MILAN—The turbulent ownership history of Aston Martin, the British luxury car brand famed for its links with fictional spy James Bond, has taken an Italian twist.
Private-equity firm Investindustrial has agreed to buy a stake in Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. as part of plans by its indebted Kuwaiti parent, finance house Investment Dar, to raise fresh cash to develop new cars for the British luxury brand.
Investindustrial said it is paying £150 million ($241 million) for a 37.5% stake via a capital increase, giving Aston Martin an enterprise value of about €940 million. Investindustrial said it has 50% of Aston Martin's voting rights. It beat out Indian auto maker Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. in Investment Dar's search for a new partner for Aston Martin.
Heard on the Street
Investindustrial, which was founded by Italy's Bonomi family and is based in London, gained notoriety in April for having sold Italian motorcycle maker Ducati Motor Holding SpA to Volkswagen AG's Audi unit.
Aston Martin, whose classic 1963 DB5 model made a new screen appearance in the latest James Bond movie "Skyfall," is struggling to match its fame with financial success in a capital-intensive industry where scale is increasingly important in tapping demand for top-of-the-range cars in emerging markets.
Other famous British luxury auto brands are owned by big auto-making groups. Bentley is owned by Volkswagen, Europe's leading auto maker by sales. The Jaguar Land Rover Group is owned by India's Tata Motors Ltd. while Rolls-Royce is in the hands of BMW AG.
"Investment Dar has been looking for a buyer for over a year—Aston Martin doesn't have the cash flow to fund next generation cars or engines," said Bernstein Research analyst Abbas Quettawala. "It needs to be part of a bigger industrial business to be profitable," Mr. Quettawala said.
"Bentley and Lamborghini are barely profitable but it doesn't matter to their parent Volkswagen because of it has other, profit-making brands," Mr. Quettawala said.
Aston Martin will be able to invest more than €625 million in new products during the next five years, Investindustrial said. The deal is subject to antitrust clearance, expected in the first quarter of 2013, it said. Aston Martin currently has 146 dealerships in 41 countries. Its sales are split approximately a quarter each to the U.K., Europe, Asia-Pacific and U.S.
Aston Martin is one of the few remaining independent niche players in the luxury auto market, which can bring the kind of customer experience that is often missing in a brand owned by a big conglomerate, said Andrea Bonomi, senior principal at Investindustrial. "We are in it for the long haul," he added.
Mr. Bonomi said Daimler AG's Mercedes is interested in becoming a technical partner but no agreement has been signed yet. The idea is to have Mercedes engines replace Ford engines.
Investindustrial had a link with Aston Martin two decades ago when it invested in gearbox engineering firm David Brown, a former owner of Aston Martin. Investment Dar and other investors bought Aston Martin in 2007 from Ford Motor Co. for £479 million ($768.8 million).
"Investindustrial was the best fit experience sector wise with its previous ownership of Ducati. Investment Dar didn't want to sell outright but wanted a strong partners to help it grow globally especially in China," said Sarah Calam, spokeswoman for Aston Martin.
Based in Gaydon, England, Aston Martin had earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or Ebitda, of €101 million on sales of €634 million in 2011, according to the statement.
But it has been running a net loss as it has struggled to cover costs, according to a Nov. 14 report by Bernstein Research, that estimated Aston Martin making less than 5,000 cars this year. Its models include the Vanquish and the Vantage. Mr. Quettawala said Aston Martin needs to be able to compete especially in China where it derived just 5% of its 4000 or so unit sales in 2012.
The latest version of the Vanquish, a 12-cylinder 5.9-liter grand tourer, is expected to go on sale in 2014, retailing at around $300,000.—Marietta Cauchi in London and Christopher Emsden in Rome contributed to this article.
Corrections & Amplifications
Aston Martin has dealerships in 41 countries. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said it had dealerships in 241 countries.
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