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Aston Martin sale deal puts Britain back in driving seat; Iconic brand changes hands in Ford sell-off.

Byline: BY PETER WOODMAN and KATIE DAWS0N Daily Post Correspondents

JAMES BOND'S favourite car company Aston Martin was back under British control last night following a pounds 479m deal.

American owners Ford sold the Warwickshire-based company to a consortium led by UK motor racing boss Dave Richards, 54.

Mr Richards, who is head of automotive engineering group Prodrive, described the deal as "an incredible opportunity", adding Aston Martin was "one of the world's most iconic brands".

He will become non-executive chairman and a board member of a company that will later this year bring out the DBS model, the car driven by latest 007 Daniel Craig, in the movie Casino Royale.

Dating back to 1914, Aston Martin has been wholly owned by Ford since 1994. The company will stay at its 1,800-workforce headquarters at Gaydon where an extra 200 jobs are expected to be created within three years.

The new staff will work on the four-seater Rapide, which was shown in concept form last year and which is due to be launched in 2010.

Mr Richards said: "We are confident we now have all the right ingredients to take Aston Martin to even greater heights.

"I have long held a passion for Aston Martin motorcars. This truly is a new era, perhaps a new chapter in the extraordinary story of Aston Martin."

He went on: "The car industry and the car business requires long-term investment. You cannot come in and out in a few years."

He said the company was a profitable business, but added: "It's got a long, long way to go."

In the 1990s, Aston Martin was producing as few as 46 cars a year. But under the leadership of Ulrich Bez, annual production has soared to 7,000. Mr Bez, who is to remain as chief executive, said: "This new partnership is a tremendously exciting opportunity for Aston Martin. We have a deal and we have a good deal. We are all grateful to Ford Motor Company who have enabled us to grow and flourish to the level we are now."

The consortium also includes John Sinders, a banker in finance and shipping from Houston, in Texas, and Dubai in the Middle East. He is an Aston Martin owner with a great affection for the brand on both road and track.

The consortium is completed by two Kuwaiti companies -Investment Dar and Adeem Investment.

Ford said it would retain a pounds 40m investment in Aston Martin. The company also said it had no plans to sell its other UK-based companies -Land Rover and Jaguar.

Ford's president and chief executive Alan Mulally said: "The announcement is good for Ford Motor Company, good for Aston Martin and good for the UK. We wish Aston Martin every possible success for the future."

The first screen James Bond -Sean Connery - drove an Aston Martin DB5 in the 1964 movie Goldfinger. Astons also appeared in other 007 films, including Thunderball, The Living Daylights and Goldeneye.

This truly is a new era

CAPTION(S):

David Richards, the new non-executive chairman of Aston Martin, at the company's headquarters
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 13, 2007
Words:515
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