New Kid on the Sales Block: McLaren Sets Up Dealerships
By JONATHAN SCHULTZ
FOR an upstart exotic-car company to make a credible run at Ferrari, its marketing had better be as compelling as its cars. If the venture is named McLaren Automotive, however, the brand custodians can at least forgo embossed key fobs and polo shirts.
McLaren, North America’s youngest car company, will already be familiar to millions when it reveals its first product, the MP4-12C sports car, to America at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Élégance next month near Monterey, Calif. (The car makes its world debut this weekend at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England.)
The McLaren Group, based in Woking, England, is responsible for the McLaren F1, the definitive street-legal hypercar of the 1990s — and still on record as the fastest car ever with normal aspiration (that is, without forcing air into the engine with turbochargers or superchargers).
McLaren also produced the jointly developed Mercedes-Benz SLR supercar of 2003-9, when Mercedes owned 40 percent of the McLaren Group.
And, of course, the McLaren Group also has a hugely successful Formula One racing team.
The McLaren Group recently established a North American subsidiary based in Midtown Manhattan, as well as a small nationwide network of dealers. The MP4-12C, to go on sale in the United States next summer, is envisioned as the first in an eventual “full line” of sports cars.
While the MP4-12C is not McLaren’s first street car, it is the first to be developed without crucial systems supplied by outside manufacturers. Mercedes provided the supercharged V-8 found in the SLR and its limited-edition variants — the Roadster, 722 and Stirling Moss — and BMW developed the 627-horsepower V-12 that carried the F1 to its record top speed of 240 miles per hour. In contrast, the MP4-12C’s turbocharged 592-horsepower V-8 will be produced entirely at Woking.
Unlike the F1, which was bought direct from the factory, the MP4-12C and future McLarens will be sold and serviced at 35 retailers in 19 countries.
Five dealers will be the brand’s American beachheads: Miller Motorcars of Greenwich, Conn., the Auto Gallery in Beverly Hills, Calif.; the Park Place dealerships in Dallas; Lake Forest Sportscars outside of Chicago; and the Price Family Dealerships in Palo Alto, Calif.
In some cases, the dealers also sell Ferraris and Lamborghinis — brands against which McLaren hopes its 2,865-pound, $225,000 two-seater will compete. But neither McLaren nor the retailers seem to perceive conflicts.
“Each of our brands has an individual, standalone showroom,” said Richard Koppelman, president of Miller Motorcars, whose McLaren Greenwich will serve the New York area. “Plus, our clients are so well informed about the models they generally know exactly what they want before ever coming in.”
Tony Schwartz, co-president of the Auto Gallery network in the Los Angeles area, cited not only the detached nature of his marques, but his dealerships’ separate senior teams. “There’s no shared management among our brands,” he said.
The Auto Gallery sells Ferraris, but in a separate location. “Nobody will walk in expecting to compare a 12C to a 458,” Mr. Schwartz said, referring to Ferrari’s blisteringly quick 458 Italia, perhaps the 12C’s closest competitor.
One area in which McLaren officials seem to think they can outdo the Italians is after-sales service. “There are things we can do as a small company that a larger one couldn’t,” Antony Sherrif, McLaren Automotive’s managing director, said in a telephone interview last week from Hong Kong. “Every single technician, whether they’re from Greenwich or Abu Dhabi, will spend significant time at the factory. They might even spend time on the assembly line.”
Mr. Sherrif said retailers would be able to stock virtually every part required for maintenance and repairs.
Structurally, the 12C distinguishes itself by its carbon-fiber monocoque chassis, a rigid, lightweight structure employed by much more expensive cars like the $1.6 million Aston Martin One-77. To offset development costs, McLaren will increase 12C production after selling the 1,000-car introductory-year run.
While a target date has not been announced, McLaren will add a second model “a couple years after the 12C,” Mr. Sherrif said. That car, unlike the 12C, will bear the imprint of Frank Stephenson, McLaren Automotive’s design chief since 2008. Mr. Stephenson’s formidable portfolio includes two successful revivals: the Mini Cooper and Fiat 500.