ASTON Martin is hatching an ambitious production plan to match Bentley with 10,000 sales a year after its spin-off from Ford this spring.

The number is in Aston’s future business plan, according to well-placed sources, and is being targeted for 2010 – just three years after a new owner takes control.

Critically, the figure is said to be a personal target of Aston boss Uli Bez, who has already taken Aston from 1,500 cars in 2001 to 7,000 last year and will put Aston on a par with Bentley.

The 7,000 figure has been achieved, to plan, in the seven years since Bez assumed the chief executive’s position in 2000 when the company first embarked on its highly-successful expansion plan with new models and a new factory at Gaydon, Warwickshire.

Company officials refuse to discuss the new production plan while Ford is mulling bids for the company, but well-placed industry sources confirm the figure as Aston’s next corporate goal.

“It’s been talked about for a while and discussions have been on-going about how to achieve it. The engineers have the ideas, but until a new owner is found, the plans are on hold,” said the source.

The major challenge for Aston is how to achieve 10,000 units at the new factory in Gaydon, which is already stretched close to its maximum 7,000-unit capacity.

Production of the DB9 was 2,500 last year and the V8 Vantage 4,200 units. The other 300 were Vanquish flagship coupes built at Newport Pagnell, near Milton Keynes, Aston’s old headquarters.

At Gaydon, the critical part is the alloy-tub assembly section, which is currently working 24 hours a day on three shifts, with no extra capacity possible without further investment.

Body-in-white assembly and paint, on two-shifts, and final assembly on a single shift, could boost output, but without tubs to build the cars around, that’s immaterial.

Among the ideas to add extra capacity are to outsource tub, body-in-white assembly and painting off-site from Gaydon, either to an Aston-owned facility like Newport Pagnell or an outside supplier, or build an extension to Gaydon.

The latter is said to be unpopular because it would detract from the looks of Aston’s brand-new, Cotswold stone-faced Gaydon office and factory.

One of the former options is said to be favourite, largely because it would simplify operations at the boutique Gaydon plant.

The move would pave the way for the introduction of the Rapide four-door super-saloon, project VH400, which is currently on ice while a new owner is sought. It would also solve the production source for VH300, the Vanquish replacement.

Aston’s new Vanquish is being developed as a variant of the DB9’s V/H platform and logically should be brought into Gaydon.

To hit the 10,000 target, Aston would have to add a further 3000 units of production.

This year’s DB9 Bond car spin-off, the DBS, will add 250 units and the new Vanquish, due on sale around 2010, a further 500 or so.

If the proposed Rapide is given the green light, it should add a further 500 sales, leaving the DB9 and V8 Vantage to increase volume by a further 1,750.

According to insiders, that will come from a better distribution of sales around the world and an increase in the global dealer network from today’s 125 outlets.

Bentley sells its 10,000 cars through 150 dealers, so Aston’s network may need to grow by up to 20%.

Aston is already targeting more sales outside its traditional big three of the US, UK and Western Europe, each contributing 30% of sales. The goal is to lift the share of sales in the rest of the world from 10% of the mix to 25%.

With that in mind, an expansion into China is planned for next year, followed in future years by India. Late last year, the first Aston dealership in Russia opened.

Further expansion in North America, the world’s biggest market for sportscars, is still on the cards with a further six to eight dealers due to open in the coming years taking the US and Canadian networks to around 40 outlets.

Julian Rendell