Race to be green

Looking ahead to likely budget cuts in F1, McLaren boss Ron Dennis has decided that it will pay to expand outside motorsport, protecting profits and jobs.

It’s sleek, fast, and a slightly alarming shade of orange, but underneath, it’s pretty green. The first product from McLaren Automotive, the first new car manufacturer in the UK for decades, has the lowest CO2 emissions per horsepower than any other car on the road. Could this represent a renaissance for the British automotive sector?

The McLaren MP4-12C is an impressive package, and unsurprisingly its Formula 1 links shine through. The chassis is a monocoque carbon fibre safety cell. The gearshift is via paddles which can be ‘primed’ so the engine can build up to a gear change at peak power output. The layout is designed to minimise piping and maximise efficiency. And in keeping with racing car philosophy, it’s designed to convert fuel into power with maximum efficiency, giving it that striking emissions ratio —although, with some 600bhp to hand, it will still kick out a sizeable amount of CO2.

The business thinking behind the launch is also striking. Looking ahead to likely budget cuts in F1, McLaren boss Ron Dennis has decided that it will pay to expand outside motorsport, protecting profits and jobs. The company plans to employ some 800 people at a new plant in Woking, alongside the race team’s headquarters.

Plans to produce 4,000 cars per year don’t exactly represent a new volume manufacturer, but it’s still a notable output, and much larger than other specialist high-end car makers such as Noble. The new McLaren Automotive will instantly become the largest British-owned car maker, and by the time the first cars come off the production line, in 2011, the company expects economic conditions to have improved. So if you have £125,000 or so burning a hole in your pocket and an urge for fast driving, this might be the perfect opportunity to invest in UK industry.

So, maybe not a renaissance but there are signs of an interesting trend here. It’s an unlikely piece of entrepreneurship, to launch a very high-end company at the low point of a recession, but it might give a model for the way that British engineering can start to reassert itself. If McLaren’s new road car is as impressive as it looks, it will give British automotive engineering a cachet it hasn’t enjoyed for many years. And that can only mean good news for a sector which badly needs it.

Stuart Nathan
Special Reports Editor