Carbonfibre bake-off: McLaren's new composite tech HQ prepares to cook

Published: 31 May 2018

► McLaren's new carbonfibre HQ
► Composite tubs made in Sheffield
► Inside Composites Technology Centre

McLaren has got the key to its first factory outside the Woking mothership. The new Composites Technology Centre in Sheffield, Yorkshire, is being prepared as part of a £50 million investment and the high-tech labs are nearly ready to bake their first lightweight car parts.

It means the carbonfibre tubs of McLaren supercars will no longer be made in Austria, with production switching to the north of England by 2020. The key was handed over as part of the final fit this week.

The McLaren logo on the factory's exterior was switched on for the first time on 16 January, and to mark the occasion the new McLaren Senna 'christened the concrete' on the factory floor by performing some celebratory donuts, as shown in the video above.

Why McLaren is moving composites tech from Austria to Britain

Did you know that McLaren tubs were made in continental Europe, not Woking? Around half the value of a typical McLaren supercar is made overseas, but the switch to a composites factory in England will boost the 'Britishness' of its cars to 58%.

Why? It's partly to save money. McLaren reckons the move will slice £10 million from its bills. A spokesman confirmed this decision was taken well before the Brexit vote that has skewed exchange rates and costs for all UK car makers.

But there's another benefit, accidental or intended. The origin of components is set to become critical for UK car makers in the post-Brexit world. Companies may have to hit a quota of British-sourced components – in the region of 50 to 60% – in products, as a condition of future trade agreements. McLaren is looking in a strong position, even more so with the Composites Technology Centre coming onshore. 

An artist's impression of the new McLaren Composites Technology Centre

The new centre, shown in this artist's impression (above), is based near the Advanced Manufacturing Centre at the University of Sheffield (established with help from aerospace giant Boeing).

McLaren has been building carbonfibre chassis since 1981, when it was first to introduce the composite material to F1.

When will the new factory be built?

Construction of the 7000sq m factory is nearly finished, with pre-production of lightweight tubs starting by 2019. A total of 200 new jobs are being created, according to McLaren; 45 staff are already working in Yorkshire at the university facilities in Sheffield.

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By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, occasional racer