Page last updated at 23:27 GMT, Tuesday, 8 September 2009 00:27 UK

McLaren's brave road car strategy

By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News, Woking

e the McLaren Technology Centre
The new car is the first in a string of models that will challenge the likes of Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin.

Launching a supercar during a recession is brave.

But when that car marks the arrival of a whole series of cars that are set to be built in a new factory in the UK, it may seem foolhardy.

Martin Whitmarsh, chief executive, McLaren Racing
We're looking to grow our business outside racing
Martin Whitmarsh, chief executive, McLaren Racing

Yet, during a tour of McLaren's technology centre near Woking in Surrey, the man in charge of the Formula One racing team's automotive division is convinced he is backing a winner.

"It's a very different car from every car that has ever been made," says Antony Sheriff, as he makes a brief nod towards a nearby blue Ferrari with a couple of huge rocket-like exhaust pipes welded to its back.

The McLaren MP4-12C has been developed and will be built in Woking, alongside the Formula One car factory.

"But there is nothing on the car that comes from F1," says Mr Sheriff - only the thought process and the mindset behind it comes from the same stock.

Carbon chassis

Wrecking the blue Ferrari was part of the development process; McLaren simply needed a car to test its 600 horse power twin-turbocharged 3.8 litre V8 engine.

Ron Dennis, chairman, McLaren Automotive
It is a long-held dream of mine
Ron Dennis, chairman, McLaren Automotive

"But it's our own engine," Mr Sheriff is eager to stress. "It bears no similarity with anything else."

The first test car proved it, he insists. "First time, right out of the box, the handling was extraordinary."

The car is built around a one-piece carbon fibre chassis structure that helps keep the weight of the car down.

This, the company insists, allows for the use of lighter body panels that should help improve performance, but it is also part of its efforts to produce a car with lower carbon dioxide emissions than its rivals.

Star designer

Beyond the wrecked Ferrari, the Italian rival has also seen its former design director, Frank Stephenson, join McLaren.

He has been given the task of creating a new identity for the brand as it embarks on a strategy to develop a string of new models that will compete with the likes of Ferrari, Aston Martin and Porsche.

This comes as production of the 750,000 euros ($1m; £654,000) McLaren SLR Stirling Moss, made jointly with Mercedes, is halted.

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The BBC's Richard Scott takes an exclusive look at McLaren's new super sports car.

The stuff under the bonnet has been crafted under the supervision of Dick Glover, McLaren Automotive's technical director, whose background from racing has been valuable.

"The advantages of technology transfer [from Formula One] is only one element," he says.

"Speed of decision making and development, F1 processes and people all make an important contribution."

But beyond design and engineering, the project is widely seen as the brainchild of McLaren figure head Ron Dennis.

"It is a long-held dream of mine to launch high performance sports cars," he says.

Growth outside racing

The small country lanes around Woking have been put to good use in recent months, as have some more remote roads in Sweden, Spain and Germany, where the MP4-12C has been tested.

The 12C will compete in the market for cars costing between £125,000 and £175,000 ($200,000-$290,000) and McLaren hopes the economic downturn will have come to an end by the time it hits the road in 2011.

Woking will remain McLaren's home. Planning permission has been granted for a new factory alongside the existing technology centre, though funding has not yet been secured and detailed plans have not yet been finalised.

Eventually, however, McLaren Automotive expects to employ some 800 people, which should help absorb some staff from within the group as F1 racing teams are under pressure to cut budgets.

"We'll do our best to redeploy people in other parts of the business.," Martin Whitmarsh, chief executive of McLaren Racing and chief operating officer of McLaren Group, told BBC News during an earlier visit to the technology centre this summer.

"The scale of this group has grown and the scale of Formula One has grown. We'll need to control costs in F1.

"In this group, we're looking to grow our business outside racing."



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