The automotive manufacturing division of the famed McLaren Formula One racing operation is gearing up to build its MP4-12C mid-engine super sports car, about 400 of which will likely come to the U.S., reported McLaren managing director Antony Sheriff at the New York International Auto Show.
The company made a splash at the show also by giving a sneak preview to the upcoming film “Senna,” a documentary on the life and career of McLaren’s iconic three-time world champion driver who later died racing for the Williams team.
The MP4-12C (which follows the racing team’s ungainly naming nomenclature in recognition of the current company’s heritage as a merger of Bruce McLaren’s McLaren Racing and Ron Dennis’s Project Four racing team) will list for $229,000 in the U.S., pitting it against the Ferrari 458 Italia and Lamborghini Gallardo. But McLaren claims an advantage over those cars because the MP4-12C will be made entirely of carbon fiber, just like the company’s race cars, rather than using steel and/or aluminum in the fashion of virtually all other cars.
Having the production team and racing team working closely together helps both sides of the company respond better to challenges, Sheriff said. For example, when the automotive side was puzzled to find that wheels mounted on prototype test cars were coming loose, the racing team’s engineers explained that they had discovered that such problems arise from the paint finish on the wheel degrading underneath the wheel nut. When that happens, a previously tight nut comes loose, so the manufacturing side of the company learned that wheels should be left unpainted in the small area beneath the wheel nuts to prevent that happening.
Shoppers in nine big-money U.S. markets and one Canadian market will find that they have a local McLaren dealer, if they want to buy one of the cars. The U.S. cities are Beverley Hills, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, Greenwich (Conn.), Tampa, Newport Beach, Philadelphia and Miami, with Canada’s sole representative in Toronto.
The company aims to expand to a line of three models eventually, all of them proper two-seat sports cars, said Sheriff. That means that McLaren won’t be offering any SUVs or four-door sedans like Porsche or any all-wheel-drive hatchbacks like Ferrari, which is good news for sports car purists.
DAN CARNEY is a veteran auto industry observer who has written for MSNBC.com, Motor Trend, AutoWeek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Better Homes and Gardens and other publications. He has authored two books, "Dodge Viper" and "Honda S2000" and is a juror for the North American Car of the Year award. Carney covers the industry from the increasingly strategic location of Washington, DC.