Aston Martin’s Impossible Dream

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SOMEWHERE ON THIS PLANET, there are 99 people — 99 wealthy, well-connected, impeccably dressed people — who have just been offered a new reason to flash a perfect smile. For it so happens that Aston Martin, the 10th coolest brand in Britain, has announced plans to build precisely that many examples of its mythologically pretty Vanquish Zagato coupé. The price for such privilege is something close to £500,000, but that hardly matters: They’re all sold out, all of them — gone before they printed the press release.

This news represents a minor trend among makers of exotic cars: announcing in a single breath both the availability and the unavailability of some special new model, thanks to the secret cadre of connected customers that snapped up the entire production run before you got out of bed. They are new cars that are, in essence, born used. Ferrari did it with its €2.5m LaFerrari-based FXXK, Porsche did it with the limited-edition 911R, and Lamborghini did it with the £1.7m Centenario. From a business perspective, this kind of announcement — which may be unique to the car industry — serves to demonstrate the essential desirability of a company and its products. From a consumer-psychology perspective, however, it’s a downer.

The production Vanquish Zagato — which in truth is little more than a lusciously Italianised rework of the none-too-homely Vanquish coupé — will be a dead ringer for Aston’s retina-burning concept version. It marks the eighth time the British carmaker has collaborated with the Milan-based Italian design house since 1960, all of which have proven rather desirable. (A 1962 example of the first Aston Zagato car, the DB4GT Zagato, sold at auction in New York last December for £9.5m).

The body work is crafted entirely from carbon-fibre composite (the standard car features a mix of aluminium, magnesium alloy and carbon panels), and the Zagato makes use of an up-tuned version of the standard Vanquish’s 568-horsepower, 6-litre V12 engine. Aston has not revealed official performance figures, but the extra horses, 592 in all, should be sufficient to trim the zero-to-60mph sprint by a half-second or so, to 3.5, and bump the top speed from 183mph to something closer to 200mph.

Beneath that double-bubble roof, herringbone carbon fibre and anondised bronze bits define a mildly revised cockpit, and a Matrix-like cascade of stitched and embossed Zs serve as a continual reminder that, unlike you, the driver is one of the annointed Zagato 99.

Which brings us back to the single, difficult bullet point on the Vanquish Zagato announcement that obfuscates all the others: It’s sold out. Even for those who lack the liquidity to buy a half-million-pound car if they so desired, which is pretty much everyone, too-bad-so-sad product announcements like this suggest that even with hard work and/or a healthy trust fund, you still can’t have what you want. It removes the “what if?” from the experience of appreciating such cars, and that’s a regrettable loss. The poster on our bedroom wall wasn’t somebody else’s car; it was ours.

 


Motor insurance premiums hit record high, as cars go hi tech

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Car insurance premiums in the UK have hit a record high, partly because cars’ increasingly complex electronics have made repairs more expensive.

The average annual comprehensive policy cost £462 in the last three months of 2016, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI). Previously the highest figure was £443 in the spring of 2012. The rise comes in spite of government attempts to limit compensation payments and cut court costs.

One reason for the increase is a rise in the cost of repairing cars that have been in accidents, because of their increasingly sophisticated electronics. Buying in spare parts is also getting more expensive, due to the weakness of sterling. The average repair bill has risen by 32% over the last three years to £1,678, the ABI said.

chart of car insurance premiums
‘Crisis’

The ABI warned that premiums were likely to increase further, if the government went ahead with plans to review the so-called discount rate. When accident victims are given a lump sum in compensation, the sum is discounted to make up for the extra investment return they are likely to receive. Since 2001 the discount rate has been 2.5% – based on investment returns from government bonds. If that rate is reduced, insurance companies will have to pay out more – thus increasing premiums. “The sudden decision to review the discount rate has the potential to turn a drama into a crisis, with a significant cut throwing fuel on the fire in terms of premiums,” said Rob Cummings, the ABI’s head of motor and liability.

The government said it would make an announcement as soon as possible. “The Lord Chancellor has decided to review the discount rate to ensure personal injury claimants are fairly compensated,” said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice. “Due to ongoing consultation it is not yet possible to announce the review’s outcome.”

Whiplash

The cost of insurance has also risen because of a series of increases to Insurance Premium Tax (IPT). IPT went up from 6% to 9.5% in 2015, to 10% in 2016, and will rise to 12% in June 2017. Personal injury claims, such as whiplash, have also become more expensive, rising by 2.3% over the last year, the ABI said. However, the government is currently consulting on plans to cap compensation payments to accident victims, which it says could reduce annual premiums by £40 a year. It also wants more disputes settled in the small claims courts, which would reduce costs for insurance companies.


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