Page last updated at 23:54 GMT, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Ron Dennis launches McLaren road car

By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News, Woking

Ron Dennis, chairman, McLaren Automotive
Ron Dennis says diversification away from racing is essential to make sure McLaren survives in the long run

After five years of preparation, the Formula 1 team McLaren is formally launching its road car division on Thursday.

For Ron Dennis, who took over the racing team 30 years ago and ran it till last year, it is the culmination of a long-held dream of bringing together F1 technology with efficient manufacturing and a nous for business.

Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix 14 March 2010
We are exposing our brand through going motor racing
Ron Dennis, chairman, McLaren Automotive

"The way a great orchestra plays, there's a conductor," Mr Dennis explains in an exclusive interview with the BBC News website.

"I see myself as the conductor.

"It's a role that people perceive, but it isn't the person making the noise."

Instead, the noise is made by the marque's main ambassadors, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, two of the world's best Formula 1 racing drivers.

"We are exposing our brand through going motor racing," Mr Dennis says.

"It shows off our technology.

"We make no secret of the fact that we want to take technology that we've developed in F1 and bring that into our production cars."

Close to home

McLaren is already the biggest employer in Woking, the Surrey town where Mr Dennis grew up, and the construction of its £40m car factory will create at least 300 more jobs in the town.

The company has already worked out plans for a string of sportscar models it will launch over the next 12 years, with the first hitting the road in 2011.

For Mr Dennis, this fulfils another of his life-long ambitions, namely to create work close to home - as it happened, for others as well as for himself.

"My father, who was a director of a food company, commuted every day of his life to London," Mr Dennis recalls.

"At an early age, I can remember thinking that a daily commute of three hours, which is how long it took him, was a phenomenal waste of time, and if I was ever fortunate enough to live close to work then I would do so.

"As I grew older, there were greater benefits to that than just saving of time. It meant I could have breakfast and supper with my children as they grew up, which was a big plus, as that didn't happen in my time because my father was commuting."

Swiss watch

With all the excitement around this Formula 1 season, the McLaren's new road car, the MP4-12C, is eagerly awaited well beyond Woking, however.

Hitherto, only about 20 journalists have seen it in the flesh and it has been driven by none of us.

McLaren MP4-12C
McLaren's new roadcar, MP4-12C
Price: about £150,000
Engine: 3.8 litre V8 twin-turbo
CO2 emissions: 300g/km

Though with its dramatically reduced weight when compared with its main rivals, and its relatively small but powerful engine, Mr Dennis hopes it will be seen as the motor industry's equivalent of an expensive Swiss watch.

And he is convinced that demand for the car will be strong.

"We've looked into the absolute soul of the customer, not just their demographic profile, but really what people respond to in this segment," he says.

"We are in a world where there is an ability to express your personality and your personal achievements by owning efficient products and well designed products.

"So you can accurately tell the time for £2, but if you have an appreciation of craftsmanship, of style, of brand values, you can sit comfortably with a watch that costs £100,000."

Mr Dennis hopes to attract customers fascinated with McLaren's performance in the Grand Prix races.

Since 1966 the team has won one in four of the races it has completed and in 53% of the races it has been on the podium.

Since McLaren first stepped into the pit lane in 1966, 109 Formula 1 teams have come and gone
Ron Dennis, chairman, McLaren Automotive

"But when we talk about performance, we aren't just talking about acceleration, deceleration, cornering and top speed," he says.

"We're talking about aerodynamics efficiencies, of weight, of manufacturing technologies, about trying to reduce the labour intensity of a product such as this, and we're talking about low carbon-dioxide emissions."

Long-term survival

The automotive division is not merely an attempt to capitalise on a strong brand created by the racing division, however.

It has also come about out of necessity, Mr Dennis insists.

"Formula 1 will absorb any money you throw at it," he says.

"The economics of a Formula 1 team is precarious at best."

So McLaren has taken great strides in recent years to diversify its business.

Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Formula 1 drivers
McLaren's brand ambassadors are not all about speed, Mr Dennis says

In addition to the racing and automotive divisions, it also includes an electronics business that supplies the entire Formula 1 field as well as control systems for the next generation of civil aviation engines.

McLaren's applied technologies business, meanwhile, is working with the health care industry to develop a body monitoring system that is being used by British canoeists, cyclists and rowers ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games.

Mr Dennis says such diversification, combined with tight cost controls, are vital to ensure the group's long-term survival.

"Since McLaren first stepped into the pit lane in 1966, 109 Formula 1 teams have come and gone, and the only two teams that have been going are Ferrari and ourselves.

"I don't want to be number 110."

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