If Matt Becker has a fault, it's that he's too honest. Brutally so, in some cases.
Not too many chassis dynamics experts would give their current employers such a withering report card.
“I arrived [at Aston Martin] halfway through DB11 development, at the start of 2015. I drove all of what we call the pre-evolution generation of cars and I have to say they were a bit of a confused bag,” he says.
“The Rapide I really enjoyed, it was one of the best-driving Astons. Still is. I drove the previous Vantage and found that a bit confused. I drove the DB9 which was less comfortable than the Vanquish which was more comfortable but less engaging. It was a bit all over the place and Andy [Palmer, CEO] gave Marek [Reichman, chief designer] the brief to make the cars look different and he gave me the brief to make the cars drive like they look.”
If Becker can make the current crop of cars drive like they look, they'll be dynamite. It's no stretch to say that Aston Martin stole the show at Geneva this year with the Vanquish Vision Concept, the AM-RB 003 and the Valkyrie, not to mention the vast Lagonda All-Terrain Concept.
At first, this product assault brings to mind Becker's former employer, Lotus. Then-CEO Dany Bahar's flourish at Paris in 2010 saw five new cars appear on the stand. Aston's endeavours seem to be built of sterner stuff.
“Both the 003 and the Vanquish are at the concept level but we've done a lot of benchmarking,” claims Becker.
“Particularly around Ferrari 488 and McLaren 720S for the Vanquish, wheras the 003, which Chris [Goodwin] will lead the development on is aimed at beyond McLaren Senna and LaFerrari performance.
“The whole logic behind this 001 [Valkyrie], 003 and Vanquish is to have a string that connects the three of them and take learning from one, say some of the systems and aerodynamics from 001 to 003 and then on to the Vanquish concept.
“The 720S is very good, it's bloody fast, a real quick machine. It's so competent, but in some ways I prefer the 570 to the 720S because it's a bit more playful. In my opinion the 458 chassis was better than the 488. We also did benchmarking with Senna and LaFerrari for the 003. Chris has some good connections there.”
There were some very clear dynamic requirements for the Vanquish project in particular.
“We wanted the Vanquish to be friendly. While the 720S is very good for ride comfort, it’s such a stable car and we wanted something that was a bit more playful. We want something that you don't have to be doing silly speeds to get a lot of enjoyment from. That's the idea for that car whereas the 003 will be much more serious, but still a useable car.”
Exactly how useable clearly depends on the prices being asked. Becker has a rough idea.
“We haven't got exact figures yet – it's too far out - but around £200,000 (A$370,000) for the Vanquish and the 003 will be around the £1 million (A$1.8 million) mark. If you look at those core competitors that circle those cars, it's around those numbers. Valkyrie's production run will be 150 cars and the 003 is set for 500 units. The Vanquish is not a limited run project. And then we have the other projects we're working on as well, like DBX.”
Becker then casually drops a bomb into the conversation that will have enthusiasts jumping for joy and had his PR minder looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights.
“At the moment we're working on the Vantage manual, which will appear towards the end of the year. It's a Graziano transmission, so we're working heavily on that product.”
Asked if it'll be a six-speed, he point his finger up and grins when I suggest seven.
Although he's been at Aston Martin for four years now, he'd been at Lotus for 26 years and I ask how he's handled the difference in culture.
“It's taken a while to figure out how to get things done, but it's a very solid crew. What we have at Aston is a very strong product marketing team. They basically define what the customer wants and we have to work with them to take that attribute language and turn it into an engineering language. So, for example, Porsche Cayenne relative to DBX; the Cayenne's a very competent car but we want something more engaging than that. Likewise DB11 versus Bentley Continental GT. The Bentley's a nice car, a very competent car but it doesn't really excite you in any way, whereas the DB11 shrinks around you a lot more than the Bentley does. The key attributes for us, typically, are the way it looks, the way it sounds and the way it drives.
“I've learnt so much since I've been at Aston Martin. At Lotus I think we used to engineer cars for engineers and at Aston what's good is that you engineer cars for customers and that's the recipe for success. If you engineer cars for engineers then you don't always get it right. We work with a team now that clearly defines what the car needs to be in order to sell. We don't always agree. When we have benchmarking events, we invite them along and there are some healthy debates.
Part of the fun of working at Lotus was that you could trial a new part by throwing it on the car and then flinging the car around the on-site test track at Hethel. It's taken Matt a little while to replicate that at Aston.
“Having Silverstone as a test facility is such a huge asset. I said to Andy [Palmer] that we needed our own test track. If we want to do a benchmarking activity, it's easy now so all the teams involved can come and drive the cars as they go through development and understand where we're positioning the cars.”
Chris Goodwin strolls over and takes a seat. I ask him how the 003 project is progressing. “The last two years of design, development and engineering, including simulator work has amassed a massive databank of information for rear-mid engined sports car performance so a lot of what's going into 003 has come out of that body of work,” he says.
Goodwin denies that there's any sort of natural rivalry forming between the Valkyrie and AMG's Project One.
“I think that's a very different project. The Valkyrie is such a different animal to the Project One. From the outside they both appear to be similar, extreme, rare, valuable cars, but the Valkyrie's all about dynamic performance whereas the Project One seems to be all about its powertrain. It doesn't look as if it's going to have the handling performance; the centre of mass is quite high, the downforce is quite low. It's a showcase for an amazingly successful powertrain. It's super impressive but it's not a Valkyrie.
“I want the 003 to feel like the most amazing thing you've ever driven. Expectation's quite high, by the way,” he laughs.
“I think the mixture of all our collective experience is actually better than anyone's got at the minute. You've got the input from the manufacturer of the best luxury GT cars, you've got me and Matt's similar but different experiences and you've got the input from Red Bull who have measurably built the best-handling Formula 1 car for quite a number of years. We've proven that that mixture is working very well with the targets for Valkyrie, and it'll work with targets for 003.
On the subject of which, when's it due?
“It'll be 2021 for 003, and the production Vanquish will be late 2022,” says Becker before contemplating the amount of work required between now and then. He looks skywards. “Not far away is it?”
How are you finding our new site design? Tell us in the comments below or send us your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get your monthly fix of news, reviews and stories on the greatest cars and minds in the automotive world.
Updated Ssangyong Musso pricing and features
SsangYong's budget ute gets an overhaul
Genesis GV60 EV spied inside and out
With its new G80 Electric limo already out in the open, Genesis's next electric vehicle is this: the GV60 small SUV
New Maserati GranTurismo electric supercoupe teased
Maserati shares first images of upcoming new new GranTurismo, the company's first EV