McLaren Automotive – The launch of a new car company

McLaren MP4-12C

The live launch of McLaren Automotive has just finished and with it comes a plethora of press material. There is a lot of information included in the official press release, including transcripts from today’s launch. Actually, the amount of material below is overwhelming. I suggest you get yourself a nice warm cuppa and sit yourself down for a while.

However, McLaren is approaching their new sportscar venture, and the MP4-12C, in a methodical and considered way. As such there are numerous interesting factoids below and if you missed the launch I recommend you take in as much of the material as you can.

To close here before making the jump, the 12C is simply the first of McLaren’s new sportscar range. There’s already two other cars undergoing development. No rest for the wicked, hey.

McLaren MP4-12C

McLaren MP4-12C

McLaren MP4-12C

McLaren Automotive: The Launch of a New Car Company

McLaren’s unique ambition

To build a brand new car is a challenge; to build a brand new sports car that is ground-breaking, efficient, high-quality, lightweight, practical, dynamic, safe, comfortable, and visually arresting is a greater challenge still.

McLaren Automotive will take the challenge to a rare, and possibly unique, level. Starting with the MP4-12C, the new company will design and develop a range of premium high-performance sports cars with such attributes from components that are bespoke, innovative and unique. It will then produce them in a new manufacturing facility with the intention of selling and servicing through a dedicated global retail network. Finally the aim is to service customers and cars to a higher level of quality than any premium sports car business has ever offered.

What credentials does McLaren offer to take such bold and courageous steps?

Ron Dennis, McLaren Automotive Chairman

The answer starts with the vision, ambition and drive of McLaren Automotive’s Chairman, Ron Dennis: “McLaren’s first and founding principle was to compete successfully in motor sport and particularly Formula 1. That goal has taken us to great heights; from an engineering and innovation perspective, and by rewarding our people for their endeavours over many long seasons of top level motor racing.

“But despite all the trophies and great racing successes, there comes a time when the maturity of a company and its future development depends on broadening its activities.

“We have long held the dream of building a range of innovative McLaren sports cars. Sports cars that take the raw elements of Formula 1 principles, processes and performance and forge them into a unique package that adds the requirements of quality, efficiency, comfort and reliability – traditionally opposing goals that I know we can deliver.

“McLaren’s modern history began 30 years ago with an operation of 50 people dedicated solely to winning Grands Prix. Everything we have achieved as a well-honed and fiercely competitive team over the past three decades has prepared us for this moment.

“McLaren Group and McLaren Automotive now employ around 1,500 people – all dedicated and passionate about being the best. And launching a new car company and our first car, of which I am very proud. The 12C will support the long-term future of McLaren and our people.

“This new business will also bring into the UK new investment, a new manufacturing facility – the McLaren Production Centre – and new skilled jobs within the UK’s network of high-tech manufacturing and engineering businesses. I believe that McLaren Automotive is good example of how the UK can develop a new, innovative and globally influential manufacturing base, through technological innovation in design and build-processes.

“Launching a new car company is a great challenge that is exciting everyone at McLaren. Everything is in place and on schedule for the first of our new range of cars to go on sale in the first half of 2011. These are exciting times – for McLaren, for car enthusiasts and, just as importantly, for people who are passionate about technology, innovation and engineering,” Dennis concluded.

McLaren Automotive today

Although McLaren’s heritage lies principally on the race circuit, the blend of qualities such as ambition, drive and commitment, with more tangible assets such as aerodynamic skills, rapid development through simulation techniques, supreme electronics expertise and a ruthless quest for reliability, have equipped the company to turn Ron Dennis and his shareholders’ dreams into reality.

Taking the vision and turning that into an effective, profitable and world-class car company lies in the hands of McLaren Automotive’s Managing Director, Antony Sheriff, and the teams run by his fellow directors, Alan Foster (Operations Director), Dick Glover (Technical Director), Paul Mackenzie (Projects Director), Mario Micheli (Commercial and Marketing Director), Frank Stephenson (Design Director), Mark Vinnels (Programme Director), Mark Wilson (Finance Director), and Ben Wright (Purchasing Director).

The first car in the range, the 12C is now in the final stages of development, and the first stages of production. It has been designed and developed by a world-class team of engineers and test drivers, and will be built to world-class levels of quality and reliability. All development processes have benefited from McLaren’s expertise in Formula 1, and constant integration with the racing team’s techniques and personnel will set new standards in performance for the road.

Sheriff summed up the focus for McLaren Automotive, inspired by high expectations laid down through the years at McLaren, ““The overriding principle that has driven us to where we are today is that every car will be ‘pure’ McLaren. This means that each and every component has been conceived, designed and produced to McLaren’s specification to meet the extreme requirements of the 12C. There are no carryover components, because they were not good enough. Similarly, our test programmes, production processes and aftersales plans are also brand new and bespoke to McLaren. We have considered everything from a blank sheet of paper to be the best. Being “as good” as everyone else is not good enough; we need to be the best

“Whether it’s the revolutionary carbon MonoCell to the switchgear, or a desire to design cars that can be repaired more quickly and accurately than our competitors, we will deliver cars and a service to our customers, of which we are personally proud.

“One fundamental result of this passion to produce a pure McLaren is that the 12C is what I call the ‘and’ car. Compared to its competition, it will have better performance ‘and’ be more fuel efficient; it will be lighter ‘and’ stronger, safer, and fully equipped; it will be smaller in its exterior dimensions ‘and’ spacious inside; it will better handling ‘and’ be more comfortable.

“As for the 12C’s performance, efficiency is a key aim; efficiency in performance is a goal that we believe our customers will appreciate. With 600PS it will be the most powerful car in its class, yet aiming to produce CO2 figures below 300g/km, we expect to produce each horsepower more efficiently than any car on sale today featuring a petrol, diesel or hybrid engine.

“And our performance goals do not just relate to the 12C, but the car ownership experience itself: McLaren Automotive will offer new standards of customer service through its dedicated network of the world’s best car retailers.

“When I came here, Ron inspired me with his belief that winning Formula 1 races was simply doing your job. After that, it was a question of how you won, how immaculate was the car, how polished the team that delivered that victory. That’s the winning attitude that permeates throughout McLaren Automotive and sets us apart from our competitors,” Sheriff concluded.

Formula 1 at the heart of McLaren Automotive

Ron Dennis may be the inspiration behind the company, and Antony Sheriff the man best placed to deliver the vision, but it is the shared drive and ambition of McLaren’s management and employees that make the company’s objectives achievable. It is this conviction that drives McLaren to ever more challenging goals and the culture within Woking is one of ‘can do’, not let’s take the convenient or the obvious road.

“Our entire approach to the way we do things is to take qualified risks and push what is possible,” explained Sheriff. “While many competitors move towards the ‘edge’ of what is possible, we go to the ‘edge of the edge’.Only by pushing the extremes of what is possible can we produce a car and ownership experience that has a shot at challenging to be the best. If took the easy road, we would not produce something that was worthy of bearing the McLaren name.”

So, it is in the cultural attitude of its people that McLaren’s heritage begins. While no one would claim that building a road car is inherently the same as designing a Formula 1 racing car, the attitudes of the 12C’s creators are highly influenced by the culture that is borne of Formula 1.

The interplay between engineers in Racing and Automotive, and career moves from one to the other, provide a cross-pollination that benefits the whole company.

Dick Glover, McLaren Automotive’s Technical Director, outlined the benefits that McLaren’s Formula 1 expertise brings to the McLaren Automotive project.

“With the technologies available to all car companies today, it’s not, in principle, difficult to build a relatively fast, exciting and dramatic sports car, but that’s not our ambition. We want to deliver the best possible high-performance sports car from day one into a mature global market of very good cars.

“Having come from the McLaren Group’s Formula 1 operation, I know first-hand the benefits of integration in areas such as aerodynamics, simulation or packaging.

“The culture and attitudes from Formula 1, the state-of-the-art development programmes, processes and hardware, and the access to the best drivers in the world give us a serious advantage in developing this car,” he concluded.

A roll-call of names offers evidence of how McLaren is integrating Formula 1 with the development of the 12C:

Simon Lacey – previously Head of Aerodynamics in McLaren Racing; is now Head of Vehicle Technology for McLaren Automotive, responsible for aerodynamics, thermal management, structural analysis and systems engineering.

Marcus Waite – previously Senior Test Engineer at McLaren Racing; is now Vehicle Development Team Leader for McLaren Automotive.

Richard Hopkirk – previously one of Lewis Hamilton’s race tacticians; is now part of the McLaren Automotive vehicle projects team.

Paul Burnham – previously the racing team’s dynamics engineer for tyres; is now responsible for ride and handling development, including the car company’s use of the Formula 1 simulator.

Richard Felton – previously responsible for vehicle instrumentation, harnessing and electronics in the racing team; is now McLaren Automotive’s Vehicle Controls Manager responsible for software and electronic control systems.

Felton summed up the value that racing experience can bring to road car design: “I came from the defence sector to join McLaren Racing, bringing my experience of test rigs and simulation, before transferring to Automotive. Did racing change my approach to engineering? Absolutely. It changed how I behave and how I approach my work. It is a matter of achieving performance targets by lateral thinking.

“In Formula 1, development happens at an incredible pace – the regime has to be more flexible and rapid, and so engineers are responsible for making changes and adding features; the individual then carries out the testing that he decides is necessary rather than against a rigid process. It unlocks the depth and richness of individual creativity, and with that comes the responsibility of maintaining high standards under pressure.

Naturally, high performance road cars demand high levels of integrity for the vehicle’s control systems, and at McLaren Automotive we complement the rapid development approach of Formula 1 with rigorous testing; firstly in a controlled development environment, and then under extreme vehicle dynamics and road and weather conditions. The end result fuses Formula 1’s thirst for performance with the rigours of high performance road car control system development.

“If you seek to achieve a certain goal and you follow a well-trodden path, you will end up with the same answer as everyone else. Most engineers in Formula 1 have a different mindset: they do not take the most obvious or direct route. People generally are very quick to say why something won’t work. More creative people will find ways to make something work. It is a lateral mindset and Formula 1 has influenced the work we do in the McLaren Automotive team,” he concluded.

A prime example of Felton’s work and how it has benefitted from his time in Racing can be seen on the software for the 12C’s Powertrain Chassis Control Unit (PCCU). A traditional car company could take up to two months to develop the software solutions that Felton and his team were able to develop and test in a matter of hours. For example, the software for the Pre-Cog function on the transmission (see p.18). Once Pre-Cog was agreed as a concept and specified for the 12C, Felton and his team had written the software and released it into the PCCU with a steering wheel that could demonstrate it within a couple of days. Within 72 hours, McLaren Automotive test drivers were able to assess the system.

Alan Foster, McLaren Automotive’s Operations Director, offers another example of how integration between, and development within, Formula 1 and the automotive business is inherent within McLaren: “A key member of our production team, Metin Afiya, started out 14 years ago as the offside front wheel changer in the Formula 1 team. Through the company’s development programmes, he was offered an engineering role in Racing. Then he came across to be a development driver for the SLR, moved on to production and has since progressed to General Assembly Manager on the production line.

“The link between Formula 1 and road cars is often trumpeted by manufacturers but, with our teams and processes under one roof at the McLaren Technology Centre, we have a huge advantage in truly integrating the best systems, people and practices,” explained Foster. “On a daily basis we are inspired by McLaren Racing’s ethos. The McLaren Technology Centre encourages transfer of Formula 1 technology and creativity and it brings urgency to problem solving.

“A ‘can do’ attitude pervades everything McLaren people do. But we only do things if they improve performance and quality – form follows function. All our people are schooled in these philosophies and the propagation of intellect, ideas and knowledge across the group’s companies is an incredibly powerful asset,” concluded Foster.

It is this link between Formula 1 processes, people and technologies and the new car company that fundamentally drives McLaren Automotive’s programme to-date. Decades of successful motor racing across a unique blend of racing series and two iconic road car projects are distilled under one roof at the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) to produce the unique car that is the McLaren MP4-12C.

Racing and road car heritage

McLaren now has a heritage of 47 years, in 44 of which it has been represented at the pinnacle of motorsport. As of the end of the 2009 Formula 1 season, it has won 164 of the 664 Grands Prix in which the team has competed. It has been home to seven world champions (Fittipaldi, Hunt, Lauda, Prost, Senna, Häkkinen and Hamilton), who delivered 12 Drivers’ Formula 1 World Championships. It has won eight Formula 1 Constructors’ World Championships. McLaren has achieved 145 pole positions, 436 podiums, 44 double wins (one–twos) and 136 fastest laps. On average, McLaren has been on the podium on two of every three races in which it has competed.

In addition, McLaren has won 43 Can Am races taking five titles, and three Indy 500 victories, as well as the Le Mans 24 Hour race on its debut in 1995. McLaren has even won the Goodwood soapbox downhill race organised at Lord March’s Festival of Speed – in 2002, MP4-T5 won on its only appearance and set the course record, piloted by Chris Goodwin, McLaren Automotive’s Chief Test Driver.

However, this proud and unique motor racing record should not overshadow the achievements made by the company in road-going cars.

The McLaren F1 was, and in many eyes remains, the definitive sports car: the first road car with a carbon fibre construction. Only 107 examples of this iconic supercar were made, but at a recent auction one sold for £2.53 million, almost five times its original retail price and unheard of for a modern car. It was also the last true road car to win Le Mans and the first to achieve this feat since the ‘60s. It was the most expensive, the most exclusive, the fastest and the best to drive.

The second car was the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren that completed its production run in December 2009.

The SLR was conceived and styled by Mercedes-Benz as a powerful, touring sports car before being presented to McLaren Automotive to engineer, develop and manufacture. The SLR was prodigiously fast, exclusive and a technological tour de force. With over 2,100 examples produced, the SLR became the most successful ultimate supercar ever built.

The F1 and SLR projects have earned McLaren its credentials as the world’s most experienced car company working with carbon.

Carbon composite – the Formula 1 connection

The carbon composite monocoque, or chassis, is a trademark feature on both McLaren production cars, but the company’s involvement with carbon goes back much further.

McLaren was, in fact, the pioneer in bringing this strong, light and safe material from the aerospace industry to Formula 1 in the 1981 McLaren MP4/1 – Ron Dennis’ first Formula 1 car at McLaren. At the time, carbon fibre composites were reasonably commonplace in the aerospace industry, but as the basis for a racing car chassis it was entirely new. Its impact in motor racing was absolute, and McLaren’s application of carbon technology was even recycled back into aerospace.

Aerospace engineers were astounded with the MP4/1’s crash performance in the 1981 Italian Grand Prix when John Watson’s car was sliced in two after he went off the road. The carbon monocoque structure remained intact, even as the engine and transmission were torn off, and Watson walked away unscathed from a 140mph impact. The team was subsequently approached by Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority whose technical officers wanted to share the data arising from the Monza incident.

Having set the trend, all McLaren’s competitors were compelled to follow suit. Firstly, carbon fibre was light and weight reduction has always been the Holy Grail for racing car designers. Not only is it light, its strength to weight ratio is considerably greater than that of aluminium alloy structures that were the accepted norm of the time.

Furthermore, carbon fibre is torsionally rigid creating a sound basis for locating moving parts such as suspension, thereby offering greater accuracy in maintaining geometry and tyre contact with the road. Its other main advantages are strength and safety: in a sport that lost many drivers, a carbon safety cell does much to help them survive massive impacts.

Another huge benefit of carbon technology can be seen at any Grand Prix when cars come in to replace the nose structure after contact.

“The whole operation to change a nose cone takes a matter of seconds,” explained Mark Vinnels, McLaren Automotive’s Programme Director. “The reason it is so simple is the extreme tolerances and accuracy that can be achieved with carbon structures. However many times one manufactures a component from a carbon fibre mould it will fit…time after time after time.

“This has a real benefit for our future 12C owners,” Vinnels continued. “No car has such a modular interface between the cockpit safety cell and the front and rear sacrificial structures. In the event of a crash, a new aluminium front or rear structure can be taken off the shelf and fitted quickly, accurately and safely to the MonoCell. With a fully welded or bolted aluminium structure, such an impact would require cutting, welding and adapting the new parts into the structure that remains undamaged.

“Clearly, such an occurrence will be rare for 12C owners, but it was still vitally important for us to ensure that ease and accuracy of repair has been integrated into McLaren’s design process,” he concluded.

It was natural that McLaren would feature a carbon monocoque in the 12C; it has never made a road car without carbon fibre and hasn’t made an aluminium race car for 30 years. The carbon MonoCell that forms the 12C’s structural core is a direct descendent of McLaren’s pioneering role in employing this medium, therefore all of this expertise lies at the heart of the 12C…and no other car in its class. It is commonplace in racing but still rare in road cars, and McLaren is the first company to bring carbon chassis technology to the ‘core’ market sector of performance sports cars priced between £125,000 and £175,000.


Like carbon composite technology, aerodynamics filtered into motor sport from aerospace. Early attempts at aerodynamics in motor racing consisted of attaching strands of wool to the body surfaces and filming where the airflow blew them. This evolved into using scale models in wind-tunnels to measure aerodynamic forces. As computers have grown in power, Computational Fluid Dynamics programmes (CFD) have come to the fore, allowing the complete air flow around the car to be mapped and predicted, (CFD – predicts the behaviour of fluids – gases and liquids – by advanced computational methods).

Naturally McLaren has played a major part in honing the accuracy of wind tunnel use and data interpretation through its work with the Formula 1 team. This experience, and its own in-house wind tunnel and aerodynamic expertise at the MTC, has considerably benefitted the 12C’s development.

Simon Lacey, McLaren Automotive’s Head of Vehicle Technology, explained: “Formula 1 requires small, multi-disciplined, fast-working teams where people can see an idea through from conception to the end product. Bringing that working ethos into McLaren Automotive, combined with using the same CFD software and development methodology as the racing team, is a huge advantage for us.

“Typically, car companies can have dozens of people working on CFD; we have far less. But our Formula 1 codes, knowledge and mindset allow them to operate ten times more effectively. Plus, add to that the fact that our methods have been developed and proven on Formula 1 cars’ aerodynamics, which work the air far harder than even a sports car, and it allows us to have absolute faith in what CFD tells us.

“The next step is to take our aerodynamic simulation results to the test track,” continued Lacey.

“This is often a case of simply proving what we already know from years of experience, but incredibly we still find one of the best methods to confirm the flow of air over the car is as predicted, is by placing a special oil-based paint on key areas of the bodywork. Seeing where the paint travels as the car cuts through the air at speed can be very insightful. We do this in both Formula 1 and on the 12C testing programmes.”

Testing, simulation, validation

Although testing on track within the Formula 1 season is now banned, developments can be made by simulation. Witness the massive improvement made by the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team during the 2009 season: the MP4-24 was off the pace at the first race by over a second. In the first nine GPs the team managed to score just 14 points while the team leading the championship scored 112. In the last eight races, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes won two races and scored 57 points, almost as many as the eventual Constructors’ Champion. If the season had been run over the last eight races, Lewis Hamilton would have retained his Formula 1 Drivers’ World Championship.

What this shows is that the Woking organization has the skill, drive and focus to bounce back from a below-par position at the same time as every other team is still trying to further improve their own cars – in other words to make progress up the leaderboard it is necessary to be faster, more responsive and more flexible than competitors. With the testing ban in place the burden of driving forward Formula 1 car development has fallen even more on the shoulders of simulation, so McLaren has developed one of the most sophisticated driving simulators in the world. It is an immensely powerful tool that can be used to predict handling, performance, and a multitude of other dynamic properties.

This is the simulator that has also been used intensively in the design and development process for the 12C. It saves both money and time and is perhaps the most effective technology transfer from Formula 1 to road cars. For example, modelling offers the opportunity to test likely outcomes without having to build a component that might turn out to be inadequate, and the 12C’s handling and suspension was developed using exactly the same tools and techniques as the McLaren Formula 1 cars.

The crash test requirements are also a good example of how simulation helps speed up development. Long before the first carbon MonoCell had been constructed, the design had been through hundreds of passive crash test simulations. When the time came to submit a real world crash test, the MonoCell passed with flying colours.

“Outside McLaren, it is almost unknown to meet our standards out of the box,” said Dick Glover, “but simulation worked out perfectly for us. It is difficult enough to achieve first time success like this with just a relatively predictable, ductile aluminium structure yet McLaren managed first time out with its MonoCell and added aluminium structures. We are very proud of that.”

Simulation didn’t stop at the design stage. Although over 20 prototypes have been built for an exhaustive test programme around the globe, the simulator remains a key tool and a differentiator from most competitors. Before the first prototype was available, the dynamic test team, aided by professional racing driver and McLaren Automotive’s Chief Test Driver, Chris Goodwin, tested early parts on the simulator as well as a development chassis and various engine mules. When dynamic testing started, development and constant refinement of engine, gearbox, tyres, aerodynamics, braking, steering and suspension began in earnest to match all projected values and targets.

“The simulator enables a driver in a real cabin environment to drive on a virtual representation of a test track or race circuit through the use of sophisticated dynamic computer models,” explained Geoff Grose, McLaren Automotive’s Head of Testing and Development. “We get a very realistic assessment of how the car reacts to, say, Brake Steer. If an adjustment improves the performance we can add it to the car and test it on track almost immediately. It saves time and money,” Grose confirmed.

The testing programme moved into a more ‘aggressive’ phase in late-09 with a series of XP Beta test cars, following the principles of Formula 1 testing where a car and a team of between 20 and 30 development engineers and technicians maximise track time during the day and work on improvements overnight. The principle is ‘why test one thing when you can do 10?’

Prototypes went to a test track in Spain with the McLaren Automotive development team and key suppliers. The cars followed a rigorous regime of testing almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week for six weeks. This turbocharged programme accelerated the development time and benefitted from a multi-skilled test team, composed of engineers experienced in Formula 1 and road car development, as well as experienced racing drivers.

“Combining our Formula 1 experience, the sophisticated and rapid simulation programmes, and the use of professional racing drivers is the ultimate package in developing a sports car,” said Geoff Grose. “Working with racing drivers and racing car development techniques allows us to achieve targets that others may not even contemplate, both in ultimate performance as well as the overall package.

“We can relatively quickly deliver a dynamically impressive sports car that leaves ample development time to achieve our ultimate goal: to make its performance rewarding for every owner, no matter what their driving ambitions. So, the 12C is very fast and engaging at speed, but also very comfortable and easy to drive day-to-day,” he concluded.

Engine development: power, speed and efficiency

Racing engines are designed to produce high power, as much usable torque as possible and to be light and reliable. Although not all these characteristics have the same priorities for road use, they are all relevant in the development of an engine for a sports car in many ways.

The 12C’s M838T engine is a brand new unit designed for road use using racing principles. It is bespoke to McLaren Automotive and is undergoing final development with engine specialist Ricardo. It meets all the objectives the company set for an engine that complements the whole package of the car.

Like a Formula 1 engine it is both light and compact and features a relatively small swept volume of 3.8 litres. Cylinder block and heads are made from aluminum alloy, whilst the entire intake manifold and cam covers are constructed of high-performance lightweight plastics. The M838T is a low weight alternative to the larger capacity engines that power all other cars in the 12C’s market segment.

Power and driveable torque are the requirements in motorsport but for road use there is a requirement for greater flexibility with less focus on absolute output. Yet, in the 12C, the M838T still aims to marry a huge output for this size of engine – around 600PS – with prodigious torque (600Nm) spread over a wide rev range.

The wide, flat torque curve is achieved courtesy of twin turbochargers, a form of forced induction that reigned in Formula 1 between 1983 and 1988. It is notable that in three of these years McLaren won the Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship.

Not only is the race-derived M838T powerful, flexible, compact and light, it also sits low in the rear subframe – the race-derived dry sump and flat plane crank maintains a very low centre of gravity – another quality prized in racing.

It is also the most efficient engine ever seen in a high-performance sports car. One doesn’t normally associate fuel economy with Formula 1 but, of course, the less fuel a racing car carries, the lighter it can be built. And with new rules for the 2010 FIA Formula 1 World Championship ruling out fuel stops, efficiency and performance have never been closer bed-fellows.

In the case of the 12C, McLaren Automotive is only too aware that efficiency in terms of consumption and emissions is just as important in the sports car sector as it is in any other. And, just as in McLaren’s motor racing development, any efficiencies that can be achieved are a sign of good engineering husbandry – the difference between winning and losing. The 12C will, therefore, be the most efficient car in its segment, as well as being the fastest and the most effective at coming to a stop.

Behind the engine lies a seven speed Seamless Shift dual clutch gearbox (SSG). This unit, too, has been influenced by racing design, seamless shifts having been pioneered in Formula 1 by McLaren. This lightweight bespoke and multi-programme gearbox is operated by a Formula 1-inspired rocker mounted on the steering wheel, thus enabling gear changes to be made by either hand, even when lock is applied.

Completing the driver-powertrain connection is a further Formula 1-inspired asset. Nowhere is the direct link between McLaren’s racing pedigree and its road car aspirations felt more directly than in the steering wheel.

The driver’s grip is the most tactile component of any car: it is the tool that gives the most feedback to the driver and, therefore, assumes a huge responsibility in communicating what the car is doing.

A Formula 1 steering wheel per se would be of little value in a sports car, being covered in buttons and switches that allow the driver to alter a multitude of car characteristics whilst racing; sports car drivers on the road tend to set-up the car’s various handling and dynamic parameters before setting off. However the steering wheel on the 12C does have one very close tie to Formula 1. Its shape is modelled exactly on McLaren’s Formula 1 drivers’ hand grips. A Computer-Aided Design of past world champions’ grips were captured and the steering wheel thickness replicated to match.

Formula 1-inspired electronic systems

McLaren established its own electronics company, McLaren Electronic Systems, in 1989, anticipating that this discipline would form a greater part of the company’s future success. Many of the electronics innovations developed by McLaren have now been banned from Formula 1, but that does not prevent their use in road cars.

A direct outcome of FIA regulations saw electronics standardised in Formula 1 from 2008. McLaren Electronic Systems, with its technical partner Microsoft Corporation, was awarded the contract to supply the electronics and software to all Formula 1 teams. McLaren Electronic Systems also supply ECUs to the 12C.

“McLaren Automotive is in a great position to benefit from Formula 1 electronics innovation, especially when new technologies on racing cars are subsequently ruled out whether through cost or perceived unfair performance advantages,” said Dick Glover. “There are no such rules for road cars, so we can stretch minds and utilise innovations from previous Formula 1 campaigns to push performance, but also improve safety and efficiency,” he concluded.

Sophisticated traction control and engine management systems were developed intensively by McLaren for its racing cars in the 1990s. The store of experience built up within the company has played an important role in the development of the 12C. Brake Steer, the Powertrain and Chassis Control Unit (PCCU), and a function called Pre-Cog on the SSG transmission are unique electronic applications that highlight McLaren’s advantage in this area.

  • Brake Steer is a development of a system used by McLaren’s 1997 MP4-12 Formula 1 car. In essence, it is a system that constantly assesses the car’s behaviour on entering or exiting a fast corner, braking the inside rear wheel to ensure power is put down as effectively as possible, preventing understeer that would force the car to slide. It assesses the steering angle to determine the driver’s intended course and, without the driver noticing, applies the inside rear brake to increase yaw rate and maintain the desired course and power. It is both a safety tool and a performance aid. When the car is entering a corner too quickly to make the desired radius, it will manage the tendency to wash out and bring its nose back on line. Under more controlled conditions, it will fine-tune a good driver’s ability to maintain power going into a corner, and allow power to be put down earlier in a controlled manner on exiting a corner when the inside rear has a tendency to spin. It exceeds the performance of a limited slip differential and obviates the need for such a complex and heavy unit, thus saving more valuable kilos.
  • The Powertrain and Chassis Control Unit (PCCU) is an in-house development that manages the relationship between ‘Powertrain’ (engine and transmission) responses, and ‘Handling’ via the McLaren ‘Proactive’ Chassis Control system. Powertrain and Handling have three modes each that are selected on the Active Dynamics Panel between driver and passenger, which adjusts numerous parameters in each system. Both feature a ‘normal’, a ‘sport’ and a high performance mode (termed ‘track’).

McLaren found on testing benchmark cars, that such sophisticated electronics can either mask a car’s character or offer no real discernible benefit, but in the case of the 12C it is really possible to feel each of the three modes. The 12C has a variety of distinct and distinctive characters. It even changes the aural sensations according to mode to give the driver another sensation by which to judge his involvement with the car. This, too, is controlled by the PCCU.

  • The 12C’s SSG transmission is complemented by Pre-Cog, another derivation of McLaren Formula 1 technology. Pre-Cog is actuated by applying initial pressure on the gear change rocker which primes the clutch and torque handover. Second pressure completes the desired change and Pre-Cog saves milliseconds in the process. Pre-Cog offers new levels of driver engagement for a seamless shift gearbox – the driver either actively priming the ‘box ready for gearchange if he knows the road or the track and the point for the perfect gear shift, or simply pulling through the gearchanges rapidly, allowing the electronics to prime the ‘box accordingly. Either way, gear changes themselves are faster.

Lightweight engineering

The final, and probably overriding, influence from McLaren’s motor racing endeavours is the constant battle to reduce weight. Weight is the enemy of performance in every area of car design, whether it is in Formula 1 or road cars. It affects acceleration, speed, handling, comfort, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions – everything. McLaren Automotive engineers pursued weight saving obsessively. And, like a domino effect, form then follows function throughout the car.

For example, using a carbon MonoCell, as the core structural element of the car allowed for lighter weight and more aerodynamic body panels to clothe the 12C: aluminium for bonnet, front wings and roof; low-density SMC for all other panels. The panels have no structural requirement and are therefore very thin and work purely on aerodynamic principles. Curves, lines and edges are designed to aid air flow rather than being limited in their form by structural necessity and tooling limitations.

Not only that, but the MonoCell has been designed to present what McLaren considers the perfect driving position for a two-seat sports car. Driver and passenger sit close together, as close to the centre of the car as possible. This makes the car easier to drive at high speeds, and narrower, therefore easier to manoeuvre at slow speeds and lighter in weight.

Just as important as overall weight is the way it is distributed to achieve handling, traction and grip. Again, weight distribution is a fervent passion for racing car designers. The key objective is placing weight where it complements the handling of a car. That racing mindset transfers through into McLaren Automotive. It is why the 12C has as much weight as possible low in the car, to lower the centre of gravity, and has its weight balanced in a 43:57 ratio, front to back.

Neil Patterson, McLaren Automotive’s Chief Engineer for the 12C said, “Our goal for the 12C, and future McLaren cars, is to offer ‘accessible performance’, no matter what the driver’s ability. With that in mind, and with a small and lightweight, low- and mid-mounted engine, we have been able to deliver what we feel is a perfectly balanced chassis.

“Rear bias offers us better traction and a more neutral balance. Anything nearer 50:50 on a mid-engined car would tend towards understeer, which would have to be controlled by electronics for many drivers. We prefer to let the driver take control.”

The chequered flag

Unlike race day, it is not all one-way traffic for technology and knowledge transfer between McLaren’s racing and automotive businesses. As McLaren Automotive grows and develops, McLaren Racing benefits from the processes and programmes required in the traditionally more commercial world of road cars.

Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren Racing’s Team Principal explained, “Having delivered two very successful road cars in the F1 and SLR, McLaren Automotive is now in a strong position to move towards the full-scale design, development and production of a series of high-performance sports cars. The great engineering expertise within our Racing division is assisting that journey, and the whole McLaren Group is now also reaping the benefits of increasingly seamless communication within the MTC.

“Responsible financial housekeeping is becoming ever more important in Formula 1, and that has naturally led us to develop best practice when it comes to managing budgets, deploying manpower and optimising reliability in all areas. Working closely with their Automotive colleagues, our engineers within Racing are now looking at development and design with a fresh pair of eyes.

“More than that, though, they’ve been able to re-evaluate how we do business. In the vernacular of motor racing, supply chain management, lifecycle protectiveness, design for manufacture, and quality assurance and control are hardly common phrases, but we have seen how McLaren Automotive is achieving high quality across these areas – and Racing is following suit. Ultimately, that will leave us with greater budget and manpower with which to develop the best racing cars.

“So, in summary, the close relationship between McLaren Racing and McLaren Automotive is a win-win for both companies,” he concluded.

Antony Sheriff, McLaren Automotive’s Managing Director, summed up the relationship: “There is no doubt in my mind that 12C owners will benefit from the huge store of knowledge and experience we have gained in the world of Formula 1. Our new sports car has probably a closer connection to the pinnacle of motor sport than any car available today and it is the drive, creativity and conviction of our teams at Woking that will then bring a new driving experience from track to road for our customers.”

The McLaren MP4-12C

When the McLaren Automotive team set out on the road to design, develop, build, sell and service its own range of high-performance pure McLaren sports cars in 2005, they based their plans on three key factors: what they knew of the sports car market, the potential for technology and process transfer from Formula 1 within McLaren, and the knowledge built up from the F1 and SLR road car projects.

Initial plans were therefore based on a solid foundation: all indications showed that the high-performance sports car market was growing, there was an atmosphere of collaboration at the brand new McLaren Technology Centre (MTC), and the company’s engineers and designers had already proven themselves in developing two iconic performance cars.

But engineering and designing 107 McLaren F1s, 198 Formula 1 cars, and 2,114 SLRs is a different kind of challenge to taking on the world’s biggest car companies in the battle to build the world’s best high-performance sports cars. Especially when that challenge involves:

  • developing innovative new technologies that offer unique benefits to a sophisticated group of customers
  • designing every part of the car from scratch
  • forging a car from those components that offers the ultimate performance for its price-point
  • combining that performance with new levels of efficiency, safety and quality

Only when those cars are finally driven by the first customers in 2011 will McLaren Automotive know if it has delivered on its objective.

The company’s passion for engineering and car design, combined with its winning mentality, offer an indication for the potential. And the chance to start with a clean sheet of paper in developing a car that is truly unique in its talent is a rare opportunity.

McLaren Automotive believes that its 10 building blocks of success are in place for the first in the range of cars, the MP4-12C:

  • A pure design concept: a rear-mid engine, rear-wheel drive, two-seat sports car, built around the driver and passenger, from the inside, out
  • Carbon at its heart: The 12C should be based on a strong, light and rigid carbon chassis – just like all McLaren race- or road-cars since 1981
  • An obsession to reduce weight: Lightweight engineering solutions enable the most powerful, most frugal, and most dynamic car in its class
  • Day-to-day practicality: The car should be well packaged, fully equipped and a comfortable place to be on a drive from London to Monte Carlo, New York to Miami or Sydney to Perth
  • Rational passion – design driven by function: In order to remain timeless, the car’s exterior design is driven by its aerodynamic properties, not by the whim of a stylist
  • Tomorrow’s innovation, today: The 12C, and all future models, will feature innovative technologies that add value to the customer, for performance, comfort and safety, and could be cascaded down to mass-market cars in the future
  • Formula 1 focus on development: Testing would be incessant, covering all markets where the car will go on sale: the 12C will be developed over one million miles
  • Quality begins with design: Engineering, design and production teams are integrated to ensure the highest possible quality for the customer
  • Bespoke production in England: McLaren will hand-build the 12C in a brand new production facility at its UK headquarters
  • Obsession with customer service: The world’s best retailers are lined up to deliver the best customer experience and aftersales support seen in the industry

Design concept

The McLaren MP4-12C is a mid-engined two seat sports car. In this, it is not unique but the packaging of the 12C is based upon this layout for very good, historical reasons.

Almost all racing cars up until the late 1950s had a traditional bonnet housing the engine in front of the driver. In a revolutionary move, Cooper Cars, who were to be Bruce McLaren’s first British employer and Ron Dennis’ first racing employer, placed the engine behind the driver and within three years all other Formula 1 cars had moved to a mid-engined layout. Sporting road cars followed this lead towards the end of the 1960s and most cars claiming a sporting intent since have stayed true to this pattern.

The fundamental advantages for a sports car lie in the physics of the moment of inertia, weight distribution, the division of steering and drive, grip, traction and handling.

The moment of inertia describes how easy or difficult it is to turn an object. In the case of a car, the more weight that is located near to the centre between the axles, rather than towards the front or rear, then the easier it will be to change direction. This reduces the polar moment of inertia, or the tendency of heavy items at the front or rear to act as a pendulum. In short the polar moment of a car determines its agility, therefore weight distribution is crucial to balanced handling.

The natural starting point for weight distribution is 50:50 on the front and rear axles in order to have an equal weight acting on all four wheels, which in turn affects the level of grip each can provide. Determining a preferred level of understeer or oversteer alters the 50:50 displacement and then gives a car its own personality.

A 43:57 ratio was preferred by McLaren Automotive to offer better traction and a neutral balance.

The 12C also has as much weight as close to the road as possible in order to lower the centre of gravity, and these objectives of positioning weight where it can best help the car to react positively to the driver’s commands provide the safest and soundest foundation for an agile, fine handling performance sports car.

Driving the rear wheels and steering with the front then helps retain a purity in which drive is delivered to the rear axle, allowing the front axle to concentrate on steering without being polluted by torque.

This is why McLaren chose the classic rear, mid-engined layout as the basis for the 12C and from this basic principle all the other elements of the car were developed. Reducing weight throughout then became an almost obsessive goal across all engineering disciplines, starting with the core of the car, the carbon MonoCell.

Carbon fibre heart

Light weight and performance are defining philosophies at McLaren. Outright power alone is of little significance if a car’s weight saps output, or if that power is unmanageable and compromises the driving experience, or if it results in unacceptable emissions. Fundamentally, it is critical to keep weight as low as possible, yet increased customer demands for safety and advanced features all mean that shaving weight is ever more difficult.

Saving weight is therefore an obsession at McLaren, so at the heart of the 12C is a carbon fibre composite chassis: the Carbon MonoCell. This forms the basis for all the 12C’s targets for light weight, and adds stiffness, efficiency, safety and integrity to the package.

This revolutionary structure is the automotive version of a McLaren innovation that started with Formula 1 back in 1981. It is the latest step in a technology cascade that started when McLaren brought carbon composite technology from the aerospace industry to make the MP4/1 Formula 1 car, the first Formula 1 car to benefit from the strength, low weight and safety properties of carbon fibre.

McLaren’s Formula 1 carbon fibre experience subsequently offered the company the opportunity to apply its expertise to a production car. The first ever road car to be constructed of this material was the McLaren F1 produced from 1993, albeit in small numbers. The F1 was followed by a handful of cars from other companies and, at McLaren, by the SLR.

A small number of other cars in the market offer such technology today and all of them lie in McLaren’s definition of the ‘ultimate’ segment – a select group of ultra-low volume cars priced far over £300,000. No manufacturer has commercially introduced the advantages of carbon composite technology to a more affordable sector of the market. But the 12C does, through engineering passion and a relentless pursuit of efficiency.

So, McLaren did it first in 1993 with the F1, the world’s fastest ever naturally aspirated production car, then in the highest volume with SLR. Selling 2,252 cars, more than doubling the volume of its nearest peer, the SLR became the best-selling carbon fibre-based car ever.

Now, through the revolutionary one-piece moulding of the MonoCell, McLaren brings a carbon composite chassis down from the ‘ultimate’ segment to the ‘core’ segment – cars priced between £125,000 and £175,000 – where currently only traditional metal structures are offered.

McLaren has pioneered a sophisticated new carbon fibre production process that allows the MonoCell to be produced to exacting quality standards, in a single piece, in only four hours. This is a significant advantage when compared with the marriage of dozens of components (and many production hours) that normally feature in a carbon fibre chassis structure. This brings huge performance, efficiency and quality benefits.

The advantages this technology brings are:

Light weight: The 12C MonoCell weighs less than 80kg, some 25 per cent lighter than a comparable aluminium chassis. Carbon fibre forms the structural basis for the whole car and contributes to the car’s low overall weight and overall efficiency.

High torsional rigidity: The MonoCell is 25 per cent stiffer than an equivalent all metal structure and provides the 12C with a higher torsional stiffness to weight ratio than competitors. This inherent rigidity means the unique front suspension system, mounted directly onto the MonoCell, requires less compromise for the flexibility of the suspension itself. Therefore, it is easier to develop the unique balance between supple ride and precise handling that McLaren has targeted.

A very strong safety cell: The MonoCell offers greater occupant safety. It acts as a safety survival cell, as it does for a Formula 1 car.

Ease of repair: Aluminium extrusions and castings are jig welded into the finished assembly and bolted directly to the MonoCell. In an accident, the light weight aluminium alloy front and rear structures absorb impact forces and can be replaced easily, whereas cars with full aluminium chassis use their structure to absorb and crumple on impact, causing more damage (and expense) to the whole structure, including the passenger cell.

Low perishability: Carbon composites do not degrade over time like metal structures that fatigue. One is able to get into a 15-year-old McLaren F1 and there is none of the tiredness or lack of structural integrity that afflicts traditional cars that have suffered a hard life. The 12C will feel as good as new in this respect for decades.

Extreme dimensional accuracy: There is absolute predictability in the production process. In any plane or dimension, between two points, every MonoCell will be within half a millimetre level of accuracy. This ensures an extremely high level of build quality and predictable performance.

The MonoCell project is managed by Claudio Santoni, McLaren Automotive’s Body Structures Function Group Manager.

“It was clear that we needed to develop a car with a carbon fibre structure. After all, McLaren under Ron Dennis has never made a car with a metal chassis!

“So, the whole 12C project is based on the concept of the MonoCell. This means that McLaren can launch into the market with greater performance than our rivals, a safer structure, and a better built car.

“To put into perspective the great strides we have made with the 12C’s MonoCell, if the costs and complexity of producing a McLaren F1 carbon fibre chassis are taken as a factor of 100, the 12C chassis production costs are reduced to a factor of seven or eight, without degrading the strength or quality of the carbon structure. And this huge step-change in technology could make its way into more mainstream cars,” he concluded.

The Process

So, how has McLaren managed to cascade carbon composite technology to a car that is half the price of any other carbon-based car on the market? It is all about process and concept.

The tub for the McLaren F1 was made from pre-pregnated carbon fibre, like a Formula 1 racing car, and took 3,000 hours to prepare with 100 people working on it. It was a highly intensive and time-consuming process and in its best year only 24 F1s were made – two per month. The process developed for the SLR resulted in a much reduced time of 400 hours for each tub made of six pieces, and involving resin infusion moulding and resin transfer moulding which gave McLaren a wealth of further experience in the field.

Following McLaren’s design of the MonoCell, it has pioneered a new production process with global partner companies Carbo Tech (Austria) and Toray (Japan). This allows the tub to be produced through a new single moulding process to exacting quality standards, in a single piece, in only four hours. Naturally this brings cost benefits and could revolutionise automotive chassis development.

The MonoCell is made in a new Resin Transfer Moulding process. Dry carbon fibre pre-forms are cut to shape and laid out in a multi-piece complex part metal mould with coring technology that adds a further unique property – the MonoCell is hollow. All the different parts of the tool close simultaneously. The tool then goes into a press which restrains the mould against pressure at a constant temperature. High-performance epoxy resin is injected at very high pressure, permeating the whole tub, and the resin cures to deliver the tub’s strength.

The finished tub emerges in one piece and various finishing processes are completed on a computer-controlled milling machine. This is the stage where the interfaces between the tub and the front and rear aluminium crash structures are machined to ensure accuracy every time.

“Because we are machining the interfaces so accurately, it makes sense to machine locations for other ancillaries too,” explained Santoni. “Things like the wiring harness. Although it doesn’t need to be so accurately placed, the MonoCell enables us to use the accuracy of the concept to build a car to exacting McLaren standards.”

“The MonoCell is such a fantastic platform on which to build the rest of the car,” Santoni said. “Everything is where it needs to be: from the driver down to fitting a piece of carpet. The fit is always perfect and it is located in a nice, smooth and accurate area. It is quite another thing to fit carpet in a rough aluminium spaceframe where parts are often fitted to an accuracy of plus or minus five millimetres.”

There is no need to bond different parts together to make the whole tub, as with the SLR. It is hollow, saving further weight, and the integrity of production ensures that drilling for the location of suspension and ancillaries is accurate to the finest of margins. Ease and accuracy of repair has been an integrated element of McLaren’s design process for the 12C.

“Getting the production process right is the result of five years of extensive research. Now that the process is perfected, it allows McLaren to produce the MonoCell repeatedly with a consistently impeccable quality,” said Santoni

“The process is efficient, clever, cost-effective and accurate, but for me the most important thing is the concept – the contribution of the MonoCell to the concept of the whole car,” Santoni enthused. “It is not just about a clever tool and meticulous preparation, it is the principle of ‘form follows function’ or why the MonoCell has the shape it has.

“If you spend time around the MonoCell you can see why it is this shape. Every other carbon monocoque I have seen has a square front end without pontoons. When the 12C’s concept was finalised we established the value of every single line on the MonoCell. There isn’t a single line on it that does not have a function. It is all down to load paths and we have specified every single area to ensure that we have exactly the right ply and the accurate thickness for the load that section must bear. The crossbeam is a perfect example of this minute attention to detail. No other carbon monocoque has this feature,” he said.

The crossbeam at the front of the MonoCell has been designed to share the distribution of impact forces across both sides. So, in the event of an offset impact that would normally see all impact forces taken on the impacted side of the car, the forces are distributed and shared on both sides of the 12C.

“It is rare in the automobile world to work to the standards demanded by the aerospace industry,” claimed Mark Vinnels, McLaren Automotive’s Programme Director.

“Our ability to analyse and predict the performance of carbon fibre is in line with aerospace technology and is truly world class, particularly in the sense of predicting failure, which is obviously key in managing crash events and passive safety. We can now predict failure levels at individual ply level in the carbon composite and the results are absolutely correlating with what we predicted.

“We recently put the MonoCell through an extreme crash-test programme, including putting the same chassis through three high energy crashes. The MonoCell survived unscathed and uncracked, as did the car’s windscreen, showing just how strong it is, but also how good it is at absorbing and channelling loads,” he concluded.

Lightweight structures

“Adding lightness”

Weight is the enemy of performance in every area of car design. It affects acceleration, speed, handling, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions – everything. Whilst the MonoCell offers huge weight savings (and performance gains) over competitors, it has not been the sole focus of attention. McLaren Automotive’s engineers have pursued saving weight in every single aspect of the car.

“At a very early stage in the 12C’s development we held a competitive ‘weight-down’ workshop with a team of our senior engineers and a team from McLaren Racing,” disclosed Neil Patterson, Chief Engineer for the MP4-12C. “The idea was to pool all our collective intellect and feed off one another to reduce the car’s weight to the lowest possible level within reasonable financial constraints. In the room we had an array of lightweight parts from Formula 1 cars and a McLaren F1.

“Throwing all our best ideas into the ring generated one hundred kilos of opportunity in one day. This kind of cross-fertilization exercise emphasises the holistic approach taken during the development of 12C and these ‘weight-down’ days have continued throughout the 12C’s development programme.

“It has been my job ever since to ensure that not one gram was added during development without it being reclaimed elsewhere. We are aiming for 12C to be at least 75 kilos lighter than the published dry weight of any competitor,” Patterson concluded.

“We have spent most of the programme ‘adding lightness’,” said Mark Vinnels, Programme Director. “If the cost of reducing weight brought performance gains in speed, handling or economy, we did it. However, if that cost could deliver even better performance elsewhere we didn’t pursue it. We never set weight targets as such; we set cost-to-performance targets and examined everything in this way.

“A good example of this philosophy is that we considered carbon fibre body panels. They would have reduced weight but added little benefit as the new one-piece carbon MonoCell provides all of the torsional strength the body needs. The costs saved were used elsewhere for greater weight reduction and efficiencies overall. We focused on an holistic approach to weight saving throughout,” he concluded.

Here are some examples of weight saving measures on the 12C:

  • The carbon MonoCell not only reduces the weight of the structure but also allows for the use of much lighter weight body panels: at less than 80 kgs it is 25 percent lighter than equivalent size aluminium chassis.
  • Facia airbags, steering column and a significant number of interior components all mount to a single one-piece pressure die cast magnesium beam that offers the same density as plastic and is 75 percent lighter than steel. Structural analysis and casting simulation has delivered a complex part capable of carrying all loads without additional brackets or fixings.
  • The close position of the driver and passenger allows for a narrower, lighter body while giving improved visibility with a clearer perception of the car’s extremities.
  • The small, compact downsized engine coupled to a compact SSG is extremely light, but is also short, minimising vehicle length and thus further reducing weight.
  • The standard brakes for the 12C reduce overall vehicle and unsprung mass. McLaren has developed a forged aluminium bell that attaches to the cast iron brake disc. This solution maintained the excellent brake feel of a cast iron disc while saving 8 kg. Carbon ceramic brakes with cooling ducts will be available as an option, offering fade-free braking performance during high performance driving, but the standard composite brake system is actually lighter than the larger carbon ceramic units.
  • Lightweight exhaust pipes exit straight out the rear of the car, minimising their length and weight.
  • Airflow-assisted Airbrake deployment dramatically reduces weight of the Airbrake activation system by about 50 percent, or 5 kgs.
  • Significant weight was pared off the alloy wheels through intensive Finite Element Analysis.
  • The engine cooling radiators are mid-mounted, as close to the engine as possible, to minimise the pipework, the fluids contained within them, and therefore weight. They were also mounted in car-line to minimise vehicle width.
  • Lighter hexagonal wiring saves almost 4 kgs over circular wiring.
  • A new lithium-ion battery saves more than half the weight of a traditional Lead acid unit. Designed to occupy the same space as a conventional H8 lead acid unit, the 12C battery saves over 10 kgs compared to a typical lead acid battery. Designed by McLaren in conjunction with a specialist supplier to match the performance of the 12C’s electrical architecture, the lithium-ion battery meets all environmental, electrical and EMC requirements. And battery life should be longer than a standard storage unit.

But lightweight does not mean ‘stripped out’. At near 1300kgs (dry – in its lightest configuration), the 12C is lighter than its main rivals thanks to this holistic approach to weight reduction; an approach that also takes into account a high standard specification.

Mark Vinnels said, “It is not just how light can we go, but what is the ideal weight for our customers – what will satisfy their performance expectations of McLaren coupled with their day-to-day needs for a car. We want this car to be used every day, but also push what is possible in a performance car – whether that is on the track or on the London to Monte Carlo cruise.

“Our background and skills mean we inherently work to the standards expected in Formula 1 or the aerospace industry – we’re not a ‘normal’ car company in that respect. Our analysis and application of lightweight technologies, such as carbon, benefits from 30 years of working with the material, so we are in a great position to offer an extremely light car; and one that is also extremely safe and luxurious,” he concluded.

Interior design and packaging

It all starts with the driver

Packaging was fundamental to support the MP4-12C’s low weight targets. Externally, the car had to be compact, yet internally it had to offer an unparalleled driver and passenger environment where space, comfort and driving enjoyment at all levels were not compromised.

At 4507mm long, 1895mm wide at the front axle (1908mm rear), and 1199mm high, the 12C is compact externally, yet the interior is spacious, being designed to accommodate 98th percentile adults in comfort.

“With the interior, we have created a real step forward in the packaging of a sports car,” said Frank Stephenson, Design Director. “The MonoCell concept allowed us the freedom to design the occupant space around the driver, just like in a Formula 1 car. And this also brings the driver closer to the centre of the car, improving control and driver enjoyment. Positioning the pedals inboard improves the problem of wheel well intrusion. We also repackaged many of the major components that normally sit under the dashboard to allow for more space and a unique form.

“The MonoCell’s dimensions define the interior space and our design team had input into its dimensions. The result is, in my view, the perfect space – unique and uncompromised. Packaging in sports cars is often an after-thought – “now, what can we fit in and where?” – but with the 12C it was fundamental. The occupants have to enjoy being in this car more than any other sports car they have ever owned,” he concluded.

Ergonomically, the 12C delivers on its aim of making the driver feel as comfortable as possible, whether driving in town or on a track. The steering column is centred on the driver, and is parallel to his seat and shoulders. The brake and throttle pedals are also placed directly in line with the driver. All primary controls are within a hands-reach yet surfaces and switches do not intrude or interfere during spirited driving.

But the creativity of the interior design itself also aims to set new standards. The whole focus is on making the 12C cockpit a uniquely comfortable and functional space. The design offers a symmetry that wraps around the occupants and makes them feel not only physically, but also emotionally comfortable.

This has been partly achieved by the 7 inch touch screen telematics system oriented in ‘portrait’ mode. This is a first for the automotive industry and is more intuitive than ‘landscape’ orientation – we read down a page and our mobile telephones and other personal information devices are configured this way.

It has also been designed with the minimum of command buttons in order to minimise the complexity of its operation, and can be viewed by both driver and passenger.

The telematics system is revolutionary – McLaren wanting to surprise 12C owners with every turn. Richie Sibal, McLaren Automotive’s Function Group Manager for Electrical Systems said, “Most owner’s reaction to the portrait telematics screen will be, “why doesn’t everyone do that?” That reaction would underline our philosophy for this car; with a clean sheet of paper we have been able to innovate and define new concepts and solutions.

“The touch screen itself comes from the world leader in this technology,” Sibal confirmed. “It has a circular polariser built in to minimise reflection and outstanding levels of luminance. The 60⁰ viewing angle from either side of the car provides excellent clarity and ease of use.

“We wanted to minimise the touch screen controls to avoid driver distraction,” he continued, “so it only has six –‘applications’ such as navigation and audio, two ‘soft’ buttons that change operation according to function, ‘mute’, ‘volume’ and, of course, ‘home’. The car will also employ the best speech recognition technology available, which allows voice commands to activate navigation, telephony and audio functions,” he concluded.

McLaren designers paid great attention to all-round visibility from the car for both safety and driving precision.

The low windscreen cowl gives a full six degrees downward vision from eye height and, importantly, allows the driver a clear view of the front of the car. The view of the top of the front wings, with the highest point positioned directly above the centre of the wheel, also facilitates perfect placement of the 12C in a corner. Rear vision is excellent too and an internal buttress with a rear three-quarter glass provides a clear rearward view.

The steering wheel is probably the most important sensory item for any driver. Apart from the feel and feedback from the front wheels, the actual grip and design of the wheel itself is paramount. The steering wheel is ‘clean’ – there are no buttons to distract the driver. It is also small and very tactile.

McLaren designers and engineers found the solution to the steering wheel design challenge under their own roof. Having employed an advanced and compact airbag, the steering wheel design was then inspired by McLaren’s racing expertise.

The steering wheel grip of the 12C is as technically precise as a McLaren racing driver’s wheel. This is because past McLaren world champions’ grips were modelled on a CAD system and scanned to produce an exact replica on the 12C’s steering wheel.

Such attention to detail is to be found throughout the 12C’s interior and it does not suffer from an over abundance of switches, knobs and dials.

For components that customers can see and touch it is even more important that they are pure McLaren. None of the switches are carry-over parts from another maker: all are bespoke items designed exclusively by McLaren for the 12C.

“No one can sit in the 12C and identify anything from another car,” said Sibal. “This is not always the case with car manufacturers because it is costly. However we took the view that customers in this sector don’t want to look at buttons or controls from a mainstream car. Such attention to detail will pay off in the long run and helps develop a McLaren design language for future cars, because we have designed the switches to be modular. Controls and consoles will be available in a variety of materials such as aluminium and carbon fibre, so that customers can personalise their car and choose exactly its look and feel.”

It is not only the appearance of the switchgear that is important: the haptics and ergonomics are essential ingredients in providing a unique environment for the 12C buyer. Haptics – the ‘look’, ‘feel’ and ‘touch’ of a control – and ergonomics – how accessible they are and what kind of feedback they give the driver – have been the subject of considerable focus at Woking.

“Being able to design the interior controls from scratch has enabled us to dial in a silky feel to some switches and for others, where necessary, a detent to assist the driver.

“We have minimised the overall number of switches and controls for ergonomic reasons, but ensured that there is a consistent feel throughout the car. We have also created a consistent McLaren background illumination colour for all the dials and switches,” confirmed Sibal.

As far as media is concerned, the 12C’s infotainment system supports all major file types with bespoke extensions for typical MP3 players and other devices. It accommodates all Bluetooth V2-compatible mobile phones and uses a world-class navigation system. It has a picture viewer, a video player and AM/FM radio. It is notable in not offering a CD player – modern use of MP3 players in cars negates the need to add such a weighty device.

Audio quality is taken very seriously and the 12C features a system from Meridian, the first time the premium audio manufacturer has designed an automobile application. Two versions will be offered and the highest specification will be equipped with surround sound.

“The 12C will be one of the first cars to feature WiFi and it will enable access to the internet via hotspots,” said Sibal. “It will have the ability to push or pull media files from, and to, car from home or office. Alongside the familiar business and home facilities such as web browsing and email, we will introduce exclusive applications direct from the McLaren portal,” Sibal concluded.

The infotainment system also supports the option of a three camera recording system. One is placed in the nose of the 12C, a second at the rear and the third at eye line from behind the driver’s shoulder. Thus, a full, three-angled record of the 12C’s lap around the Nurburgring, for example, can be permanently stored on a customer’s hard drive.

The layout and ergonomics of the interior are aided by the 12C’s packaging. The driver and passenger sit closer together, giving the driver a better feeling of control for placing the car on the road accurately as well as leaving more room between the driver and the door panel. This allows not only more space for arm movements during hard driving, but also provided space for an additional ‘door console’.

Like the McLaren F1, the driver has controls on both sides, which allows for a rational positioning of switches:

  • Climate controls on each door console
  • Telematics on the upper centre console
  • Active Dynamics Panel (see below) on the middle centre console
  • Transmission, handbrake, door locks, bonnet release and hazard warning light on the tunnel console
  • On-board computer (left) and cruise control (right) on the steering column

As such, all groups of controls have their own place and are accessible within a hand’s distance from the steering wheel. The instrument cluster has a large central tachometer and digital speed readout. Behind the steering wheel (and moving with it) is a Formula 1-inspired rocker for changing gears. It has been engineered to deliver a Formula 1 haptic.

The science of haptics has been applied to all the controls in order to generate a consistent and high quality feel. All the controls are bespoke, designed exclusively by McLaren, and not a single one has come from the parts bin of another manufacturer.

The Active Dynamics Panel on the middle centre console provides two rotary switches, ‘P’ and ‘H’, and four push buttons:

  • ‘Start/Stop’: 12C is keyless
  • ‘Active’ activates all the dynamic controls: on ignition, the 12C starts in ‘automatic’, and ‘normal’ settings for Handling and Powertrain. Depressing ‘Active’ then engages the preferred driver settings
  • ‘Winter’ sets all electronic support systems to a maximum intervention level, with gearshift strategy and torque control optimised to limit any loss of traction
  • ‘Launch’ initiates the launch control system

The two rotary switches, ‘P’ and ‘H’, control ‘Powertrain’ and ‘Handling’, each having three position settings for ‘normal’, ‘sport’ and ‘track’ driving modes.

  • ‘P’ changes throttle response and acoustics, gearbox strategy, shift times and impulse (how much one can feel the gearchange). The coaxial ‘Manual’ button controls use of manual gearbox functions.
  • ‘H’ changes stability control, steering weight, suspension firmness and roll stiffness. The coaxial ‘Aero’ button allows the driver to deploy the Airbrake to a 15 degree Driver Downforce position for increased downforce.

“The opportunity to set preferred performance settings for both handling and powertrain, independent of each other, will be relished by 12C owners,” said Louis Baldanza, McLaren Automotive’s Product Manager for 12C.

“Spirited driving on rough B-roads for example can be enjoyed with ‘P’ in ‘sport’ and ‘H’ in ‘normal’, giving great throttle response and sharp gearshifts, but with a smooth ride. On arriving at a circuit, the owner can then simply switch to ‘track’ for both ‘P’ and ‘H’, depress ‘Manual’ and ‘Aero’ for full control of the gearshifts and maximum downforce from the Airbrake,” he concluded.

The supportive, lightweight seats are comfortable and electrically-adjustable for height. There is plenty of stowage space in the car with a shelf behind the seats big enough for small bags, a closed storage bin under the armrest, pockets on the front of the seat cushions, and a ‘floating’ centre console that leaves ‘cupholder’ space beneath.

The interior’s simplicity belies a world-class level of comfort and safety that will include a full quota of airbags, fully automatic dual zone climate control, parking sensors, trip computer, cruise control and fully electric memory seats.

The standard interior materials are all premium quality.

Exterior Design

Everything for a reason

The McLaren MP4-12C has been designed around a demanding mechanical package that puts emphasis on aerodynamics, compact dimensions, performance and efficiency, practicality and comfort. The design of the 12C was driven by aerodynamics and engineering innovation; the reason why McLaren Automotive believes it will remain contemporary and elegant throughout its lifetime as well as distinctive among its peers.

Frank Stephenson, McLaren Automotive’s Design Director, finalised the design: “Like most designers it’s a boyhood dream to work with high performance sports cars. They are the purest expression of speed and purpose and, with increased consumer demand in this market and environmental aims to the fore, offer designers the ultimate challenge. The 12C design was led by aerodynamics and engineering influenced by the pinnacle of car design – Formula 1 – and it’s a fascinating challenge to work within such inspirational philosophies.

“It has been absolutely fundamental, and will remain so in future McLarens, that the design team and engineering teams work hand-in-hand. It does inhibit a designer’s natural tendencies, but it makes for a better product, more quickly. Putting them together makes designers more pragmatic and engineers more creative and, as I have seen at McLaren, delivers great results.

“Designers are never satisfied! So, what’s the point in a team of designers being locked away for months only for the engineers to tell them that what they have designed cannot be built? It’s a waste of time and money. Everything we do at McLaren must be for a reason, and this collaborative system ensures that we’re quick, innovative and purposeful. It means that the designers, engineers and production teams are all heading in the same direction.

“I really feel that the end result – the styling, if you like – communicates the 12C’s engineering integrity and technical benefits and it is this purity that makes the design timeless and the product premium.” Stephenson concluded.

The overall design theme supports engineering and aerodynamic ambitions. Purity of lines then give the car its character. All the fins, vents and the flat underbody are there for a reason. No styling addenda have been incorporated for appeal or style alone. This aerodynamic purity explains why this car can hit top speed with great stability without resorting to tea tray wings or deep front air dams.

Successful car design is based on proportions and McLaren’s styling team, whilst driven by the demands of the purest airflow, honed a mix of concave and convex surfaces that present balanced proportions and a feeling of lightness. Nothing is out of place on the car and surfaces interact smoothly and with purpose; surfaces that are integrated into the whole of the car along two continuous lines that flow round the body.

A perfect example of the exterior design resulting from the combination of aerodynamics and engineering innovation is the front of the car, from the A-pillar forwards. It is very low and narrow, since it does not have to house large engine cooling radiators, two of which are mounted longitudinally at the sides behind the occupants. This offers the added benefit of segment-leading space for storage under the bonnet.

This intelligent use of air flow defines the car. Moving the radiators back also means that the same air that flows through the radiators also cools the engine, whilst it also reduces the length of pipework within the car and volumes of associated fluids, thereby reducing weight.

The 12C’s face is dominated by large and distinctive air intakes. A removable front splitter, bi-xenon headlights with LED running lights inspired by the form of the McLaren logo, and a large windscreen with low cowl complete the 12C’s face. The McLaren logo itself also graces the bonnet of a road car for the first time.

Illumination from the running lights bleeds into three distinctive gills just above the headlamps. The windscreen is deep and low for superb forward visibility and redolent of the McLaren F1: in wet weather it is swept by a single weight-saving pantograph wiper blade, as was the F1.

Stephenson said, “The 12C does not reproduce the F1 design, but it unashamedly builds on its functionally-driven engineering and design highlights such as the large, deep windscreen and the low cowl to give the driver good visibility for accurate placement on the road. Any similarities are there for a reason.

“We evolved the design in the wind tunnel until the design was finalised in mid-2009 and this resulted in some great final touches to the front end in particular. The larger air intakes, more pronounced and personalised headlight units, and the removable front splitter give the car a great face.”

From the side, the 12C cannot be mistaken for another sports car. The dominant side air inlets are divided by dramatic turning vanes that help direct (without slowing) cooling air over the in-line side radiators. This shape was designed and optimised using McLaren’s extensive Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) capability. Likewise, the scalloped shoulders drive airflow to the Airbrake, thereby enhancing its effectiveness in the aerodynamic package.

The other prevailing design characteristics are the dihedral doors (a hereditary gene from the McLaren F1), which has a clear purpose, like every other element of McLaren’s design ethos.

The concept of dihedral doors is simply to allow the driver and passenger to get into and out of the car as easily as possible as well as allowing a smaller door opening than would otherwise be necessary. The simple act of moving the door forward and upwards invites the driver to step across the sill and sit in the car more easily. The door can be opened and closed from a seating position.

In tighter parking situations, dihedral doors allow ingress and egress in a situation where another car has parked too closely. In traditional door systems a larger parking space is necessary to permit the doors to open wide enough.

With its single hinge, the dihedral doors offer weight-saving features and are unique to the McLaren brand. As is the handle-free keyless door entry system that offers both a purity of design as well as a contribution to the car’s aerodynamics: door handles disrupt air flow.

The design of the standard cast alloy wheels (19” front, 20” rear) was driven by McLaren’s light weight objectives: the styling was agreed in concept, and then the wheel was tuned using finite element analysis to take a further 4kg out of the wheels. Bespoke Pirelli tyres (235/35 R19: 305/30 R20) have been developed in conjunction with McLaren specifically for the 12C.

The 12C’s rear is unique. Exhaust pipes exit high, in the centre of the car and straight out from the engine – minimising their length and therefore weight. The rear features a bank of slats and vents to ensure efficient evacuation of hot air from the engine bay, and the engine itself is visible through a thin glass cover on the rear deck. The LED tail light clusters do not dominate the rear – they are only visible when illuminated – and appear ‘hidden’ behind horizontal black bars. The two upper bars at the rear light up as LED brake lights and turn indicators. Below the light clusters, the business-like appearance is completed with the car’s downforce-optimised rear diffuser, edged with the reverse light and reflector.

At just 4507mm long, 1895mm wide at the front axle (1908mm rear) and 1199mm high, the 12C is short, narrow, and low, and has short front and rear overhangs due to its long 2670mm wheelbase – a layout that promotes stability and assists handling response. There will be no mistaking the 12C from front, side or back.

Aerodynamic efficiency defined the 12C’s design. It has smooth upper body surfaces to yield a highly effective drag coefficient and generate very high levels of balanced downforce at high speed. This helps to maintain traction, cornering ability and stability while low drag aids top speed and acceleration.

A completely flat underbody helps to smooth out and speed up air flow under the car, as faster air pulled from the rear of the car increases downforce at the rear. A removable nose splitter gives more downforce at the front.

Aerodynamics also plays a major part in the cooling of the car and in reducing its CO2 emissions. Air flow through, over and under the car has been honed through Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and real-world testing programmes. Managing engine temperatures has been a key focus for the development team, driven by the ground-breaking combination of a small capacity, high power engine that sits very low in the chassis and as close as possible to the cabin.

Simon Lacey, Head of Vehicle Technology: “From an aerodynamic standpoint, the main impact we can have on CO2 is in controlling engine temperatures.

“But it’s a fine and challenging balance to achieve, that relies on intelligent use of air, because driving cool air over and through the engine bay boosts performance, whilst keeping the oils in the engine and systems hot reduces CO2. And you want both, of course – cool air and hot oils to improve performance and reduce emissions.

“Our Formula 1 culture helps us here as we have worked with CFD for years and can quickly spot where air is losing energy and slowing down. We trust what CFD tells us – we can see the results every other weekend,” concluded Lacey.

Through its motor racing exploits, McLaren has played a major part in honing the accuracy of CFD data. This experience has considerably benefitted the 12C’s aerodynamic properties.

“Every aspect of the 12C has been tuned using the most advanced equipment available,” explained Ian Gough, McLaren Automotive’s Head of Aerodynamics. “Of course, the requirements in Formula 1 are different to that of the 12C but there are some features that derive directly from Formula 1 experience. One example is the guide vanes behind the front and rear wheels.

“Rather like the turning vanes behind the front wheels of the McLaren Formula 1 car that have now been banned, the vanes on the underside of the 12C are designed to divert turbulent airflow created by the wheels. If the wake from the wheels is allowed to interfere with the clean air flowing across the smooth underbody, it prevents this clean air from generating downforce as the diffuser rises at the rear.”

The vanes have created a very significant improvement in airflow beneath the 12C that helps generate a lot of downforce without any drag at all, whilst the diffuser itself is designed along Formula 1 principles.

“As the diffuser tunnels become a ramp, air from the flat floor accelerates and is evacuated into the area of low pressure behind the car, which it then enhances. In crude terms it helps suck the car down onto the road.

Another element of the 12C’s aerodynamic armoury is the Airbrake which works with the diffuser to create even more downforce. When it is fully deployed under heavy braking, the Airbrake creates significant additional wake that works with the diffuser to suck even more air from under the car: it actually speeds the airflow beneath the 12C,” Gough concluded.

Innovative Technologies

McLaren’s raison d’être is to race to win. And only by constantly adapting, innovating and challenging the status quo, can a racing team, or a car company for that matter, progress towards such a goal.

The new McLaren MP4-12C features a raft of new technologies never before seen in the sports car or automotive world. From the engine to the transmission, the suspension to the braking system, the use of aerodynamics to electronics, the 12C genuinely re-writes the rule book on how a high-performance sports car is designed.

Dick Glover, McLaren Automotive’s Technical Director, said, “Our experience with the McLaren F1, and with many people from the Formula 1 and Le Mans racing teams, gives us a great insight into what is technically possible in a car. Some of those innovative technologies have been applied to motor racing, and subsequently banned because of the performance benefits they offer, but we are now reaping the benefits of that knowledge.

“The vehicle dynamics – its consistency of balance, mechanical grip, steering quality, damping quality – are all delivering on our exceedingly high expectations. We are confirming the benefits of technological concepts such as Brake Steer and our Proactive chassis control system – both firsts for a road car.

“Likewise on the powertrain, the SSG transmission and race-derived engine are producing a blindingly quick car, but one that has a very accurate shift quality and great engine driveability. Importantly, while cruising, the engine is also quiet. It still sounds magnificent when you open it up, but its low capacity generates impressive efficiency,” he concluded.
Powertrain: pure McLaren

The 12C is powered by a twin-turbocharged, 3.8 litre 90 V8 engine – the ‘M838T’ (the nomenclature stands for McLaren – 8 cylinder – 3.8 litres – Turbo). This marks the start of a new era in ‘core’ segment sports cars – smaller capacity, lighter weight, higher efficiency and more economical power units.

The engine has the highest specific power output in its segment which, when allied to the car’s lightweight carbon MonoCell, delivers power- and torque- to weight ratios which exceed 450ps and 450Nm per tonne.

M838T is a unique McLaren power unit, developed specifically for the 12C. It is compact, lightweight, very stiff, and offers an uncompromising combination of very high performance with driveability, and peerless economy and CO2 emission values targeted at well below 300g/km.

Taking power and emissions in combination (measured by its horsepower to CO2 ratio), the 12C aims to deliver its power at greater efficiency than any other car on the market with an internal combustion engine, including hybrids.

M838T features dual variable valve timing and produces around 600ps and 600Nm of torque. A dry sump and flat plane crankshaft allow the engine to be placed extremely low in the chassis thereby lowering the centre of gravity and improving handling responses. It also features lightweight cam covers and intake manifold, which reduce weight and heat transmission into the charge air, as well as Nikasil-coated aluminium liners for further weight reduction.

“We wanted the engine to be as small as possible. After evaluating a number of ‘off-the-shelf’ units, we felt that, in terms of design and layout, every alternative was too big a compromise,” explained Richard Farquhar, McLaren Automotive’s Powertrain Manager.

Farquhar sought the following characteristics from the 12C’s engine:

  • Short in length to minimise the 12C’s wheelbase for optimum dynamics.
  • Short distance from the centre of the crankshaft to the bottom of the engine for the lowest possible centre of gravity.
  • Positioning, with the transmission, as close to the centre of the car as possible in order to minimise the polar moment of inertia and its dynamic effects.

“That is why we decided to design our own engine,” said Farquhar. “It is compact in terms of length and height and it complements the concept of the 12C perfectly. Its high end power, wide torque band, effective operation at high G forces and its traction performance over the rev range make it a perfect partner for the character of the car.

“I am particularly satisfied by the environmental performance,” he continued. “With the 12C we are leading the way in the sports car market with a smaller capacity pressure-charged engine: not only will we deliver class-leading power output but the 12C engine will consume considerably less fuel than its competitors. Our target on emissions is 300 g/km of CO2, but we won’t rest until we get below that. I am convinced we have created the blueprint for the way forward for engine technology in the sports car market,” claimed Farquhar.

The positioning of ancillaries shows McLaren’s attention to detail in how every part of the car contributes to the whole 12C concept. On most engines the ancillary drives are belt driven and, therefore higher up on the engine casing.

The 12C engine has no belt drive at the front which minimises the engine length, while the air conditioning compressor and alternator have been located directly behind the primary water pump on one side and the oil pump on the other. They are located axially and operated directly by a gear and chain drive from the camshaft low down at the front of the engine, tucked in tight against the ladder frame and the sump (the ancillaries weigh around 15 kgs). This keeps the heavy masses where they are most effective – low down, to lower the centre of gravity, and as close to the centre of the car for a low polar moment of inertia.

The flat plane crankshaft and dry sump allows the crankshaft to be located as low as possible, which also helps lower the 12C’s centre of gravity. The dry sump system complements the high dynamic performance of the car and the high G loadings it can generate. It evacuates oil from the sump and holds it in a dedicated reservoir located at the right hand front corner of the engine bay, not at the rear like many cars, so that yet another significant mass is placed to benefit the 12C’s handling.

“Everything in this engine is unique: it is bespoke for McLaren,” explained Farquhar. “The M838T has all the DNA of a racing engine and it was important to keep those characteristics in its inherent architecture. But in its application it has been developed to meet the twin demands of flexible road driving and more urgent track activity.

“The performance ‘feel’ is critically important to the character of the 12C, particularly on a track,” he continued. “Around town it is very different: the tip-in, tip-out responses in stop-start driving must deliver smooth and driveable characteristics, while maintaining the 12C’s ability to overtake with imperceptible turbo lag.

“Many of our customers will use their 12C every day and in a variety of conditions: others, only occasionally. The M838T is an engine with a very wide operating envelope in terms of bottom- and mid- range torque with peerless top-end performance,” said Farquhar. “Seldom do high power and torque outputs complement low fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, but for 12C the application of variable valve timing and bespoke twin-turbocharger technology has enabled us to scale new heights: it is a pretty special application.”

The maximum engine speed at 8,500 rpm is extremely high for a turbocharged application and the wide maximum torque curve provides immense pulling power from under 2,000 right up to 6,500 rpm. The full 600Nm is targeted from 3,000 rpm, with 80 percent targeted as available below 2,000 rpm. Peak power is reached at 7,000rpm. This vast spread of torque and power delivery, combined with a quick, transient throttle response, provides a flexible range of driving characteristics, playing a key role in delivering the 12C’s unique dynamics.

Variable valve timing maximises performance at the low end of the rev range and aids the goal of lower emissions, as does the efficiency and performance of the low air pressure-loss intake and exhaust systems. The twin turbochargers have been developed to maximise their operating efficiency throughout the engine speed range and the charge air is routed through heat exchangers in the engine bay, which have been uniquely developed to maximise cooling and charge density and power.

Not only is this jewel of an engine a joy to look at and a thrill to drive, it also delivers a great soundtrack to highlight the performance, flexibility and driveability. The sound of the engine has been thoroughly engineered through exhaust manifold design and tuning of the exhaust and intake systems to deliver a unique engine note.

“With a modern engine and its complex control systems it is important that we don’t dilute what the driver feels when he touches the throttle,” said Farquhar. “The acoustic and sensory experiences the driver gets from the engine provide not only part of the satisfaction but also helps to modulate his driving to how the car is behaving.

“Historically, turbo engines have sounded muffled which is a natural result of the exhaust gases being re-routed,” he continued. “To engineer aural and emotional responses has been an engineering programme in its own right. In the case of exhaust gases, the design of the manifold, the diameter of the pipes, the application of exhaust valve geometry, and the materials and design of the rear mixing box are all the result of an intense focus on ensuring the sound quality of the 12C is not like that of a traditional turbo unit,” Farquhar concluded.

The intake manifold sits above the eight racing style inlet trumpets that are tuned in length to achieve maximum power. Exhaust gases exit through a mixing box into the high-level exhaust pipes, rather than a conventional and heavy silencer box. This application, inspired by noise engineering from motorcycles, channels exhaust gases through an exhaust valve that features a channel that then projects emotive, but legal, levels of engine noise.

All parts of the exhaust system up to the mixing box feature sandwich layer heat-shielding that helps minimise heat build-up in the engine bay. In just an 18mm gap, exhaust pipe temperatures reduce from 900°C to 300°C

Seamless Shift Gearbox

The engine drives the rear wheels through two wet clutches and a seven-speed SSG Seamless Shift dual-clutch gearbox that is bespoke to the 12C.

The Seamless Shift technology offers variable programmes ranging from ‘normal’ for road use and ‘sport’ for quicker changes still, right up to a lightning quick high performance ‘track’ mode. In addition an ‘automatic’ mode, ‘launch control’ and ‘winter’ modes can also be selected, the latter changing all electronic functions to suit low grip conditions and delivering maximum driver aid and support. There is no traditional manual transmission offered; the two pedal layout offered further scope to create a narrow, lighter, and more comfortable car.

Design of the SSG system was driven by a demanding mechanical package that not only reduces weight and improves dynamic control for the entire vehicle, but also delivers real driver benefits.

It is a development on the automated and sequential manual gearboxes with paddle shifts that proliferate in the car market today. The character of the transmission will engage even experienced drivers with its responsiveness and its contribution to the whole dynamic package. With minimal torque loss, there is none of the lurch, hesitation or unpredictability that characterise traditional automated-manual transmission systems.

It is also lightweight and compact in design. The input shaft lies very close to the output shaft to help position the entire powertrain low in the vehicle. Twin secondary shafts ensure any rear axle weight overhang is minimised and rear crash performance is uncompromised. The bespoke SSG is further complemented by an entirely new control system.

This obsessive attention to detail comes as second nature to McLaren, but is not just there to satisfy the engineers’ passions. McLaren’s designers have also engineered the system to work seamlessly with, and for, the driver.

Its size and positioning contributes to weight reduction and benefits packaging targets, improving the 12C’s driveability. Driving programmes and shift strategies take the driver’s own inputs and use them to directly control the engine’s torque and speed to deliver performance, economy or comfort as requested.

“McLaren was offered proprietary dual clutch transmissions but none was right for our concept. The dimensions and packaging would have been compromised by the layout and positioning of the masses in every case,” explained Farquhar. “SSG is a twin layshaft design with two small diameter wet clutches placed side by side, rather than concentrically.

“As a result we have built a seven speed gearbox that is 150-200 millimetres shorter than a conventional single layshaft six or seven speed box. This, in turn, allowed us to bring the mass of the transmission as far forward as possible in relation to the rear axle, thereby benefitting not only the concentration of weight nearer the centre of the 12C, but also allowing the central part of the diffuser to ramp up earlier for better downforce,” he concluded.

Gears are changed using a Formula 1-style diecast aluminium rocker shift that pivots in the centre of the steering wheel. It is actuated on either side of the steering wheel. As with the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 car, a shift up can be actuated either by pulling on the right or pushing on the left of the rocker, a shift down by pulling left or pushing right. The rocker moves with the steering wheel, rather than being mounted on the steering column, so that if a gear change is needed while lock is being applied the driver knows exactly where it is located. Gear changes are accompanied by a distinctive click from the rocker paddle that can be both heard and felt by the driver.

The rocker itself incorporates an innovative feature created by McLaren engineers called Pre-Cog. The name stands for pre-cognition, literally ‘foreknowledge’. The rocker on the 12C has two positions with a slightly different haptic (or feel) for each. The first pressure applied by the driver to the rocker informs the gearbox to get ready to swap ratios, thereby saving time – latency – between the message being sent and the gearbox being primed to act. The second pressure confirms that the gear should be changed and the torque handover is completed in milliseconds.

“What Pre-Cog actually does is initiate the shift process by priming the clutch and torque handover – it takes significant time out of the process and delivers both an instantaneous and engaging shift control,” explained Dick Glover, Technical Director.

“It’s a little bit like the first pressure on a camera shutter button. There’s no requirement for the driver to use it but it is more satisfying and engaging if you do. Pre-Cog removes a relatively time-consuming part of the gear change from the driver’s climb up the ‘box – about one-third to one-half before you change gear.

“The SSG also promotes seamless shifting in that the driver doesn’t have to reduce engine power at all – rather than the gearshift slowing you down, it actually speeds the car up by recovering the energy of the crank spinning as it drops engine speed. In full automatic mode SSG will shift at points that feel good whether you’re driving to the shops, or from London to Monte Carlo. There is not one single programme, but different ones according to the driver’s circumstance.

“In practice, the latency of the shift is virtually zero, the actual gear change time is very fast and the level of impulse can be varied according to the gearbox mode. Considering that McLaren was the first Formula 1 team to introduce seamless shift gearchanges into motor racing, it was a natural step to develop such a bespoke transmission for our sports car project,” Glover concluded.

Modus operandi

The 12C’s handling and performance parameters can be pre-selected by the driver through the ‘H’ (Handling) and ‘P’ (Powertrain) rotary switches on the Active Dynamics Panel. Each mode tailors the car in many ways to provide the 12C with a combination of distinct and distinctive characters.

Three ‘H’ modes – ‘normal’, ‘sport’ and ‘track’ – change stability control parameters, steering weight, suspension firmness and roll stiffness.

Whilst ‘P’ modes – ‘normal’, ‘sport’ and ‘track’ – alter throttle response and engine acoustics, gearbox strategy, shift times, and impulse (how much one can feel the gearchange).

“In the case of the transmission, we examined how we could control the gearbox to give drivers their ideal settings,” explained Farquhar. “The Powertrain and Chassis Control Unit, combined with driver controls, enables us to decouple the Powertrain programme from the Handling programme acting on the chassis. In other words the driver can choose a chassis set up and then how he or she wants the powertrain to behave.”

“The parameters vary to give unique performance outputs. For example, seamless shifts in ‘normal’ mode in Powertrain setting give magically efficient and imperceptible shift schedules. In ‘sport’ or ‘track’, however, the driver might not want such gentle shifts: he or she can choose to forgo some smoothness for maximum performance.”

‘Proactive’ chassis = control

The suspension for the McLaren MP4-12C breaks new ground, offering hitherto unseen levels of roll control and grip (an almost flat cornering attitude, depending on the Handling programme selected). Such behaviour appropriate for the race track would normally imply a rock-hard ride, but the 12C also delivers compliance and ride comfort more akin to an executive saloon car. The mix of occupant cosseting and sporting potential is truly unique. The 12C offers the driver both class-leading ride comfort and class-leading performance.

The whole chassis package produces not only a unique relationship between ride and handling, but also astonishing lateral grip and outstanding traction. The 12C is poised and balanced whether negotiating high or low speed corners, during direction changes, under heavy or light braking and on tightening or opening corners.

The trick behind blending such opposing objectives lies in the innovative ‘Proactive’ chassis control system, working from the car’s uncompromised geometry and weight distribution.

The suspension is based on double wishbones with coil springs. The dampers are interconnected hydraulically and provide adaptive responses depending on both road conditions and driver preference.

The Proactive system features driver-adjustable roll control which replaces the mechanical anti-roll bars that have been a standard feature of road cars since time immemorial. It allows the car to maintain precise roll control under heavy cornering while decoupling the suspension in a straight line for excellent wheel articulation and compliance.

Not only is the Proactive suspension a unique application that delivers absolute benefits to driver and passenger, but it is also another example of McLaren’s drive to achieve all-round performance goals from core engineering targets.

For example, the unique blend of a compliant ride with ultra-sharp handling also delivers ownership benefits as it protects suspension bushes from wear and tear, with McLaren’s research suggesting a potential for up to ten times more mileage than on some competitor cars. Also, the hydraulic pump that supports the dampers is the same pump that supports the electro-hydraulic steering system. Why use two pumps when one – small and lightweight – pump will do?

Brake Steer and Airbrake

Another feature that helps the 12C to handle at a new level is a development of an electronic system used by the McLaren-Mercedes-Benz 1997 MP4-12 Formula 1 car – Brake Steer. In essence, it is a system that applies braking forces to the inside rear wheel when the car is entering a corner too quickly to make the desired radius – supporting either a driver who has misjudged the corner, or a skilled driver seeking the fastest possible entry and exit from a corner.

Under normal circumstances these scenarios would tend towards a state of understeer. Brake Steer controls this and makes the car behave in a more neutral fashion, bringing its nose back on line. It assesses the steering angle to determine the driver’s intended course and applies the inside rear brake to increase yaw rate and resume the desired course.

The system also works on acceleration out of a corner when the inside rear has a tendency to spin, allowing the driver to put power down more quickly. It exceeds the performance of a limited slip differential and obviates the need for such a complex and heavy unit, thus saving valuable kilos.

A further array of electronic aids is fitted to the 12C that will assist and protect the less-experienced driver, or when conditions challenge even the best. These include ABS, ESP, ASR traction control, Electronic Brake Distribution, and Hill Hold. The level of intervention varies according to the Handling mode selected.

The active Airbrake is another innovation that made its debut on the F1 supercar and was also incorporated into the SLR. It deploys hydraulically under braking, or when the driver wants to trim the car for increased downforce by using a switch on the Active Dynamics Panel.

Under heavy braking above 95 km/h, a piston operated by transmission hydraulics raises the Airbrake to 57 degrees. Once the first stage ‘wing angle’ is set, and the Airbrake pushed into the airflow, the centre of aerodynamic pressure forces the bottom of the ‘wing’ back. In this way, aerodynamics raise the Airbrake to its full and maximum angle rather than relying on a larger, and therefore heavier, motor. This weight-saving solution took almost 50 per cent of weight out of the mechanism.

The Airbrake moves the centre of pressure of the 12C rearwards, whereas it would normally move forward under braking. It improves yaw stability under braking and allows the brakes to work more effectively due to increased downforce.

Bespoke Electronics and Electrical architecture

“No one gets out of a car saying – Wow, that electrical system was great,” said Richie Sibal, Function Group Manager for Electrical Systems. “Yet the electrical and electronic architecture of a car supports all the major functions and is of critical importance to customer satisfaction.

“The 12C’s electrical system is absolutely bespoke: it owes nothing to any other car and has been designed exclusively for the 12C and forthcoming McLaren models,” he explained.

Although the wiring, the black boxes and ECUs are parts that the customer cannot see and has no interest in, the components they control and activate are much closer to their hearts – items such as the instrument cluster, infotainment systems and switchgear.

The wiring system is the backbone for routing command and control messages around the car. Designed from scratch at Woking, the entire system uses aluminium-copper combination wiring to save weight and help package the system better.

“Aluminium wiring is lighter than traditional wiring and the 12C loom saves almost four kilos of vehicle weight,” Sibal explained. “For the same power capacity, aluminium wiring has a greater cross-sectional area because it is hexagonal instead of circular. If you think of a bundle of circular wiring there are air pockets between each wire, whereas hexagonal shaped wire strands fit together perfectly,” he said.

The wiring architecture has been designed as a scalable system in order to meet requirements for future models in the McLaren range. The distributed electrical system uses CAN and LIN communication networks engineered to premium OEM standards to ensure maximum efficiency and reliability.

The same dedication to perfection is evident in the development of electronic boxes. McLaren could easily have used widely-available components in the 12C but these are difficult to package and infer a compromise. Another positive factor conferred by the bespoke electrical system was the freedom of the engineers to package control units tailored exactly to the spaces available within the 12C’s body. Such as the body control ECU that manages door controls, the alarm system, lights and fans. And by using electronic fusing, the traditional fuse count has been halved. For the 12C, one control unit has replaced three in the SLR.

“Designing our own electronics systems may seem to some an unnecessary complication within the wider project of launching a whole new car company,” said Managing Director, Antony Sheriff. “But that is the McLaren way. It is part of the challenge that drives the designers’ and engineers’ passion for what we are doing.

“Designing and developing everything from scratch, from the MonoCell, to the suspension, to the transmission, down to the switches and wiring requires a massive development programme and huge dedication. We want to innovate and offer our customers a new type of sports car from a new type of car company. And to do that we just have to work harder than our competitors.

“We believe our customers will be able to feel the passion and commitment that has gone into every component of the 12C,” Sheriff concluded.

MP4-12C Development Programme: simulated and global


McLaren has developed one of the most sophisticated driving simulators in the world. It is an immensely powerful tool that can be used to predict handling, performance, and many other dynamic properties.

The simulator was initially designed to improve the performance of McLaren’s Formula 1 cars. But it has also been used intensively in the design and development process for the 12C, where modelling offers the opportunity to test likely outcomes without having to build a component that might turn out to be inadequate. It saves both money and time and it is perhaps the most effective technology transfer from Formula 1 to road cars; the 12C’s handling and suspension was developed using exactly the same tools and techniques as the Formula 1 cars.

Before the first prototype was available, the dynamic test team, aided by professional racing driver and McLaren Automotive’s Chief Test Driver, Chris Goodwin, tested early parts on the simulator as well as a development chassis and engine mules.

“The simulator has been invaluable in supporting our dynamic testing,” said Dick Glover, Technical Director. “It runs real time dynamic models that apply reactions through actuators into the simulator structure in response to driver inputs. A second computer serves the dynamics team so that they can build models and test them offline – for example how 12C reacts to Brake Steer. It all gives us a clear direction for development and it saves money and time.

“We get a tremendous correlation between the simulator and the test track,” he continued. “It is not just lap times, important as they are for demonstrating how the whole car performance comes together, but components of the lap itself such as corner exit speed, a specific handling response, or plotting longitudinal and lateral g loadings at each point on a given track. Populating a graph can help us to determine whether we are maximising the opportunities for overall car performance.”

Such success in matching the theoretical to the empirical is hardly surprising when the simulator principles were laid down for the hothouse development of McLaren Formula 1 cars.

“We used the simulator to predict lap times for the first Turkish Grand Prix in 2005,” said Glover. “No one had seen the track and we had no idea what to expect. We fed in all the available data – corner radii, gradient, track width and married this to our car’s performance parameters and the predicted lap time produced by Juan Pablo Montoya was within 1/100th of a second of our Friday practice time,” he explained. “We went on to win the race too. If you overlay the trace of the simulator lap with the real thing, the application of throttle, brake pressure, steering angle and so on, you would not believe how accurate it was.”

The benefits of simulation are most clearly illustrated when one reviews the racing team’s difficult start to the 2009 season. Its MP4-24 had been amongst the slower cars in the series but by mid-season not only had the team caught up but it also scored two dominant victories. Such improvements relative to the competition are due to assiduous research, simulation and focus.

For that reason the deployment of some racing engineers in the test programme for 12C was deemed to be a big advantage.

“We have several guys from the race team who have transferred to the 12C development team,” confirmed Geoff Grose, Head of Testing and Development. “Marcus Waite was a senior engineer with the Formula 1 test team and is now working for McLaren Automotive, and Paul Burnham, our Dynamics Manager, moved from Racing to Automotive five years ago. And we have two professional racing drivers, Chris Goodwin and Kevin McGarrity, who validate everything we engineer to ensure it translates into real progress on the track.

“Racing brings a fleet-footed, responsive attitude and I am always pushing to learn what we can from the racing team. I am really supportive when our guys go unprompted to McLaren Racing. Their team’s goals are different but our approaches and attitudes are very similar,” said Grose. “I think our proximity to, and kinship with, the Formula 1 team is rare, if not unique, and we would be denying ourselves a competitive advantage if we didn’t use it vigorously,” said Grose.

Crash test requirements are also a good example of how simulation helps speed up development. Long before the first carbon MonoCell had been constructed, the design had been through more than 250 passive crash test simulations. When the time came to submit a real world crash test, the 12C passed with flying colours.

“Structural analysis has been invaluable for developing the MonoCell without committing huge expense. Its accuracy is fantastic,” said Dick Glover. “Outside McLaren, it is almost unknown to meet our standards out of the box, but simulation worked out perfectly for us. It is difficult enough to achieve first time success like this with just a relatively predictable, ductile aluminium structure, yet McLaren managed first time out with its MonoCell and added aluminium structures. We are very proud of that.”

Simulation didn’t stop at the design stage. Although over 50 prototypes will have been built for an exhaustive test programme around the globe, the simulator remains a key tool and a differentiator from most competitors.

McLaren’s million miles of testing

When dynamic testing started, development and constant refinement of engine, gearbox, tyres, aerodynamics, braking, steering and suspension began in earnest to match all projected values and targets.

The McLaren Automotive development team plans to test the 12C in every regional market in which the car will be sold: North America, Europe, the Middle-East, Asia-Pacific, and South Africa. During 2010, it anticipates breaking through the one million miles of testing barrier. It is this dedication, attention to detail and desire to make sure that the 12C is suited to all climates, countries and customers that forms much of the confidence in the McLaren Automotive team.

The testing programme moved into a more ‘aggressive’ phase in 2009, replicating the principles of Formula 1 testing where a car and dozens of people maximise track time during the day and work on improvements overnight. The principle is ‘why test one thing when you can do ten’. Prototypes went to a test track for six weeks with all the experts and suppliers. The car followed a rigorous regime of testing almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week for six weeks. This turbocharged programme accelerated the development time.

“We have tested in the Arctic for cold weather programmes, Bahrain for extreme hot weather cycles in 50⁰C, South Africa for altitude and a huge amount of road and track time at proving grounds and race tracks across UK and Europe, including the Nürburgring,” said Geoff Grose. “We have tested intensively in all areas – performance, braking, dynamics, durability, NVH, powertrain calibration, electronics and a host of other features.

“IDIADA is a large oval with 250kmh hands-off banking where we regularly assess our dynamic and durability test cars. We have run a number of 24 hour sessions and, in 2009, a six week, 18 hours-a-day programme between eight in the morning through to two the next morning. The remaining night shift enabled cars to be serviced and any development changes added for the next day’s test. It is a programme that combines Formula 1 principles and performance car potential to deliver the best of both worlds for the customer,” he said.

The tests include engineers from the Woking test team as well as from key suppliers. Up to 80 people populate the tests and each morning there is a conference call with MTC to review progress and incorporate learning into the engineering and development process and decide what needs to be tested on the simulator.

Durability testing is critical. A few examples of the exhaustive testing procedures Grose’s team has undertaken include a corrosion cycle that subjects the 12C to days in a high humidity climatic chamber followed by long runs around the banked circuit, salt baths and salt sprays. This kind of repeated ‘abuse’ ensures that there are no galvanic problems with fixings and details and that the structure is tested to the limit to expose potential weaknesses.

Another is extended mileage using full power upshifts and downshifts and overrun to rigorously explore the engine, gearbox and chassis resilience under extreme dynamic conditions. Road mileage, too, is important. It is necessary to ensure that 12C delivers all the comfort and ergonomic performance that encourages owners to drive long distances: features like cabin climate control, seat support and comfort, and ride quality are all crucial to the production of an uncompromised all-rounder.

With the development and testing regime approaching its climax, Grose’s team are currently revisiting all the test programmes and cycles with the last batch of XP-Beta prototypes. This validation phase is the culmination of all the work carried out so far and it will lead to final certification in each of the global markets that will offer the 12C for sale.

“The 12C will be a combination of intelligent, thorough and innovative design with an accelerated, rigorous and relentless testing regime,” explained Grose. “The testing and development process is not straightforward: it is a question of how much you learn from it by asking the right questions, then how good and how quick you are at implementing that learning. The dedication and skill of the development team, combined with their broad automotive and motor racing experience and input from our Formula 1 engineers will, I am convinced, ensure that the 12C sets new standards of integration between a road car and racing car programme. The end result will be a very high-quality car in terms of performance and safety,” he concluded.

Manufacturing and Production at McLaren

12C from MTC to MPC

Quality is a defining characteristic of the finest things that money can buy. Quality starts in the conception of a product, then in its design, but, perhaps most importantly in the production process itself. However good a product is in concept, if it isn’t assembled and executed perfectly, the care and ingenuity employed in its design will be squandered. For this reason McLaren Automotive has devoted immense care in planning the production process and a new production facility to ensure that the finished MP4-12C is delivered to its owner in impeccable condition.

Production will initially begin in the McLaren Technology Centre from late-2010, directly below the desks of the engineers responsible for its creation. The design and construction of a dedicated manufacturing facility – the McLaren Production Centre (MPC) – will then provide the immaculate birthplace for each new McLaren car from spring 2011.

McLaren production heritage

McLaren has already proved itself to be not just capable, but expert in building high quality, high value sports cars for the world’s most demanding and discerning customers. Back in 1969 company founder Bruce McLaren started to fulfil his ambition of building sports cars alongside his successful racing team. The M6 GT was still in prototype form when Bruce was tragically killed. The M6 GT project died with him.

But the ambition to fulfil Bruce’s dream smouldered on. Ron Dennis reignited that flame back in 1990 when he gave the go ahead to a small team to build the best super sports car in the world. The outcome was the 1993 McLaren F1 – the first road car to offer a full carbon composite chassis and body, the first road-based car to win the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours at its first attempt in 1995 and, according to almost every independent commentator, the finest high performance road car of all time.

To meet its designers’ stringent weight and performance objectives McLaren adapted the uncompromising approach taken by its Formula 1 racing operation to the development of the F1. The company also applied the same rigour to quality as it did to weight, performance, design purity and innovation. These characteristics remain core McLaren DNA today.

The F1 was, however, complex to build. The tub alone for each production model took around 3,000 hours to complete. In a production life of five years, 107 examples were made and the F1 has gone on to become one of the world’s most-prized, and most valuable, automobiles.
Stepping up production – the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren

When Mercedes-Benz and McLaren agreed the programme and concept for the SLR it was clear that more focus would be needed on production to ensure that high quality cars could be built at faster build rates

Operations Director Alan Foster, responsible for production and quality, brought his extensive experience of large Japanese and European manufacturers to McLaren Automotive in 2005. His production philosophy was to bring a large-scale, lean manufacturing mentality into a small-scale, hand-built operation and his philosophy has paid off. At peak volume the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren line produced 70 cars in one month, or four a day, while bringing quality of the finished cars on a par with the highest level found anywhere in the Mercedes-Benz group.

Any production volume below 20 units a day is low volume and sub-ten is ultra low volume. For the SLR large scale manufacturing processes were detuned for small volumes of three or four a day. No automated machines were used, whilst technicians logged on to a computer at each of the work stations, followed a control log for that station and confirmed that every step had been completed and chaecked.

It is very different from a mass production facility where a car’s station is typically around 60 seconds. “No one can add much content in a minute,” said Foster. “On the SLR line there was typically 225 minutes worth of work at each station. At the end of the section the technicians, two to a station, signed off that they had completed every single operation and that log went into a database that recorded who did what. The checks and balances were such that a car could not leave a work station until everything was completed perfectly,” he stated.

The same philosophy applied in the paint shop – everything was hand painted and the paint hand mixed. A battery of computers ensured that the booths were the correct temperature and humidity, but it was essentially hand-worked.

An internal quality gate then ensured quality in the final product – for example, every single panel was checked before final approval for each car to be released. After that, it was road and track tested. Typically it would have 45 minutes on a rolling road, followed by time at the track including two straight-line runs, a left and right lane change, braking, ride, stability and noise check. The same three drivers carried out these tests and they knew exactly if a car was not performing as it should.

The SLR body took around 400 hours to make before it went for painting. The paint shop took a further 280 man hours and assembly 230. With testing and final checks it took almost 1,000 hours to make each finished car. It was all about craftsmanship: a hand-built philosophy but with a lot of science behind it. The series ended in December 2009 by which time over 2,100 examples had left Woking – by far the largest volume carbon composite sports car ever made.

This craft approach was accompanied by simple, effective practices that would typically be found at the best “lean” plants. Parts are delivered to the line on a just in time basis, and reliable, lean, on-line parts stocking is guaranteed by a ‘kanban’ delivery system. This also ensures that the line is uncluttered, allowing for easy visual management of the production process. Quality checks are pushed back to each assembly station to insure that no car leaves a station with any defects. A car that needs to have many faults rectified at the end of line will be a low quality car and an expensive car. In short, McLaren builds cars with a system that combines the flexibility and craftsmanship of a low volume approach with the process control and quality systems of the best high volume lean plants.

And when it comes to variations on a theme, McLaren proved that it is world class. The team produced a production-ready SLR Roadster by converting the Coupé in just 15 months, quicker even than Mercedes-Benz’s own benchmark time.

Production of the SLR was in the heart of the McLaren Technology Centre, under the same roof as McLaren Racing in the Production Hall below the engineering and design offices. This close location of designers, engineers and production established the pattern for the McLaren Production System (MPS).

Quality by MPS

The McLaren Production System brings a large-scale, lean production mentality into a small-scale, flexible and bespoke operation. The process, that enables a high quality yet relatively swift production, is championed by Alan Foster, who believes that it is the key to reliably producing the highest quality product time after time.

“Quality is the most important thing to customers,” said Foster, “and quality management is the fundamental part of building a McLaren. For my team it is an absolute passion. It doesn’t matter whether a customer is spending ten thousand pounds or a million, it is their money and they rightly expect to have pride in their purchase and be completely satisfied with it. Our goal is to ensure that we exceed customers’ expectations.

“McLaren is unique in having its design and engineering teams literally seconds away from the production hall. This ensures both rapid problem solving and genuine accountability – if a design doesn’t work, the engineer responsible will know about it because the production line is literally under his nose. What this ultimately leads to is a group responsibility. One which produces the best quality in production I have ever seen,” he concluded.

Foster’s team introduced a series of quality improvement processes over the life of the SLR that will be the building-blocks for even tougher quality targets on the 12C. For example:

  • ‘Production-led problem identification’ – the production team were empowered to raise any issue that was slowing them down, with a daily review where engineers had to respond with a quick and permanent fix. These reviews were then linked to analysis of defects arriving at the final quality gate, which linked defects to the station in production where they occurred. The net effect was a reduction in defects to virtually zero in just two years.
  • ‘In-process functional checks’ – the typical premium car production review sees cars built, tested, and then re-worked, which results in major repair time and costs, and damaged parts as individual parts are removed from storage. Foster’s team introduced two internal ‘gateways’ focussing on mechanical and electrical functions, before items such as seats and carpets were fitted. These checks previewed possible build process issues, rather than reviewed problems.
  • ‘Scrap reviews’ – a process that all car companies partake in, these management reviews of defective parts traditionally take place weekly out of sight of the production line. McLaren developed a daily, and open, process on the production line where any defective parts from anywhere in the production process were collated, discussed, and assigned to engineering. The net result was a 95 percent reduction in ‘scrap’ cost per car.

Alan Foster: “I am very proud of the changes we made early on in the life of the SLR. Taken in isolation, it’s easy to think that this isn’t rocket-science, but it’s incredibly hard to deliver new processes into car production lines, especially ones that may highlight an individual’s or a team’s issues. But we found that collective ownership and responsibility towards issues had the opposite effect – it resulted in more personal pride in the product, and production improvements that delivered, I believe, the best quality build in the car industry. These learnings will form the foundation for the 12C production process, where we will continue to adapt and innovate in production as volumes of McLaren cars increase.”

The global plans envisaged for the 12C, and other future McLaren sports cars, will require a change of mindset for McLaren’s production line teams as the company moves to higher volumes. But the build process will still focus on craftsmanship. A combination of hand-built care and technological innovation. As with SLR, quality gates will ensure that a car cannot leave a work station until everything is completed perfectly, ensuring that McLaren Automotive maintains its high standards of final approval before a car can be released.

Pre-production XP, Beta XP and VP cars

Production processes have been built into the development plans for the 12C from the very beginning. Unlike the SLR project, where production fixtures and processes were developed by McLaren to fit an existing Mercedes-Benz design, McLaren started building the actual production fixtures very early on in the 12C programme. These were used in the build of a series of XP (Experimental Prototype) cars in 2009.

The XP cars have been used for crash tests, dynamic testing, engine and transmission trials, electrical work, hot and cold weather trials, quality maturation of components and durability testing. They also undergo geometric testing and monsoon tests.

Using experience and learning from this intensive test programme, a series of XP Beta cars was built in late summer ‘09. These cars incorporated many changes garnered from the XP testing programme and bear a closer relationship to production ready cars.

The next step, which started in January 2010, is the production of 26 VP cars. These are being used not only to continue certain aspects of the test programme, but also to validate all the results and allow certification in world markets ready for the 12C going on sale. Importantly, they also test the production process itself.

Production process – own tools, own production fittings

The production process for the McLaren MP4-12C will enable McLaren to build on its recent success of record production volumes and quality for a luxury sports car. The hand-built philosophy developed for SLR will be applied to the 12C production process, as will the care taken with paint quality and pre-release testing of each and every car.

The body fixtures for each station were designed by McLaren and some have been used in the XP phase. For the VP series the full complement of nine fixtures will be incorporated in the MTC Production Hall in order to replicate the exact process that will be used in the MPC production process proper in 2011.

“Apart from the essential and rigorous testing of the 12C itself, the build programme using actual production rigs has given us invaluable experience in readiness for production proper later this year,” explained Foster. “Rather than using proprietary measuring devices to build the VP cars we are using actual production fixtures. This has allowed us to trial the production process in real time, iron out any bugs and ensure we hit the necessary cycle times.”

The process itself consists of 32 assembly stations and seven main body building fixtures. The flow of the product from one fixture to the next is the key to an efficient process and to building a consistently high quality car.

“Each cycle time is targeted at 45 minutes, although some are already as low as 38 minutes, so we know that we have eliminated the risk in the process,” said Foster. “However, the VP series we are building now allows us to prove the manpower loading, component layout, sequencing of parts, workload distribution, iron out team sizes and communication systems and check for any bottlenecks in the process.

“The first VP development car came off the production line in early March and, looking at it, it’s hard to believe that it’s not our first customer’s car.”

The VP build will also allow the production engineers to prove the build process again before customer production starts, verify theoretical build times, lay out the line in an optimal fashion, test the distances between teams, eradicate any defects in the process and prove the manpower and quality systems in place.

There are no plans to change the 12C build process when it moves to the MPC. It will follow the coach-built philosophy with considerable underlying sophistication to ensure optimal attention to detail and quality. The experience with SLR will prove invaluable in preparing for the new car and this learning has helped McLaren to develop the manufacturing process during design and development to feed back potential build problems into the engineering process.

“The build process will be similar to that of SLR but at a much higher tempo,” Foster confirmed. “The much faster tub production of around four hours and careful planning of the assembly process means I am aiming for a build time target of just over 100 hours, compared to the 800-900 hour build of an SLR. The production and quality team were heavily involved in the design of the 12C from the very beginning of its conceptual design phases, which explains why were able to reduce the assembly time so dramatically. After all, a car that goes together easily will be a higher quality car and an easier to maintain car- it’s in everyone’s interest.

“This challenging target is necessary to achieve the number of cars planned, initially ten a day” said Foster. “It may not sound like a lot but our people are accustomed to making three or four a day. Conceptually it is a monumental leap for my team. But the integration of production so early in the design process and the work we have already done on slimming the assembly process from 42 stages to 38, the check sheets for developing the production process manual – accurate data on how the build goes together – all this means the company is ahead of schedule six months before series production begins.”

The first production car will enter the MTC Production Hall in late-2010, approximately six months before production transfers to the brand new McLaren Production Centre.

The new McLaren Production Centre – a home from home, and environmentally sound

The new MPC manufacturing facility will provide the perfect base to tailor make MP4-12C’s. It will have a clear McLaren style and will espouse all the virtues of the MTC. Like the Group headquarters, the MPC was designed by Fosters + Partners and great care has been taken to ensure that the building fits perfectly into its environment. Being five minutes by foot from the MTC, production engineers and planners continue to benefit from the instant access they currently enjoy to the design and engineering teams, and vice versa.

The 32,000-square metre MPC is located to the south-east of the existing McLaren Technology Centre and the two buildings will be connected by a subterranean walkway. Sharing a common language of details and materials, the new building is clad in aluminium tubes, the rounded corners of its rectilinear plan echo the curves of the MTC and the entrance, echoing the existing building, is a circular glass drum beneath the overhang of the roof canopy.

At just over seven metres high and embedded in the gentle incline of the site, the MPC is sensitive to its rural setting and will not be visible from the nearby road. Further screening will be provided by the extensive planting of trees and excavated material will be used to conceal the building within the green-belt site. The new building is also designed to be sustainable – the MTC uses the lake for cooling, so the roof of the MPC will support this system, collecting rainwater to complement a low-energy system that utilises displacement ventilation.

Foster + Partners considered McLaren’s manufacturing processes to be closer in spirit to an operating theatre than a factory, and the new building, with its ceramic tiled floors, is designed to showcase this technology. The linear arrangement of the two-storey structure mirrors the flow of the production line: components are delivered; the cars are assembled, painted and tested, and then pass through a rolling road and monsoon wash, before leaving the building. Below this is a basement level for storage and above is a mezzanine floor with views over the production line.

The MPC is currently under construction and has a fast-track schedule – work began on the project in May 2009, planning permission was granted in late-2009, footings and foundations were laid in March 2010, and the first cars will go into production in spring 2011.

Nigel Dancey, a senior partner at Foster + Partners, commented: “The McLaren Production Centre has allowed us to further develop an approach to industrial architecture that was first explored in some of the practice’s earliest projects. While the McLaren Technology Centre took six years to design and build, the remarkable fast-track programme means that the Production Centre will be completed in a third of the time. The same team has worked on both buildings and this continuity has helped to make this ambitious timescale and complementary building possible.”

From the outside it appears to be a single story building 200 by 100 metres in size and it is 5.5 metres from ground to roof. Only the ground floor is visible but below the production hall itself is a 170 by 85 metre basement that houses all parts and components logistics and the underside of the paint shop. Access for deliveries is by a separate road close to the MTC entrance.

The soil displaced is used to landscape the area and 50 per cent of the building will be invisible from any angle. Hundreds of trees will be planted to further mask the building. From the footpath behind the building, walkers will neither see, nor hear, anything but the sights and sounds of nature. During the planning phase the building was turned through 90 degrees to minimise soil displacement and reduce costs.

The paint shop is the limiting factor at the production facility in the McLaren Technology Centre so the design and capacity of the paint shop in the Production Centre is completely new. It will be manually-operated, like the SLR line, and all residual spray waste is collected as electrostatically-discharged limescale cake. It would be possible to robotize the painting process in future if the volumes required but at present robotization offers no advantages.

“The MPC has been organised along the lines of a large OEM facility,” explained Alan Foster. “It meets and exceeds all requirements for sustainability, energy conservation, energy re-use and sensitive environmental landscaping.

“The investment involved is between £40 and £50 million, and with this facility up and running, we have the capacity to build around 4,000 cars a year. We have future-proofed McLaren Automotive’s ability to capitalise on market demand through until at least 2020,” he concluded.

Closing the Circle: Sales, Marketing and Aftersales

Not only is McLaren establishing a new company, building a new production facility, and designing and developing a range of innovative high-performance sports cars, but it is also building a global network of retail sales and service partners.

This small number of super operators will deliver the dedication, quality and focus necessary to ensure that the McLaren ownership experience is a step up from anything previously experienced by McLaren’s customers.

Building a global retailer network

Almost as soon as the first outline of the 12C was conceived, a retail distribution network plan was forged at Woking.

“We were very aware that however well the 12C is designed, however meticulously it is assembled, and however rewarding it is to drive, McLaren Automotive objectives could not be met without a network of partners that shared our values. Especially an obsession for ultimate customer care,” explained Antony Sheriff, Managing Director.

“Driving a great sports car is only part of the experience of owning a McLaren. The level of care and support that our customers get after they buy the car is just as important as a fast lap time.

“Therefore, we began planning our distribution strategy at the earliest point in the whole project. We are now confident not only that we have chosen the right locations but also that we will have the finest group of partners in the sports car sector.

“We are stretching our small team to unprecedented levels, insisting that we visit all the potential retailer locations around the world. We are delving into their business plans and operations, meeting their service technicians, watching how they treat their customers; all to ensure that 12C owners get the very best treatment.

“There is very little point in us beating ourselves up over the feel of a switch in the 12C if we have not taken the trouble to ensure that the owners are looked after,” he concluded.

The network plan had four distinct phases – desk research, field visits, active dealer prospecting and finally, selection and training.

Beginning with an exhaustive research programme on the major metropolitan areas that support large volumes of sports car sales, McLaren analysed concentrations of high net worth individuals and the likely locations to serve each potential market.

The company divided the world into four regions: Europe, North America, the Middle East/South Africa and Asia Pacific, each of which is managed by a local McLaren Automotive management team. Up to 35 retailers will initially be selected in the following regions:

  • Europe: UK, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland
  • North America: USA, Canada
  • Middle East / South Africa: UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, South Africa
  • Asia Pacific: Japan, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong

Having decided on locations, McLaren Automotive then looked at all the major businesses representing premium car manufacturers by visiting each city and understanding the environment.

“This was not just a plan to be run from the centre,” explained David Lumley-Wood, Head of Network Development. “Our desire was to fully understand each market by being there; touching and feeling the environment, talking to dealers and customers. The aim was to physically understand what we needed in terms of a design for each dealership and the processes for building a unified McLaren team on the ground.

“It is vital that our preferred retailers absolutely behave in a way we call ‘fit for McLaren’ – they have to deliver on the tangible and intangible qualities that are commonplace at McLaren; great performance, high quality, reliability and passion. ‘Pure McLaren’ is not just about the car itself; it’s about providing a 100 percent McLaren experience. We therefore talked to a large number of key players in each city in order to understand the market opportunities and to identify how strong each was across a matrix of five key competences,” said Lumley-Wood.
The five key competences in the dealer selection process

  • Experience in serving luxury, high-end sports car customers is not the same as selling executive or luxury cars: they require one to one relationships between the dealer and the customer. The potential customer must have confidence that the dealer understands his special, and often bespoke, needs in relation to his car, rather in the same way that a yacht, a personal jet or a fine antiquity is bought, sold and serviced. It is a close relationship that engenders trust and confidence on both sides.
  • The second competence is evidence of professional systems and processes. McLaren Automotive wants partners that use business management tools and systems that aid their development, a fine understanding of great aftersales, and an outstanding bodyshop process too. They need to understand the special and unique demands of customers in this sector. Retailing high-performance sports cars is, and will remain, a highly sophisticated process with discerning customers who expect and deserve special relationships.
  • Thirdly, each McLaren dealer needs to be well-funded – able to ride out the economic peaks and troughs without impact to the customer experience.
  • Fourth, they need to have an intimate knowledge of their local market. Relationships are absolutely crucial to success. Just because a dealer sells sports cars successfully in, say, London does not automatically qualify it to be equally successful in, say, Manchester. One of the dynamics observed to a greater or lesser extent across all markets is that customers in McLaren’s segment like and expect the process to be managed by a knowledgeable product expert and brand advocate. But, they also want access to the dealer principal – the man or woman at the top. Therefore each McLaren dealer needs to be an integral part of the social fabric of their city and market and to know most of the potential customers in that area.
  • Finally, every McLaren dealer must understand and ‘live’ McLaren brand values. The goal is a long-term partnership with a retail network that has a complete empathy with McLaren DNA – trust, ethics, professionalism, efficiency, confident humility and to believe in, and deliver, the very highest standards of customer service.

The retail distribution network

Having undergone this exacting process McLaren arrived at a shortlist of two preferred candidates for each location by the end of 2009. Each was invited to prepare a full business plan, a marketing plan and a facility plan and they were then invited to present their plans to the management of McLaren Automotive. From these presentations a decision has been, or soon will be, made and the full dealer network will be appointed in 2010, once every selected retailer has, again, been visited.

“There is no fixed template to the size and background of the retailers selected so far, except that all have outstanding reputations in serving the luxury sports car segment,” explained Lumley-Wood. “We have groups and individual entrepreneurs; we have some of the largest organisations with multiple locations representing a large number of brands, contrasting with single operators in single sites. What is important is that each of these dealers will be McLaren Automotive’s eyes and ears across the globe – an integral part of our company: McLaren Automotive is not the car retailer – our partners are,” he concluded.

McLaren has spent a great deal of time in developing a robust financial model for the retail network including costs, investment, revenue and margins to satisfy the company and its partners that the McLaren franchise offers a solid and profitable opportunity.

The McLaren brand has demonstrated its strength during the dealer selection process. Enthusiasm from the retail sector was very strong from the beginning from those ‘in the know’. Although this was encouraging and reinforced the company’s conviction that the business plan was attractive to retailers, the virtual reveal of the 12C in September 2009 brought forth a torrent of dealer enquiries; around 500 up to December 2009, in addition to the 100 the company had already identified. This displays supreme confidence in the company, the brand and the business proposition.

“We have had over 500 enquiries, visited over 150 sites, and selected 70 short-listed dealers. From this we will select our 35 initial retailers after a final site visit from a team including our managing director, sales directors, and aftersales director. These visits are being followed by half day business plan presentation workshops with the invited retailers. We are putting the same level of due diligence and analysis in choosing the very best retailer as we do in conceiving the car,” explained Lumley-Wood.

McLaren Identity

Corporate identity is an important element of the link between the McLaren Technology Centre and the venues at which customers see, drive and buy a 12C. It is, therefore, important that dealers make an investment in a recognisable and consistent identity that binds each retail outlet with the McLaren Technology Centre.

“Yes, corporate identity is an important element of the face that each McLaren Automotive retailer presents to potential customers,” agreed Lumley-Wood. “But we have no intention of forcing our retail partners to spend money purely to glorify McLaren’s name. Money will be spent where it adds value to the brand, to the retailer’s business growth and where it makes customers comfortable and valued. We will not pick the smartest, most expensive workshop tiling that no one ever sees, just to make us feel good at Woking. We have a saying – sanity, not vanity.

“We do want the customer face of our dealerships to create a clear link between the MTC and their premises. After all, a great many of our customers will, at some time, visit the birthplace of their car.

“At the forefront of our minds in Woking is the imperative that retailers invest in a brand to make money. Only dealers that make money invest in customer care and it is only a happy and satisfied customer base that will ensure the long-term success of McLaren Automotive,” he concluded.


By aggressively managing cost on corporate identity, McLaren has refocused budget and initiated an intensive training programme for aftersales technicians and sales executives.

‘”We are focusing more on people development than on CI: this is where we see the key investment,” explained Lumley-Wood. “With an initial 35 retail outlets we have the capacity at Woking to invite technicians, sales executives and other customer-facing dealership employees to the heart of our business. This offers the benefit of imbuing our people with a deep and thorough understanding of the product and the conceptual thinking behind 12C, but also a comprehensive insight into the unique culture and philosophy of McLaren Automotive,” he said.

In a programme unique to the motor industry, every customer-facing technician and sales executive will not only receive comprehensive training in their discipline, they will also see the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 team preparing the company’s challengers for the 2010 season as well as meet engineers who designed, tested and proved the major elements of the 12C.

In the case of the technicians, they will actually participate in the production process giving them an unprecedented knowledge of the design and functionality of the car. In short, they will be closer to the heart of the McLaren Automotive product concept, the company credo and feel much more a significant part in the process of building a car for a customer.

“It is vital that all of our representatives across the world feel part of our team; that they feel part of the McLaren DNA. They can’t just know the facts about the car and its service regime, but feel and understand the whole car and company concept. They should be proud to be part of the McLaren story,” Lumely-Wood concluded.


Ease of repair, low-cost of servicing, maintenance, and availability of parts are of paramount importance to the customer relationship and have been key targets since the beginning of the 12C project. McLaren aims to offer segment-leading performance here too. The principle being that a high-performance sports car should not just be a pleasure to drive, but also to own; a car that is efficient to run and own retains a high residual value and ensures its owner becomes a repeat purchaser.

Although McLaren Automotive’s intense development programme and demanding production standards will limit any problems in service, the company has installed a comprehensive range of aftersales safety nets that are designed to ensure the ownership experience is of a new standard.

Technical Support Managers at the MTC provide a solid base for this, but McLaren Automotive will also appoint a group of regional Aftersales Zone Managers who will follow exactly the same training process. They will be available 24 hours a day to go anywhere within their region to help resolve any intractable problems that might occur. The next level of support will be the ‘flying doctors’ based at Woking who will fly anywhere in the world if an issue cannot be resolved locally. The ultimate support mechanism, and one established for McLaren F1 owners, is that McLaren is committed to bringing a car back to its UK headquarters if an issue cannot be resolved locally.

McLaren expects an innovative combination of new technology and rapid diagnosis to deliver its aspirations for a world-leading level of aftersales support.

Three new market-leading diagnostic processes will form the heart of this service:

  • Tele-diagnostics determine whether or not a car has an issue:

In the event of the car suffering from a technical or driving related issue, such as a warning light illuminating or an engine or transmission problem, the driver can send a detailed diagnostic message containing vehicle values and error codes from the car’s onboard ECU’s to McLaren, the nearest retailer or the local Technical Aftersales Zone Manager. Within minutes, the customer can expect a return call from a technical specialist to confirm whether or not the car has a genuine technical issue. The specialist can then advise as to the best course of action and this personal and expert service also prevents the huge inconvenience to a driver who has been wrongly informed that he should stop driving simply through a fault in the car’s warning system. McLaren believes this rapid and direct assessment is unique in the industry.

  • Desktop Diagnostics determine from the MTC what that issue may be:

This saves time by centrally communicating how to resolve an issue before a retailer’s technician tries to determine a fix. Setting up a relatively small retailer network of up to 35 locations from scratch allows McLaren Automotive’s aftersales support team to develop a unique system whereby it can control each retailer’s aftersales diagnostic tools from MTC

  • Dynamic Diagnostics communicate how to fix an issue:

World-class, McLaren-developed, diagnostics deliver a ‘customer symptom code’ from a customer’s verbal description of an issue. The code is assessed and compared by the same diagnostic tool that has also downloaded information from the car itself. This, again, speeds up the diagnosis by comparing the theoretical – from the car’s own diagnostic feedback – with the reality – exactly what the customer has reported translated into the same digital language as the car’s diagnostic systems.

Looking further along the ownership process, McLaren Automotive will also impose systems that ensure warranty claims are speeded up. A new pre-approval process, managed by the company’s Aftersales Zone Managers, will give aftersales teams instant approval for warranty work.

Warranty and repair work in bodyshops will also be more effective than competitors. McLaren Automotive will be supporting retailers in stocking one spare part of each and every component, guaranteeing that parts will be in stock at the dealer should a car need repair. This will speed up repair processes to ensure customers have their 12Cs off the road for the minimum time necessary.

“The primary driver of customer satisfaction is service satisfaction, the primary driver of service satisfaction is fixing the car correctly on time, and the primary reason for not fixing the car on time is lack of parts availability. After over 100 years, the auto industry still has this problem; we aim to fix it”, explained Antony Sheriff, McLaren Automotive’s Managing Director.

Mike Sopp, Head of Aftersales at McLaren Automotive said, “Despite all the focus on development and production, and our aspirations to build the most reliable, strongest, and useable high-performance sports car in the market, we are not so arrogant as to believe that every single car will be completely faultless throughout its lifecycle.

“Owners will be involved in accidents, and some cars will require maintenance, so it is our ambition to ensure that firstly, our customers are treated better than others, secondly, we resolve issues more effectively than any of our competitors and thirdly, we get 12Cs back on the road more quickly than our competitors.

“We know that in the automotive business customers are, more often than not, more concerned about how issues are resolved, rather than the issue itself. Starting from scratch, with a relatively small retailer network planned, and with the technical support we have at McLaren, we have been able to develop brand new bespoke systems and devices that will support quick and effective communication with the customer and resolution of issues. We are not prepared to let poor aftersales support spoil the ownership experience,” concluded Sopp.


Although McLaren is already a well-known brand in many markets around the world through Formula 1 and its past road car projects, informing potential customers about the MP4-12C and persuading them to consider buying the car over well-established sports car brands remains an important element of the company’s preparation for the launch. However, McLaren aims to be very selective in its customers and markets.

“Although we are investing hundreds of millions of pounds in this company, we have no desire to be the biggest sports car manufacturer. In fact, we take great pride in being one of the smallest and most exclusive and aim to keep it that way. Our volumes will be much lower than our competitors and this is an inherent part of our strategy. Exclusivity and scarcity allows us to manage the customer experience at the highest level and ensure that residual values are maintained”, explained Mario Micheli, Commercial and Marketing Director for McLaren Automotive.

Naturally, there is little value in a scattergun approach to reach the high net worth individuals who will become McLaren customers – a major advertising campaign would be neither economic nor effective. McLaren Automotive has decided clearly that its retail network is the point of contact for all potential customers and, accordingly, no orders for the 12C are being taken directly by the company.

“McLaren’s major external challenge is to raise awareness of the product and, soon, to announce the names of our retailers. That is the point at which firm orders will be taken and each customer’s specification will be scheduled for build,” Micheli continued.

“It is true that we face a window where a large number of potential customers are keen to order their 12C as soon as possible. We can only ask for their patience until mid-year when we can direct them to their nearest retailer in the eighteen countries where we will launch. In the meantime we are personally keeping in touch with every single one of them by phone or e-mail, whichever they prefer – a service that we believe is unique in the automotive industry and well-appreciated,” he concluded.

In March 2010, McLaren Automotive will launch a major new communication tool on its website, An online car configurator will allow those that have registered the desire to buy a 12C, and those just fascinated by the car and McLaren’s plans, to specify the 12C of their dreams. The 12C car configurator will be faster and more engaging than similar tools from other car companies.

During 2010, potential customers will first see the 12C at a series of events that will take the McLaren Automotive team to every city in which they plan to retail, as well as major events on the automotive calendar. Such events ensure the one-to-one feedback and communication that a company with such a rich heritage and exciting future relies upon.

Lianne Daly, Head of Marketing at McLaren Automotive said, “Just as the 12C concept and development programme started with a blank sheet of paper, so did our marketing strategy. We have been able to look closely at how best to build awareness, understanding and desire in a more personal way that hopefully encourages advocacy for McLaren and the MP4-12C – from that first engagement with a potential McLaren owner, through to him or her feeling part of the McLaren family. The company’s whole ethos is about challenging convention in the pursuit of a goal and, in this case, the goal is to work with our retailers to develop long term relationships with McLaren owners.

“Key to our activities will be telling our story. We’re a new brand to many car buyers around the world, but with a fantastic past, present and future. We’re launching a unique car designed and built in a unique, pure McLaren way. Everything we do must demonstrate the passion, the expertise and the incredible focus of the McLaren Automotive team that came together to create the MP4-12C from a white sheet of paper.

“We also want to have a genuine personal feel to our marketing activities, whether that is through our Client Services Team who have been hand-picked from around the business for their knowledge, an engaging and innovative online car configurator, a series of videos that feature the personal stories behind the car, or events that gives guests the chance to see the 12C and meet the McLaren people,” Daly concluded.

Personalisation and options

Although the McLaren MP4-12C will have a comprehensive standard specification, customers for such an exclusive car, a discretionary purchase similar to a yacht, want to have the ability to specify bespoke items, interiors and special equipment for their own car. McLaren has extensive experience of meeting these needs for F1 and SLR customers.

The 12C will be available in a palette of 17 exterior paint colours, and a range of interiors in a variety of colours and materials for the seats, dash panel and inner door panels. The exterior paint options include three ‘base’ colours (silver, blue, white), eight ‘special’ colours (including McLaren Orange, Racing Green and Carbon Black), and six ‘elite’ colours (including Volcano Orange and Pearl White). The interior can be specified in a combination of three lightweight ‘performance’ fabrics, four ‘space’ fabrics, nine different leather colours, and Alcantara. Driver and passenger zones can be specified independently to offer personalisation for driver and passenger inside the car.

Other options for the exterior include ordering the mirrors, diffuser, splitter and roof in carbon fibre. Brake callipers can be specified in three colours, while lightweight forged wheels are also available in a choice of finishes.

Inside, the seats can be specified as electrically-operated and heated, or as a manual lightweight sports seat and in the aforementioned wide range of materials and colours including full leather and Alcantara. The interior can be specified with carbon fibre seat backs, and switch packs on door and centre console in the same material.

Performance options such as carbon ceramic brakes with uprated callipers, a sports exhaust, cup tyres or winter tyres can also be specified.

Electrical and comfort options include a satellite navigation and audio upgrade including Wi-Fi access, bespoke software applications, surround sound system and voice control.

Various additional car security measures, parking sensors, an indoor car cover and two tailored luggage sets are further bespoke options planned.

The market opportunity for McLaren Automotive

The market for high performance sports cars has grown substantially since the turn of the century. McLaren divides the market into segments that encompass both more comfort–oriented GT cars and the hard-edged supercars for road and track use.

The ‘core’ segment runs from around £125,000 to £175,000 featuring such cars as the Ferrari 458, Lamborghini Gallardo, Porsche 911 Turbo, Bentley Continental GT and Aston Martin DB9.

Although the recent economic downturn has affected the performance car sector, just as it has the entire motor industry, McLaren Automotive believes that the ‘core’ segment’s growth from 8,000 sales in 2000 to more than 29,000 in 2007 highlights the potential that exists and that it will soon return to at least 2007 levels.

Early planning indicates that 30 – 40 per cent of sales will be made in the UK and Europe, 30 – 40 per cent in the USA, 10 – 20 per cent in the Middle East/South Africa and 10 – 20 per cent in the Asia Pacific region. These ratios will change with time as economic development takes place in each market and when new markets are entered.

Market introductions will be staged during the first half of 2011. The 12C will launch first in the United Kingdom and mainland Europe, with the Middle East, South Africa and North America coming on stream by mid-year. Finally, the Asia Pacific region will receive cars by autumn 2011.

This staggering of distribution will allow adequate supply to reach each market in turn as production ramps up in the first half of 2011. It also gives time for McLaren to develop specific regional solutions and strategies that respect the fact that retailing and aftersales of high-end products requires a regional flavour.

McLaren Automotive North America

Tony Joseph, McLaren Automotive’s Regional Director for North America, commented on the challenges and opportunities for the 12C launch into the USA and Canada.

“One of our main challenges is to highlight the size, scope and ability of McLaren and its rich racing heritage. And also ensure a very clear understanding of the company as a well-capitalised, technology-driven business that has been successfully building high-end sports cars for 20 years and is now expanding into a range of relevant, exciting and innovative road cars. Our customers will learn that we are a well-structured, well-managed and highly motivated company with a very rich pedigree, looking to shake up the market and do things better.

“We expect our customers to own a variety of cars, including Porsche and Rolls-Royce, as well as the more predictable high-performance sports cars. Most early buyers will, I am sure, be sports car enthusiasts who are looking for something different and truly unique. They may well be into technology, luxury or comfort as much as performance and looking for a car to deliver equally in those areas. They will increasingly look for intelligent, safe, efficient sports cars which McLaren is in a good position to deliver.

“The recession has seen high-performance sports car demand decrease somewhat over the last two years, but interestingly I would say it has been the speculators and more flashy type of customer that have been lost to the market. I believe the true sports car enthusiasts are still around and the segment remains strong for great product in the market. This is especially relevant for McLaren as our competitors may well have ignored this group over the recent years of growth where demand outstripped supply. The strength of our car and brand gives us an opportunity to target this demographic, whilst the aspirations we have for aftersales support will ensure we keep these customers.

“As far as our business plan is concerned, and what inspires me most about McLaren’s plans, is an absolute ambition to ‘work better’ than our competitors – and when you look at the excellence of their products, it is clear that this is a key way for McLaren to make an impact. We will develop and build a better car that is supported by better aftersales to ensure better residual values. We will treat customers better. There will be a unique level of transparency in how we conduct ourselves with our retail partners and our customers. And we will not make promises that we cannot keep, on any issue, from the performance of the car to the performance and attitudes of the retail network.

“The key challenge for me in North America is to take the focused processes and principles that have come out of McLaren and ensure that those high standards are embraced by the retailers and experienced by each and every customer at all times. We are therefore going to great lengths to ensure we select only retailers who buy into our goals. And McLaren’s only goal is to win.”

McLaren Automotive Europe

McLaren Automotive’s European regional office is located at the heart of the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, taking advantage of instant communication and technological synergies with McLaren Automotive’s research and development, production, and sales and marketing functions. Close proximity to McLaren Racing will also ensure that the new team, initially responsible for Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the UK, will be fully integrated with McLaren’s past, present and future.

A brand-new, international team benefits from a wealth of experience gained at many premium brand car companies. It is delivering a network of McLaren Automotive locations providing sales and technical service in 15 cities, via area managers for sales and dedicated aftersales, permanently located in both the UK and within mainland Europe.

Christian Marti, McLaren Automotive’s European Regional Director outlined his key issues and aspirations.

“The main launch challenges for the European market are two-fold; appointing and developing a world-class dealer network in a tight timeframe and communicating the McLaren brand, scale and breadth of the company to the target customers in the European markets who may know McLaren as a racing team and not as a genuine car manufacturer. However, a challenging environment, timescale and agenda are where McLaren has the ability and drive to operate most effectively.

“The first targets for us will be individuals who have a desire and purchasing power for a high-performance sports car and a particular interest in what McLaren and the 12C can deliver. For example, there will be high-performance sports car aficionados, including collectors, for whom McLaren is no stranger. There will equally be those who appreciate the extreme technologies in the 12C that are unique at this price position in the sector, or those who see the car’s design as a statement matching their lifestyle and tastes.

“Europe is traditionally the heartland for high performance sports cars. Although the world is changing and new markets have developed away from Europe, demand remains strong, borne out in the dominance of the sector by European manufacturers and their high proportion of sales maintained within Europe. Germany and the UK are then the biggest markets within Europe, typically representing around 65 percent of the segment.

“I believe attitudes towards cars in general are changing in Europe. An emphasis on emissions and the environmental impact of what we drive is influencing purchasing trends and the types of car we are buying, including the high performance sports car sector. We are well-placed in that respect. Specification is then purely down to the individual client.

“European buyers will appreciate that the 12C has a distinct range of colours, materials and equipment options and the opportunity to truly personalise the car. The combination of these choices will tend towards making the 12C either more sports-oriented and dramatic-looking, or more understated with a focus on the car as a technical tour de force with comfort and technology to the fore.

“Aftersales will be crucial. At McLaren we recognise that high performance sports car ownership is an emotional experience and as such anything less than perfection in service can quickly escalate a problem. Particularly as cars in this sector tend to be used occasionally and for pleasure – though we expect more 12Cs to be used daily than is traditional.

“So, the challenge for us in launching the 12C is to maintain the pleasure whilst building a car that can deliver it in all conditions and every day. For this reason we aim to provide an unsurpassed customer experience, offering our customers a bespoke, “pit stop” after sales service, where waiting weeks for spare parts is a thing of the past.

“Bringing a technologically advanced, highly engineered sports car to the road, with features previously deemed only suitable for racing or hyper-sports cars is very exciting for us and, I am sure, our future customers. Making the 12C also comfortable and useable will see McLaren set new standards,” Marti concluded.

McLaren Automotive Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific

McLaren Automotive’s structure for the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific regions will be directed from a Bahrain office: a ‘home from home’ for McLaren through its Formula 1 connections and being the residence of one of the McLaren Group and Automotive’s principle shareholders.

A Japanese office in Tokyo, and a second Asia-Pacific office whose location is yet to be confirmed, will report into regional director, Ian Gorsuch in Bahrain. As with McLaren Automotive’s North American and European regions, full sales, aftersales, marketing and technical support will be based in the regions to ensure a bespoke and personal touch to customers and retailers in very diverse markets.

Ian Gorsuch, Regional Director Middle East, Africa, Asia-Pacific McLaren Automotive said of his challenges and aspirations for the McLaren Automotive launch outside of Europe and North America.

“The key challenges for us are, firstly, developing a regional understanding of the McLaren Automotive brand and what we stand for. Often, with new sports cars, there is a perception that they are esoteric one-offs. McLaren and the 12C are not. This is the launch of a long-term sports car programme backed up by a heritage going back decades. Secondly, the identification and appointment of an excellent dealer network. We will not appoint dealers who judge success by volumes sold. We will judge success by how well customers are looked after and how well our retail partners nurture the McLaren brand.

“The McLaren brand is already well known to those who follow motorsport, and those who understand the world of supercars and thus understand McLaren as a technology group who created the world’s most iconic supercar, the F1. These enthusiasts will understand and appreciate the 12C as a world-class high-performance sports car that majors on technology and usability – the car performs fantastically on the circuit as well as being relaxed and comfortable in a traffic jam. Our first buyers will appreciate that we are launching a new type of sports car.

“Most of our customers in the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific regions will be well educated in the world of supercars and are very demanding of both the technology in the car but also its reliability. They will not accept a car that simply looks pretty in their collection, but is not satisfying to drive. In specifying their cars, I would expect most customers in the regions to really try and personalise their 12Cs and I would anticipate that our white colours will be popular exteriors.

“Looking more closely at customer service, I feel that during the boom times, many dealers for the luxury car brands became purely order takers. Thus one of the biggest issues faced by some customers was patchy customer service. We will not tolerate this with McLaren and we are looking for dealers who have excellent track records in customer service and investment in marketing the brands they represent. After all, they will have a major impact on the reputation of McLaren in their country,” Gorsuch concluded.

The Launch of a New Car Company

Antony Sheriff, McLaren Automotive’s Managing Director reviewed the launch plans and market position for the MP4-12C and future McLaren high-performance sports cars.

“By the time the 12C is launched in 2011 we expect the economic conditions to be much improved. We have already seen significant interest in the car and the supply of the 12C will be relatively scarce; in its first full year we plan to produce up to 1,000 cars which represents just one percent of the high-performance sports car market. Our business plans are based on being conservative, and profitable. The long-term plan is to sell around 4,000 McLaren sports cars and take between three and four percent of the market.

“These plans have appealed to potential shareholders and retailers who can see that there is a place in the market for a truly innovative high-performance sports car produced by a company with an unparalleled motor racing pedigree, to new standards of production and customer care.

“This whole project started with a blank piece of paper a few years ago, and that has allowed us to plan and do everything better, quicker, and to a greater degree of quality. I am extremely proud of what we have achieved so far and very encouraged about what the future holds for McLaren Automotive.

“We have created ground-breaking new technology, lightweight engineering solutions, and harnessed real-world motor racing applications. It brings new levels of performance, fuel efficiency and practicality to the 12C’s segment. And it will be more exclusive than its principal competition with a price that reflects its lack of ubiquity. Most importantly, it will be ‘pure McLaren’ in its quality, its delivery and its reliability,” he concluded.

Ron Dennis, Chairman McLaren Automotive summed up his motivation and aspiration for the launch of the world’s newest car company.

“Launching a new car company is a dream come true and a project of which I am fiercely proud. We are confident that now is the right time for McLaren Automotive to become a full scale high-performance sports car manufacturer.

“There is huge pride and passion at McLaren. Simply to do things right. And if you work hard enough, and have enough natural talent, then that combination breeds success. We’ve seen it on the race track many times, and we’ve seen it in the performance, innovation, quality and demand for our previous two road car projects. But this is a new challenge for McLaren – one that is both stimulating everyone at the company and determining a long-term future for all concerned.

“Worldwide demand for high-performance cars is strong, in large part because of great cars from great brands. With McLaren joining that list, the market will grow stronger still. What we are offering is a new approach to sports car ownership, through a skilled, solid, debt-free and risk-managed company.

“McLaren Automotive is right to take this step now, to support future growth of McLaren and inject new life into high-technology manufacturing and engineering jobs in the UK. We believe that our own incredibly high demands will be a positive example of how the UK can design, engineer and build world-class innovative products. We hope to inspire future generations of designers and engineers to work in these fields in the UK and I genuinely believe that technology and innovation is fundamental to driving business into a new era of profitability and contribution to the global economic and environmental challenges.

“At McLaren we are committed, passionate and enjoy winning. And I know the team here will not rest until the range of McLaren high-performance sports cars is considered the best in the world. That is our challenge, and it is a challenge that will reap rewards for premium car-buyers, for UK plc and for McLaren Group,” Dennis concluded.

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