Three "strong" suitors are said to be wooing the Aston Martin brand here, in the ongoing shake-up of the super-luxury market as loan curbs and a progressive tax structure continue to exact their toll on the sale of very-high-end models
Three parties eyeing Aston Martin dealership The 2016 Aston Martin Vulcan at the 2015 New York International Auto Show in April. Only four Aston Martins were registered here last year, down from the peak of 34 units in 2010. PHOTO: AFP

Three "strong" suitors are said to be wooing the Aston Martin brand here, in the ongoing shake-up of the super-luxury market as loan curbs and a progressive tax structure continue to exact their toll on the sale of very-high-end models.

All three candidates are said to be familiar with the luxury business, with each bringing its own strengths to the table. They are said to be keen on the marque - despite the current sluggish market conditions for such cars - because of its prestige and heritage.

But the terms may be another matter: it is understood that the new dealer of this iconic British sports car brand will have to take over existing premises and stock.

In Singapore, these cars - best known for their appearances in James Bond movies over the decades - range from more than S$500,000 to S$1.2 million apiece.

Aston Martin has been represented here since 1994 by Aston Martin Singapore, which is headed by managing director Derek McCully and chairman S K Djeng.

Mr McCully declined to comment when contacted, but it is understood that the relationship between dealer and manufacturer remains amicable, and that the increasingly tough market for niche cars is the main reason for the situation.

Last year, only four Aston Martin cars were registered, and in the first four months of this year, two. This is a far cry from the high of 34 units registered in 2010. An ageing lineup and the cooling measures introduced in February 2013 have since brought the numbers down.

Aston Martin is not alone in its suffering. Its direct competitors Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren are also feeling the heat from higher sticker prices and tighter consumer credit.

Market conditions were partly the reason McLaren, introduced here in 2012 by Wearnes Automotive, underwent a swift change in dealer, with its move to the Eurokars Group earlier this year.

An industry source said Aston Martin Singapore's possible decision to relinquish its franchise could have been taken some time ago.

"The partners (Mr McCully and Dr Djeng) have been wanting to exit for some time, because it is taking up a lot of their energy. After all, they don't need the money," the source said.

Aston Martin is said to have first entertained expressions of interest about six months ago because it is seeking higher sales volumes.

Aston Martin Singapore operates out of two buildings that the new dealer is said to have to take over. One is a sprawling Tuas facility at 1 Tuas Basin Link, which serves as a full 3S (showroom, service and spares) centre; the other is a 10,000 sq ft showroom at 2 Chang Charn Road, near Leng Kee Road.

The latter was purchased in 2012 in an attempt to be located in the prime Leng Kee motor belt.

Together with more than a dozen cars in stock, plus renovations and rebranding efforts, the new dealer could be facing a tab running into the tens of millions.

The newly appointed dealer is also expected to bring sales back up to pre-February 2013 days. Aston Martin registered 25 cars in 2011 and 22 in 2012.

The industry source said: "It will be a big commitment. Even if you have the money to buy over the brand, it will not be an easy task, given the current environment."

James Page, the general manager of marketing and communications for Volkswagen (VW) Group Singapore, said that although the loan curbs and progressive tax structure are "a restriction that makes the business model for supercars absolutely challenging", the brand can be revived under new hands.

He used to be in charge of Lamborghini's marketing in the Asia-Pacific before arriving in Singapore a year ago. Lamborghini is one of the brands in the VW Group.

He added: "It could give the brand new enthusiasm; a new owner can give it impetus to grow again and reaffirm its identity."

Michael Lim, chief executive of the Motorway Group, which represents the S$5.9 million Koenigsegg here, said that, depending on the terms and conditions, a supercar brand is still a worthwhile proposition in Singapore.

"The high-end business is attractive for the branding and customer profile," he said.

There will be always be some people who do not worry about the tax, he said, adding: "Singapore has many high-net-worth individuals who can afford such cars. After all, in the 80s and early 90s, vehicle registration taxes were just as high, if not higher."