More glitter for UAE roads: McLaren developing another supercar

News A familiar name on the Formula One grid is officially branching out to build premium road cars, and the UAE will factor greatly in its initial plans.

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A familiar name on the Formula One grid is officially branching out to build premium road cars, and the UAE will factor greatly in its initial plans. "We're not just launching a car; we're launching a car company," says Ian Gorsuch, regional director of Middle East and Africa for McLaren. The Woking, UK-based company has been in the F1 business since Bruce McLaren started it in 1963 (its current driver, Lewis Hamilton, won the drivers' championship last year), and has since branched out to include other technologies. For the past two years, it has been working on developing a road car, and has recently announced the formation of McLaren Automotive. In April, Ron Dennis was appointed its executive chairman, and Gorsuch, formerly Bentley's regional director for the Middle East, climbed aboard less than three months ago.

The premium sports car will be called the P11, and is slated for production in 2011. Already, prototypes are undergoing testing in different regions around the world - including the UAE - but an official unveiling won't be made until September. McLaren has built other road cars before, but this is the company's first foray into an actual spin-off car company. In the mid-1990s, McLaren produced the F1, at the time the fastest road car in the world. Despite being designed to be the ultimate road car (which many still believe it to be), it also won many races, including Le Mans in 1995, beating other purpose-built race cars. But buyers of the F1 had to go through the factory to purchase the car and arrange delivery. Between 1992 and 1998, McLaren built just 106 versions of the F1.

In 2003, McLaren teamed with Mercedes-Benz to produce the Mercedes SLR McLaren, another limited edition road car. The SLR was sold and serviced through Mercedes dealerships around the world and has gone on to become the most successful supercar in its price bracket, says McLaren; production of the SLR will end this year. The difference now is that McLaren will have its own dealers and service centres around the world to sell the P11 in limited numbers. Its initial targets will be the US and the Middle East, and the company is currently looking at partners in both areas to work with.

"The ethos of our retail selections is that, when we look at people, I don't mind if they've been looking after a volume brand or a luxury brand," says Gorsuch. "What it is, is how they've been looking after that brand, and how they look after their customers. "We should have the first retailers being appointed at the end of this year. What that will mean is that we can bring a car over here for first viewing in the region by the first quarter of next year."

As with the F1, the idea of everyday drivability will be carried over to the P11. As well, the company believes its background in Formula One will help it achieve its goal of creating a world-class sports car. "As we've been developing the road car project over the last two years," says Mark Harrison, McLaren Automotive's head of public relations, "what's really important about our business is that people who have worked on Lewis's car last year are also working on the road car project. And, the technologies and processes that worked on his car have worked on the road car as well. It really is this absolute integration at McLaren.

"And, if you consider that an F1 car is developed hourly or daily or weekly, not over a number of years as a typical road car would be, then you could see how development of a road car at McLaren will be a quick process. It's going to be accurate, and we'll really get to the heart of any problems quickly." McLaren will be handling production of every aspect of the car, including designing and producing the engine. The car will be built around a carbon fibre monocoque - McLaren was the first to use such a technique in Formula One and with its F1 road car and has extensive experience with the high-strength, low-weight material.

The P11 is expected to slot slightly higher in price over a Lamborghini Gallardo or Ferrari F430, and will have an initial production run of just 1,000 cars.