SGMW members are treated to an exclusive tour of the high-tech McLaren car production centre
Under the flightpath into Farnborough Airport, which many of us have experienced on car launch trips, there is a striking piece of architecture to be seen near Woking. This flowing confection of glass and steel, reflected in an adjoining lake, is the architectural icon that is home to McLaren. The futuristic building, designed by Sir Norman Foster, is called the McLaren Technology Centre, and it is the headquarters of the supercar manufacturer and Formula One team.
It is a place you know will be fascinating to experience, so it was with keen anticipation that a gathering of SGMW members went there on a recent visit. It is not a place where you can simply turn up and stroll in. Security is tight. We all met in the car park, admitted past a security barrier. Our names were checked again before we
boarded a company bus for the short drive round the lake to the imposing main entrance. Strictly no photography permitted, we were sternly told, although the rule was later relaxed for just one sunset shot looking outwards from the building’s internal main Boulevard – the wide corridor that acts as a central spine and access to the various parts of the business.
Our host was Duncan Forrester, acting in his role as global corporate communications manager, although long familiar to us from previous roles as a vice-president at Volvo and heading a PR agency. He was joined by production director David Embling, who enthusiastically answered all of our many questions, and our distinguished tour guide was Amanda McLaren, daughter of racing driver and company founder Bruce McLaren.
We learned about the history of the company, much of it already familiar to the many of us with a keen interest in motorsport. Bruce McLaren Racing was formed in 1963, seven years before its founder’s untimely death in testing in a CanAm car at Goodwood, aged just 32. The McLaren team continued, and went on to become one of the most successful in Formula One history. A dozen world championships have been won by McLaren drivers, from Emerson Fittipaldi to Lewis Hamilton.In 2009, McLaren Automotive launched, to diversify the company into road car production. The original ambition was to build one supercar a year, we were told. That has proved somewhat modest, to put it mildly. Last year the company launched five new cars, exhibited at three international motor shows, spent £120 million on research and development, and 2015 production totalled 1,654 cars. Production is ramping up at a rapid rate, too. By next year, McLaren intends to produce around 4,000 cars, using 50% UK-sourced parts and with 90% going for export.
The company’s output is now three-prong, with a main production run of ‘sports series’ cars, a more limited production of ‘super series’ models, and a very few ‘ultimate series’ cars, such as the P1 and P1 GTR. The prices of even the sports series models are well into six figures, so you need millionaire money to afford one. Unsurprisingly, the production hall where they are made is clinically clean and operated with military efficiency by black-attired production staff.
It was a fascinating visit, and a rare insight into what happens in that notable building we usually only see from the air.