Aston Martin’s Cygnet has turned into an ugly duckling. The iconic British carmaker now owned by Italian and Kuwaiti private equity groups has abandoned its move into the premium supermini segment of the auto market after selling just 150 of the pocket-sized cars in two years. The assumed market for an environmentally conscious, parking-friendly luxury vehicle for city slickers just wasn’t there. Or at least not at the price Aston Martin was asking. The Cygnet cost two to three times as much as competing models. Sticker prices starting at £32,000 ($51,500) were never likely to make much of a dent in Europe’s 500,000-a-year sales of city cars.
Nor would the glamor and cachet of a sports car brand like Aston Martin transfer to a city run-around, and especially not one that was essentially a pimped-up Toyota iQ offering less than 100 horsepower. Audi with its A1 supermini and BMW with its Mini have been successful in extending their brands into the small-car segment by maintaining an emphasis on performance. But while both brands have racing roots, both are now anchored in luxury performance saloons. The leap from there to small cars is not so great.
Mercedes, too, has been able to avoid brand dilution with its Smart car, but it had an original electric-powered vehicle and its brand, like those of its fellow German automakers, is anchored in luxury on the street — not power on the race track or open road. Aston Martin’s most famous driver, James Bond, who knows a thing or two about brand longevity, wouldn’t have been seen dead in a Cygnet.