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Aston Martin's City Car Chronicles: Decoding the Unlikely Tale of the Cygnet

Aston Martin Cygnet

When you think of Aston Martin you think of iconic British sports cars. Cars that are so good even James Bond had one, so why did the company release a small city car called the Cygnet?

Back in 2009, the European Union were creating new legislation to reduce CO2 emissions. The new rules meant companies had to comply with an average CO2 emissions goal across the entire range. For my companies this was fine but those who only made sports cars would find this more of a challenge. Luckily for a lot of sports car companies, they were owned by a sister company that would bring this average down. Lamborghini for example is owned by the VW group so they didn’t have to worry. Aston Martin on the other hand wasn’t owned by a company that produced your average daily commuter.

At first, Aston Martin tried to push back against the European Union’s new legislation. They believed the EU should be judging a car based on the amount of CO2 it emits over its entire life. Aston Martins on average were only driven 6000 miles per year, significantly less than other cars, meaning it would add less toxins to the environment. The EU didn’t agree and the legislation was here to stay. Aston Martin had two options, become a part of a larger motor group so the average CO2 emissions from the entire range of the manufacturer could be applied or add a car to their range that had very low emissions. Not wanting to “sell out”, Aston Martin chose the latter and would create a new car to bring their range’s average emissions down.

Except they didn’t create a “new” car. Instead, they had an ingenious plan. They would take a highly efficient, low-emissions car from another manufacturer and modify it for themselves. This happens all over the automotive market. Cars will be sold under different badge names to suit a certain market. All Aston Martin needed was a friendly company willing to strike a deal, one that wasn’t competing in the same market space as themselves.

Toyota were just announcing their new city car, the iQ. This was a tiny city car that was easy to park and, crucially, low on emissions. For size reference think of anything like a Fiat 500 or VW Up! . The iQ looked like the perfect option for Aston Martin so the companies got together and struck a deal. Aston's design team were no longer creating a brash sports car, they were modifying an upmarket Toyota iQ. It would be called the Cygnet, named after a baby swan about the “swan doors” found on Aston Martins.

The Cygnet would be marketed as a “tender for your yacht”. They imagined most owners would be the car to take them from their Mayfair residence to their garage where they’d swap the Cygnet for a much more powerful Aston Martin to continue the rest of their journey. That’s a pretty small market to target but the point of the car was to bring those average CO2 emissions down. At first, you had to already be an Aston Martin customer just to order the car.

The outside of the car unsurprisingly looked like a Toyota iQ. The front end was slightly redesigned to feature the iconic Aston Martin grille, whilst at the rear new Aston Martin styled lights were added alongside a small spoiler. The door handles would be replaced by more upmarket ones that sat flush with the car’s body. This was not only more aesthetically pleasing but also made the car more aerodynamic. Even with these changes, this didn’t feel like an Aston Martin.

In regards to the interior, the designers tried their best to make this car feel like a proper Aston. There was plenty of leather placed all over the cabin where cheap plastic would be on the Toyota iQ but things like the buttons and switches were still obviously that of the Toyota.

Production would begin in 2010. The car would start its life in Toyota’s factory in Japan before being sent over to Aston Martins factory in the UK. A basic white or black iQ would be sent over and then stripped down so Aston Martin could apply its paint to the standards it expected. Just the paint would take 50 hours. The previously mentioned flush door handles were dropped in favour of the original ones from Toyota. Each car would take 175 hours to create as opposed to the around 10 hours Toyota would take.

All these labour hours might explain why the Cygnet was 3 times the price of the iQ at over £30,000. The market wasn’t there for the Cygnet, a luxury city car wasn’t needed. The closest competition came from the Audi A1 but this was less of a city car and more just a small one. By 2013 Aston would pull the plug on the Cygnet after only selling 800 cars. The EU legislation changed and the rise of the plug-in hybrid meant Aston Martin did not need this future icon any more.


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