CHRIS HARRIS' COLUMN - WEEK 1

Aston Martin has a new boss. Amedeo Felisa, 76 years old, will take over as CEO from Tobias Moers with immediate effect.

CHRIS HARRIS' COLUMN - WEEK 1

Ten years ago if you’d asked me if I would ever type those words, the response would have been a guffaw followed by ‘are you taking the piss?’.

Ten years ago Felisa was well into his dotage at Ferrari and Moers was riding the wave of success at AMG as sales soared and BMW didn’t know how to respond. I thought the former would retire into some Tuscan splendour and Moers would remain at AMG until everything became electric and boring. I never saw him becoming the boss of Aston Martin. I don’t think many other people did, and when it happened most people in the know were very worried. Rightly so, as it turns out. 

You see Moers was a good project leader and the cars he oversaw enjoyed some memorable success. But the extent to which that was down to talents of those around him - and the unceasing support of the Mercedes Benz board which, at the time was lobbing billions at AMG as a brand builder - is impossible to untangle.

Delve a little deeper and the Moers CV is a little less impressive than he might want to acknowledge. Almost all of his successes were modified production cars. He oversaw three specific AMG ‘original’ cars, the GT coupe/convertible, the GTS saloon and the Project One hypercar. The first two didn’t sell well, the latter is about four years overdue and has been fixed by MultiMatic. Based on that performance alone, many people were amazed Moers was offered the job at Aston. It was effectively making a decent regional manager the big boss. 

How much of it was to do with Mercedes wanting its own man installed to ensure its valuable IP wasn’t being abused, or Merc seeing a way to post Moers somewhere away from Affalterbach because his time was done we will probably never know. 

But what I do know is that Moers failed the most basic test of leadership in the car industry. He failed to resist the temptation to become an autocratic thug when offered the chance. This is a fundamental test of corporate leadership in any industry, but it always seems more pertinent in the world of cars, because shiny, expensive motors seem to attract more egos than any other product. And Aston Martin is the industry leader in enabling these auto-narcissists. 

Take good old Dr.Bez - an ego so out of control he not only insisted on the use of the ‘doctor’ bit, but also that the lapels on his race suit at his annual ego-stroll around the Nurburgring were more special than anyone else’s. They didn’t stop him being about 2 minutes slower per lap, but hey-ho. 

His successor Andy Palmer started out as the nice guy from Nissan but soon enough he was knee-high in cringeworthy self-promotion, all of which was probably only curtailed by him needing to spend more time focussing on what would become one of the least impressive IPOs of all time. How nice it must be to sit back and opine on matters motoring with many millions in the bank, as the Aston employees who bought Aston stock stare at massive losses. As ego goes, I’m not sure that can be beaten. 

Even by Moers? It’s a close call. Some of the people who left Aston under him have told me pretty terrible stories of mis-management and autocratic steamrolling of anyone else’s opinion on pretty much any subject - to the extent that people just upped and bolted. Sixty percent of senior management left in six months. 

And that’s the point at which even on old cynic like me has to wonder if Moers was brought in to simply shake up a lazy and under performing Aston and that his job is now complete. 

That narrative doesn’t stack up though. Stories of crazy micromanagement on individual engineering issues are too frequent, and the ego is too out-of control. Cards on the table, I used to get on well with him - until I dared to suggest that one of his cars might not be all that excellent. So I wasn’t allowed near AMGs for a while, unless I bought them. The same happened at Aston. He effectively turned both edifices into ‘influencer’ brands by establishing a code of non-communication with anyone who dared to question his work. Well, his teams’ work. In other words, we’ll only invite people who say nice things about our products.

What he didn’t realise is that no car company can bestow a higher honour on a journalist than banning them. It is a serial honour to be pilloried by silly CEOs who can’t smell the shit they’re pushing. Having been dragged into Mr Felisa’s office at Ferrari several times for saying things that made him angry (including a rather infamous Jalopnik article) I can safely say he is a more sophisticated and knowledgeable character than Moers. But he is 76 years old. Does that make him the oldest person ever to have been appointed CEO of any large company, let alone a car company? 

And behind all this lurks the profoundly scary and intimidating Mr Stroll. He’s clearly a very successful and demanding man, but from what you’ve seen in Drive to Survive, would you want to work for him? I’d sooner wash the bogs out after the Silverstone GP. Aston’s bumpy ride might only just be beginning.

Chris Harris' column is a new weekly initiative where Chris will get stuck into the latest topics from the automotive world and other conversation points. The column will be published on the Collecting Cars platform and available to read in our new publication 'Club//Sport' that is distributed at our events around the world.