McLaren seeks pole on road
McLaren might be one of the biggest names in Formula One but it admits that there is a big job to do in getting the company's road cars on the shopping list of supercar buyers.
Mike Flewitt, chief executive officer of McLaren Automotive, said: "We are not in the same league as Ferrari or Porsche in terms of recognition for road cars but then we are still a very young company. We have only been making them for three years and we are making very good progress.
"The job we have is to communicate that McLaren cars are the technology leaders in their class, true drivers' cars and we do have a great racing heritage to call on."
Flewitt is well aware of the change in the profile of supercar buyers, increasingly younger, but very rich, Chinese and Middle Eastern rather than the wealthy and discerning Americans and Europeans of old.
"I was in Shanghai for the recent Grand Prix and hosted a dinner for McLaren customers and they were mostly aged between 25 and 27. We increasingly need to appeal to those sort of customers and get the message over as to why they should choose our cars rather than Ferrari, Lamborghini or Porsche."
Part of the plan is to get more cars on the road and more dealers around the world. Flewitt said that the company will continue to bring out a new product every year, raising production from about 1600 last year to about 4000 by 2016 while the global network will increase from about 50 now to 100.
The company has dabbled with road cars since it was founded in the 1960s by racing driver Bruce McLaren, notably with the F1 in the 1990s and the joint development of the SLR with Mercedes.
It got serious with the foundation of McLaren Automotive, a spin off from the Formula One team in 2009. Its first car, the MP4 12C was launched in mid-2011 and was followed by the Spider the following year. Flewitt said: "We showed the P1 concept at the Paris Show in 2012 and the road car was unveiled at Geneva last year with a plan for a limited run of 375 cars and we sold out. This year we have the 650S, an evolution of the 12C.
"The philosophy of constantly assessing, developing and re-engineering through the life cycle of a Formula 1 car was fundamental in achieving the success that established McLaren as a race winner.
"The parallels in the development that lead to the M7C with that of the new McLaren 650S is testament to the principles that were established by Bruce McLaren in those early days in the evolution of McLaren.
Right now we have a number of programmes for new models and updates running in parallel."
Among these, he added, is the P13, due for launch in September next year at about two-thirds of the price of the 650S, and a track version of the P1, again in limited numbers. Flewitt said there are no plans to broaden the model lineup beyond two-seater sports cars, so no four-seat four-door and "definitely no SUV". He added: "For one thing we do not have the technology or platforms and we want to stay true to our principles."
McLaren is also constrained by capacity at its headquarters in Woking, Surrey, where it can ultimately produce about 5000 road cars a year, although Flewitt said he can call on his experience as a production chief with Ford to "squeeze out a few more".
In future, he sees an increasing hybridisation of supercars but still a long way to go before petrol engines become extinct. "Traditional petrol engines will continue to become more efficient and even with more legislation, people will still find a way to own and drive a supercar. We want to make sure we build the best ones and we are obsessive about that."