McLaren – illustrious past, hi-tech present, driving future

The McLaren Technology Centre and McLaren Production Centre at Horsell Common, near Woking in Surrey

The McLaren Technology Centre and McLaren Production Centre at Horsell Common, near Woking in Surrey - the site H G Wells chose for his Martian invasion in The War of the Worlds. - Credit: supplied

Motoring editor Andy Russell takes a tour of McLaren Automotive's technology and production hub, producing race-bred, high-performance, hand-built sports cars for an exclusive worldwide market.

More than a century ago Horsell Common, near Woking in Surrey, was where the Martians landed in H G Wells's sci-fi adventure The War of the Worlds. Now it's the hi-tech, space-age home of McLaren.

Built on the racing success created by the late Bruce McLaren, whose name is still synonymous with Formula 1, McLaren Automobiles has made great strides since being formed in 2009.

His legacy is there to see in the futuristic McLaren Technology Centre, which opened in 2004 and where the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren was developed. It now houses the six McLaren companies, with racing cars driven by F1 greats like John Watson, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Lewis Hamilton testimony to Bruce McLaren's genius. In fact, the only car in the Boulevard, overlooking the lake, that is not a McLaren is a small red 1929 Austin Ulster, which he and his father restored, and in which Bruce won his first race aged 15.

The McLaren Production Centre at Woking opened in 2011, producing its first model, the MP412C. The aim was to produce a new car a year and 2012 saw the open-top Spider version, 2013 the P1 hybrid and in 2014 the 12C became the 650S Coupe and Spider.

Last year, McLaren launched five new models – the 675LT Coupe and Spider, new entry 540C and 570S Coupe models and the ultimate track car – the 986bhp P1 GTR package costing a cool £2m and, limited to just 50 models, creating one of the most exclusive drivers' clubs.

Research and development is a big part of driving McLaren Automotive forward and it invests 30% of annual turnover into R&D – last year that amounted to £120m, not a lot compared to mainstream car-makers but a sizeable amount for a low-volume niche manufacturer.

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Duncan Forrester, McLaren Automotive global corporate communications manager, said: 'We are close to our customers and our customers appreciate what we do.'

While H G Wells's vision of the future remains just that, McLaren Automotive's has become reality with 1,654 cars produced last year, and every year a new sales record.

It means McLaren Automotive has been profitable for the last three years – half its lifetime – with 80 retailers worldwide in 30 different markets.

Now it is stepping up production at the McLaren Production Centre, with a second shift of 250 workers joining the 1,500 McLaren Automotive employees to boost production from 11 to 20 cars a day as it looks to raise annual production to 4,000 by 2019. And with 50% of parts by value sourced in the UK and 90% of production for export it's good news for the UK economy.

Light, white and bright, the production centre is clinically clean and efficient with a complete absence of robots and the luxury performance cars, which made great use of lightweight, rigid carbon-fibre construction technology, crafted and built by hand.

Bodyshells, chassis, engines and transmissions are all moved along the line manually on trolleys. And that's why the employees have such a feel for the cars they are building and take great pride in quality, fit and finish.

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