currently having fun creating 25 Goldfinger DB5 continuation cars, compete with revolving number plates, a smoke screen and replica machine guns.
00-heaven? I reckon.
This reputation as a bastion of British design and luxury still runs through the company's veins. It's the antidote to what Phil calls the car industry's 'game of Top Trumps' - an obsession with spec over quality.
Of course the business is design-led, thanks to the considerable talents of Marek Reichman, Aston Martin's EVP and Chief Creative Officer. But Phil's keen to point out it's more than that.
"There's a huge amount of engineering that goes into developing the cars," he says. "And there's also a huge amount that goes into developing the design language of the cars.
"But hopefully the cars are more than just a design and a piece of machinery. It all has to come together.
"We have an iconic brand and a really strong heritage, but we're not looking backwards. We have to look forward, especially in times of such change when it comes to automotive."
This focus on the future is embodied in the brand's new factory in Wales, complete with SUV test track, built to manufacture the new Rapide E, Aston Martin's first electric vehicle. Three years in development, the Rapide E was unveiled in Monaco in May to a rapturous reception. But you'll have to be quick. Only 155 are being made - a nod to its top speed.
"It's us proofing out electric technology within the Aston Martin brand," says Phil.
"Rather than just being a development programme, it's delivering a credible product with credible performance.
"People in electric ownership have a very different set of reference points. The technology is something they're passionate about, because they see its relevance to the future.
"Although this our first electric vehicle, they are part of our future plan. It's a very different answer to the one you'd get if you'd asked us five years ago."
He talks a lot about Andy Palmer's Second Century Plan - Core Stabilisation, Core Strengthening, Portfolio Expansion - and the focus on making the company nimble enough to deliver programmes like the Rapide E at pace.
One-time owner Ford, he says, was a "good custodian" of the brand, but the processes it embedded simply didn't lend themselves to agility, plus its focus was on Jaguar.
And with a staff of just 2,733 at Gaydon - 150 of whom have spent the past two years learning the ropes through the in-house Crafting the Legacy programme before they transfer to St Athan - the ability to adapt, change, and develop quickly has been crucial to Aston Martin's success.
During his 25 years at the company, Phil says, the product development has been "unprecedented". "But there's been nothing on this scale," he says. "It's the most exciting time to be around the brand. When I started in '93, we made one car a week. Now…well…it's considerably more."
Each Aston Martin is made to order, to the customer's exacting spec. Each takes an average of 200 man hours to build. This year, around 5,000 will roar off the production line.
The DB7 was the turning point in the company's fortunes, says Phil. The first car to come out of Gaydon in 2003, the DB9, was a game-changer. And then the Vantage arrived, heralding a new era for the brand. Credibility, phenomenal performance and spacing - a distinct product range, each model totally different from its stablemate - is at the heart of what are thoroughly drivable cars with, and there's that word again, a bucket-seat load of charisma.
Behind the wheel, your right thumb will cycle through the sports modes; your left is in control of the suspension. It's not a passive experience, driving an Aston Martin - though it can be.
"If you're unlucky enough to be sitting in traffic it's as comfortable and as luxurious as you need it to be," says Phil.
"But when you get a chance to use the power, it's there. It's out-and-out performance.
"That's another thing we've worked very hard to do.
"Some of the cars out there have very strong design and headline-grabbing performance, but to live with that as a daily car…I'm not pointing the finger here, but some cars are much less useable. That's a key part of our philosophy. There's a lot of goodwill towards the brand, which we're very grateful for. An Aston Martin is the sports car you get let out of the lights in."
Next on the agenda for Aston Martin is the mid-engine sports car; a new generation of cars unveiled recently in Geneva.
The Valkryie, boasting an eye-watering 1,160bhp, will be one of the fastest road-legal cars in the world, so it's unsurprising that top-end customers have been making a beeline for the Gaydon HQ to spec up their dream car.
"That car gave us access to all the technology and know-how from Formula 1, and it enabled Adrian Newey to realise his ambition of making a Formula 1 car for the road," says Phil.
"It's been a fantastic partnership, really pushing the Aston brand and enabling this groundbreaking project to go ahead. It's a complete sell-out with a reserve list.
"But beyond delivering Valkryrie is project AM-RB 003, which enables us to establish ourselves at the apex of technology and development. And beyond that, there's the Vanquish Vision Concept, which will be a pure production car.
"It'll be our first mid-engine sports car here at Gaydon and it's a very different proposition. It's all hugely exciting."