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From zero to hero - the rise of the supercar

From zero to hero - the rise of the supercar

Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche… luxury cars with heritage and unquestionable pedigree; cars that most of us can only dream of owning. Yet a new contender has taken the luxury sports car market by storm – all within just 7 years. So how did McLaren Automotive achieve the impossible, creating supercars that every superstar wants to own? 

For decades, the brand McLaren had been synonymous with the world of Formula 1 racing, as an ambitious, edgy team which regularly outpunched its weight against established competition. So it’s not really surprising that this fearless attitude has driven development off the track and onto the road.  

“Very few people can invent an all new car,” said Marcus Waite (Mechanical Engineering, 1996), Chief Engineer at McLaren Automotive. “Before 2009, we were helping to build luxury cars for Mercedes, solving issues with design and build, then passing the cars back over for Mercedes to sell. It didn’t make sense for us. We knew our engineers were capable of building a car that would beat a Ferrari in the technical stakes, so without even turning a wheel we invested over £600 million to build luxury road cars that have our unique McLaren DNA”. 

Seven years later, McLaren Automotive has enjoyed remarkable success establishing itself as one of the world’s leading creators of luxury sports and supercars, and creating a dealer distribution network from scratch. The company recently announced a fourth consecutive year of profitability and celebrated the production of their 10,000th car in December 2016.


Yet success hasn’t always come easy. Early models like the MP4-12C were an engineering marvel but failed to thrill buyers and critics, instead described as ‘cold’ and ‘clinical’. The 650S had more style and personality but it was the P1 hypercar which broke the mould and put McLaren Automotive firmly on the map, with limited stocks quickly selling out despite the hefty £1 million average price tag. Decades of racing expertise enabled the team to produce alternative models at different price points, at a pace other manufacturers can only dream of.  

“McLaren’s cars are for people who love driving and who love being around cars,” continues Marcus. “Our Sports Series has enabled more new customers to own and enjoy a McLaren while our Ultimate Series remains the definitive expression of our F1 engineering expertise, distilled into a road car.” 

As an engineer, one of the joys of designing supercars is that you are released from the regulations and technical restrictions imposed on F1 development

Marcus continues: “We make beautiful, bespoke cars that have been precisely engineered to make all the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. There are no gimmicks - from the moment you get in, everything is designed to come together at exactly the right moment, just like an orchestra. We could make these cars go faster but road safety regulations mean some innovations can’t be applied.”

What does the future hold for this young but rapidly maturing and growing company?

“Our challenge is to continue to innovate, producing cars that meet regulations without compromising driving pleasure or iconic design. We are working to make the brand more accessible globally, while retaining our reputation for producing the ultimate supercars” explains Marcus. “Last year, we unveiled our business plan to invest £1 billion in research and development to deliver 15 all new cars or derivatives by the end of 2022, of which at least 50% will feature hybrid technology.
“Sports cars have an irresistible pull because they offer us an unrivalled feeling of freedom and exhilaration. When you’re behind the wheel, our innovations will make you feel like a driving god, even if you’re not a natural racing driver. You’ll want to take the long way home because driving is a treat – and who wouldn’t want that?”


Images thanks to McLaren Technology Group.

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