The good people at McLaren Automotive surely don’t believe in half measures. A year into the launch of its first road car, the high-performance 12C, and the gradual rollout of a global dealer network, the UK carmaker has gone and brought out the 12C Spider. By the looks and sound of it, McLaren has brought in a bit of more into the Spider.
For one, it can do zero to 160 kilometres per hour in the small matter of 6.1 seconds and packs in 616bhp through a twin-turbocharged 3.8 litre V8 engine. Then there’s the retractable roof, which can be put through its paces while on the move.
And in an extreme bit of detailing, the engine can be viewed through a glass screen. “It does look deceptively simple, but a lot of engineering went into getting it to fit into the overall packaging,” asserts Mark Harrison, regional managing director at McLaren Automotive.
For Harrison too, the recent past has been a time of change. As a consummate communicator, he has had long and fruitful stints heading PR operations at some of the marque automotive companies. But this is the first time that he will be doing a lot more than communicating about a particular model or spreading the good word about the company.As managing director, he takes on the central role in getting McLaren acquainted with the Middle East’s extremely finicky sports-car aficionados. But he doesn’t believe it’s a task beyond him.
Q: Even for a sports-car brand, aren’t back-to-back launches just a tad excessive? More so, as the brand is still finding its way around global markets?
A: Right from the time the 12C (the coupe) was launched, it was clear that we were working on extending the line-up. Engineering on the 12C Spider started at more or less the same time. Also, we had a full year from the launch of the coupe to try and know what works. Being a new car company that extra effort was made in learning what the customer truly wants and, in a way, this meant being less manipulative compared to the way the car industry typically does launches.
Q: But was a year long enough to build a following for the 12C?
A: It’s been slowly ramping up the numbers and had 1,000 units sold in the period. In the Middle East, deliveries started from the end of last year and have now touched 100.
Q: But wouldn’t the 12C Spider kind of overwhelm the 12C?
A: It’s the nature of motor racing and the F1 industry that something or the other is constantly changed or upgraded. That’s what happens when you have the brightest engineers around. On average, every 20 minutes something or the other gets changed in F1.
Now, road car teams are bringing in the best and the brightest from racing and you are seeing the same dynamics of change getting applied there.
As for the 12C Spider, there is a clear price differential from the coupe, and partly reflects the extra cost on the roofing. We have worked hard on the details. (While the coupe retails for 176,000 pounds in the UK, the Spider’s list price is 195,000 pounds and the first deliveries will start from November.)
Q: But can the best engineers ensure that a car company is profitable? How closely are you looking at the bottom-line?
A: We are well aware that carmakers have to work to a budget these days. McLaren Automotive has spent 800 million pounds to date and it’s our intention to turn a profit pretty quickly. The way to go about doing that is not make too many cars and have these pile up at dealerships, which would make them unprofitable. It also means coming out with models that will have customers head back to the dealerships.
The company has four shareholders and in the short term the company is well-positioned in regard to its financial targets.
Q: It does sound a highly conservative view for a sports-car maker…
A: What the recession taught the car industry was that if you got too bold, you will get burned. There were too many unsold cars and dealerships were left carrying too high a stock level.
Mind you, we launched the business through the recession, though the plans were in place well before. Even then, there wasn’t too much of a deviation from the original set of plans. By mid-2015, the expectation is that we can produce 4,000 cars a year, and this way we get to ensure that we have enough cars to meet the demand and not much more than that.
Being conservative seems to me a very sensible thing to be doing.