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This week's Australian debut of the McLaren 570S Spider gave us the chance to ask the brand's global head of product Alex Long ten questions he probably wasn't expecting...
AL: Our business plan doesn’t include an SUV. Track 22 is the name of the business plan and it takes us to 2022 with 15 new models all in the supercar segment and very much traditionally what we came in the market to do. What other manufacturers do doesn’t really impact that strategy at all. Our plans won’t change.
RB: So I can’t have a bet with you that by 2023 there won’t be a McLaren SUV? I bet you a beer.
AL: [laughs] You’re right, you can’t have that bet.
RB: McLaren has a special operations division which specialises in bespoke cars – what’s the most outrageous request you’ve ever had?
AL: Well we’ve had entirely rebodied cars. Somebody’s come in with a piece of paper and said: “I’ve drawn this car can you build this for me.” And we don’t necessarily police their own design, if they want it we’ll build one. There’s the McLaren X-1 for example. I’ve also seen some pretty garish colour and trim combinations – so hot pink Alcantara interiors, hot pink exterior. It’s a massive growing area of the business for us. For high net worth individuals to show to express their personalities through their cars they want a bespoke system that can bring that to life so it’s sometimes tough to watch. But if they can dream it we can build it.
RB: What if they walked in with a drawing of an SUV? Would you build it?
AL: [laughs] We wouldn’t do that.
RB: Is a fully electric McLaren likely in the next five years?
AL: Yeah so we have a full EV prototype which is constant technological development and evolution. We see the next step as hybrid because we feel we can bring something new to that market. So by 2022 50 per cent of McLarens will be hybrid and you’ll see us develop very lightweight hybrid solutions. We want to lead in the weight race and well as the power race and a full EV could form part of that as the battery technology evolves. The crucial things for us is getting the power to weight ratio correct, the range and how long you can have it on a track for – we have a clear road map for that. The McLaren technology group supplies the battery technology for Formula E so within our company we’re already well advanced with EV technology.
RB: Have you driven a Tesla Model S?
AL: I have
AL: It’s a very strong execution of an EV for a family car. They’ve shown the way for a lot of traditional manufacturers who are trying to catch up into that space.
RB: People may not know it but McLaren do other things – McLaren Applied Technologies – they made a bike that raced in the Tour de France and an Olympic gold medal winning bob sled. What the what, Alex?
AL: Yep. Well through the Applied Technologies part of the business as soon as you open up the level of analysis which goes into a Formula 1 team to other applications and our expertise building composites there’s a whole new world out there of people who want to tap you up. So heavy involvement with the Olympic teams and road bikes. Who knows what else in the future – we have a lot of inquiries.
RB: What’s the McLaren end game, Alex? Niche domination? World domination?
AL: [laughs] Well we want to be known as the pioneering car company. We find our owners comes to us because they think very hard about what they buy, they really enjoy the way we execute our cars – the technology, the carbon fibre. We don’t have volume objective to go much beyond where we are now, you know 4000-5000 cars a year is we believe the right amount to remain an exclusive and successful business in the supercar market.
AL: At the moment we have no plans for that. Where we are with the Sports Series today is round about as attainable as we’re going to get. That’s because we don’t need to go below that price point to achieve our volume objectives or business plan. We want to remain very exclusive. We have an objective to hand-build everything in the factory in Woking and in the next two years we’ll be up to capacity there. We don’t need to step down there and equally there are a lot of good options in that part of the market. Where we operate is at a much higher level of content and performance and that’s where we want to stay.
RB: OK the naming system. We need to do something about that, there's the 570S Coupe, 570GT, 540C, 720S... it’s ridiculous. I want to rename the models for you starting with the one you're launching today - the 570S Spider. Let's change its name to... wait for it: The Bruce. What do you think?
AL: [laughs] It’s a wonderful thought. We think our naming system is pretty straight forward – it’s the power of the car and in this market power is really important. It does what it says on the tin.
RB: You can’t change it to The Bruce?
AL: [laughs] We’ve printed the badges now so we’re committed.