General manager, global marketing Aston Martin
Dan’s first car was a humble Austin Metro – a far cry from the Vanquish Volante he drives today.
THE association between Aston Martin and the James Bond films is so strong that you can’t talk about one without mentioning the other. The mere mention of the Aston Martin brand brings to mind images of a British spy behind the wheel of a beautiful sports car brimming with gadgets.
But according to Dan Balmer, Aston Martin’s general manager for global marketing, the firm wants to be known as more than just a manufacturer of luxurious sports cars.
The 39-year-old Briton began his career in the automotive industry as a structure design engineer at BMW, before moving to Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, where he held various positions. Later, he became the general manager for the company’s Asia-Pacific operations.
Dan tells Torque about Aston Martin’s future plans – not just as a carmaker, but how it will evolve as a luxury brand.
How did you end up working at Aston Martin?
They called me and offered me this job! The company showed me its future plans, and it was quite amazing – the investment, ambition and the models in the pipeline. The DB10 was a glimpse of the future.
What attracted you to it?
It’s the customers. I’ve worked with other luxury brands before, but with Aston Martin, these people are just in love with the cars. To market with this strength and loyalty gives you lots of advantages.
Aston Martin is also an independent company, so your decision-making powers are higher. When you work for a firm that’s owned by a larger company, the latter always has the final word on any idea. With Aston Martin, you can have both the idea and the final say.
What hurdles do you face in trying to grow the brand?
It’s a well-known brand, but there are challenges in raising the profile of Aston Martin in some markets. Singapore is one example. It’s a market full of potential because of the wealth that’s here.
Our marque is underexposed in Singapore.
Being here in Leng Kee is vital to us. Our challenge is to create a professional operation between Wearnes Automotive and the regional office, which is also in Singapore. Globally, we have a similar pattern. We need more exposure in China. There’s further growth potential in the US as well, despite it being our biggest market.
How would you describe the Aston Martin brand to someone who has never owned any of the cars?
There’s elegance and an understated Britishness about the brand. An Aston Martin is not loud or exuberant. Our customers are not only fans of this – they’re fans of an understated lifestyle as well.
When you own and drive one, others look at you with respect. But that respect doesn’t come from having money – it comes from the recognition that you have knowledge and taste.
Your rivals are producing SUVs. Should you be following suit?
I don’t agree with the SUV direction. We showcased a DBX concept at last year’s Geneva Motor Show, which is a more versatile, crossover-type model.
An Aston Martin crossover shouldn’t be massive – it should be a beautiful and elegant car.
I think the SUV market will be crowded in a few years’ time. For us, we see a niche that needs to be filled by stylish crossovers.
From a market point of view, there are more female buyers. They’re becoming the decision-makers – whether they’re buying the car themselves or allowing their husbands to buy them.
Where do you see Aston Martin a decade from now?
We’ll still be independent and have a wider range of models, from sports cars to more versatile crossovers.
The brand will also be recognised, first and foremost, as a luxury goods brand. We’re already working with partners to build an Aston Martin yacht and a hotel.
The brand’s strength is something we’ll leverage on through licensing deals.
How do you translate a car brand into a hotel?
We have a philosophy called Art of Living, which represents the typical Aston Martin customer life that we aspire to. There’s Aston Martin-designed furniture. The look of these things comes from our design department.
This division can execute product designs, not just automobiles. That’s where we can see design consultancy services happening.
Within the model range – past and present – which Aston Martin is your favourite?
I’m biased because my company car is a Vanquish Volante. It’s my favourite model! I also cannot help but love the DB5. It’s simply a beautiful car.
But the standout one for me is the V12 Vanquish from the early 2000s that was featured in Die Another Day. That car, to me, is the classic Aston Martin – a “brute in a suit”. It’s aggressive, but stealthy-looking.
If you could have two gadgets from the James Bond films in your car, what would they be?
I like the shotguns from the V12 Vanquish in Die Another Day. I also want the ejector seat from the DB10 in Spectre. [Laughs]
"In 10 years, aston martin will be recognised as a luxury goods brand."