CAR is reporting live from McLaren's HQ today. Boss Ron Dennis is going to announce the full strategy for his road car business and we're going to bring you a real-time blog of what we see and hear at the Woking-based Technology Centre today.
CAR contributing editor Ben Whitworth is off to Surrey and will be filing his thoughts electronically throughout the morning, so tune in as we bring you the full details of the new P11 sports car and the rest of McLaren's plans.
We're updating the words and pictures throughout the day, so start at the bottom and work your way up.
Monday 20 April 2009: my thoughts a few days on
Having had a few days to digest Ron Dennis' fiercely ambitious vision of McLaren's automotive future, I'm even more certain that behind its attractive but disappointingly generic lines the P11 will offer something truly special. Special enough to not only meet the de rigueur performance expected in this price bracket, but also distance itself from its rivals through its exploitation of advanced motorsport technology. Whether that means an F1-inspired KERS system, a hybrid with massive torque levels from its electric engine or a downsized powerplant with trick forced induction remains to be seen, but it will be different. And that difference will allow it to take on the big names.
It has to be different, according to Antony Sheriff, McLaren Automotive Managing director. 'Everything about this car will be groundbreaking. Forget what you know about sportscar makers. We will be different… because we really know how to make cars.'
Sheriff believes the company’s approach to its range will be fundamentally different to that of its rivals. 'Efficiency is key here to getting the most out of the components. We can only use exotic technologies and materials at a certain price level, which is why McLaren will produce fewer more expensive cars than Ferrari and Lamborghini.'
This also makes for a great game of ‘what if’ when it comes to working out what form the other two cars in the McLaren rage will take. The talk of high prices and exotic materials somewhat scotches the rumours of a £60,000 Porsche 911 rival. My money is on a big front-engined GT, Ferrari 599-style (useful then, to have snaffled ex-Ferrari designer Frank Stephenson) again with hybrid or even diesel power, followed by a serious hypercar to pick up where the F1 left off, a car so intelligently engineered it will make the Veyron look like bloated and corpulent by comparison. Roll on 2015…
Thursday 16 April 2009: McLaren P11 first official details
12.11pm: The full story
McLaren boss Ron Dennis today announced a radical restructuring of his company that will see him step away from his successful F1 team – McLaren has 20 world championships under its belt – to focus exclusively on its new range of sports cars.
McLaren Automotive section will be spun off as an independent company that plans to produce 1000 cars in 2011, and ramping up to 4000 units by 2015 with what CAR understands is a three-strong line-up of sportscars, spearheaded by the P11.
Tanned and surprisingly genial, Dennis outlined his recent decision to hand control of the F1 team to his second in command, Martin Whitmarsh. 'I watched the Malaysian grand prix at home on the television and I couldn’t believe how easy it was. I expected to have withdrawal symptoms, but there was nothing and I knew it was time for a change.'
'The reorganisation of the McLaren Group is an extraordinarily ambitious plan. We plan to double the value of McLaren within the next three to five years. We have to grow beyond F1 and I truly believe our timing is right,' Dennis told CAR. Unlike the current situation, Dennis wants McLaren’s car-making interests to lead the group ahead of its motorsport interests.
He added that by the time the P11 comes to market in 2011, the economic conditions will be ready for the McLaren marque and he had no qualms about rolling out a low volume high-price sportscar brand across the world. Dennis refused to be drawn on specifics of the other cars in the McLaren range other than to say the company will be lower volume and high priced than its Italian rivals.
CAR’s exclusive spy shots of the P11 are spot on. Bar a few detail changes made by ex-Ferrari designer Frank Stephenson to the front and rear – the mid-engined two-seater gets four high-mounted exhausts, sleeker headlamps, a flat underpan and louvred grille and rear valance – the car you see here is the car that will arrive here in 2011.
Despite being two years into its development cycle, further details of the P11 were thin on the ground. McLaren Automotive managing director Antony Sherrif said the car would set new standards for efficiency and environmental impact, hinting strongly the car might draw on its F1 links not just for material and aerodynamic technology but for a KERS type system.
We’ll be back to McLaren within the next four weeks for a full preview of the car that will have to be good enough to take on the replacements for the F430 and Gallardo.
11.39am: McLaren restructures
Just out of the press conference and Ron Dennis announced that the McLaren Group is restructuring. McLaren Automotive, which has been developing 'a range of pure McLaren sports cars' for more than two years, will become an independent company later this year.
As part of this process, Credit Suisse has been hired as a financial advisor to help facilitate the raising of fresh equity. On behalf of McLaren Credit Suisse will tomorrow (Friday 17th April) issue a ‘pathfinder’ document to solicit investment in the newly created division. According to Dennis, the firm will be seeking a £250million investment to run the programme debt-free from start to finish. The investment is in effect, an equity offering, as McLaren will sell up to 49% of the automotive arm to raise the funds.
Construction of a new UK-based plant to handle the car production is expected to start by the end of July, but there’s no word yet on its location. It would, Dennis said create up to 800 new jobs.
After stepping down earlier this year as boss of the F1 team (he watched the Malaysian GP race at home on TV), Dennis will become executive chairman of McLaren Automotive and from June 1 Richard Lapthorne (currently chairman of Cable and Wireless plc) will become non executive chairman of the McLaren Group and non exexcutive director of McLaren Automotive.
I've just been told that although I'm about the see the McLaren P11, I'm not allowed to take any pictures. That means they're confiscating my phone - despite my protests that it'll impact upon a live blog. It means Twittering is out too - sorry, ga41 - but we're on a tight schedule and I should be back out in the free world within the next hour.
Meantime, I've also found out that Ron Dennis will outline everything from the model line-up of the P11, to the set-up of dealerships and how the car will be marketed.
10.31am: Inside the Technology Centre
The Norman Foster-designed Technolgy Centre is the most amazing autmotive-related building in the world, but what's inside is even more special. Step through the doors past the huge water frontage and you're greeted with the world's coolest F1 cars - there are over 20 here, including Senna's 1988 world championship-winning car.
Through big glass windows I can also see a dozen SLR Roadsters rolling down McLaren's production line. I wonder if the P11 will be more successful than McLaren's joint venture with Mercedes. Merc still owns a stake in the McLaren Group (40%), but obviously the two companies are now going their separate ways - we'll see the German's SLS AMG at the Frankfurt motor show this September.
10.05am: Woking HQ
I've arrived at McLaren's Technology Centre. It's immaculate (as you'd expect) with every tree perfectly in line, and not a single leaf on the lush green grass. Security is tight though - I'm told we're going to see the P11 but I think they'll be confiscating my camera.
Into one of a fleet silver Mercedes Vianos waiting to ferry us hacks to our meeting with Ron. Obviously they don't want my long-term Renault Twingo parked outside the gorgeous glass-fronted building.
9.45am: On the road to McLaren
Less than 24 hours ago the world's media received a surprise letter from McLaren Automotive. It was an invititation to the company's Woking HQ for an audience with Ron Dennis, where we're told he is going to outline the future of the McLaren Automotive road car business.
Such is the pull of McLaren that journalists from Japan and America are jetting in to the UK on last-minute flights to attend this special unveiling. I've got a slightly easier journey from England's south coast.
I'm properly excited. McLaren's first road car, the F1, was amazing and I can't wait to see how they're going to move the game on after the SLR.
Click here for our world exclusive scoop on the McLaren P11
Click here to see the latest spyshots and video of the McLaren P11
Click here for the latest news of McLaren's plans for a sub-P11 sports car