In another life, Mike Flewitt, boss of McLaren Automotive, helped to dismantle a large part of Britain’s car manufacturing industry.
In his previous job as Ford’s vice-president of manufacturing, he came to believe making small cars in the UK would never be viable and helped to take the decision to end it. “I didn’t enjoy it,” he says of terminating car manufacturing in Dagenham, “but I knew it had to happen.”
Life is different now. Flewitt loved his time at Ford – and prior stints at TWR and Rolls-Royce – but building a new family of McLarens is a better gig. Things are going well, too. Drafted in as COO halfway through 2012 to fix problems with the 12C (“a brilliant base car whose details weren’t where they should be”), Flewitt became CEO after a year.
Last year McLaren Automotive sold 1649 cars (up 18%) and posted its second consecutive profit, a fine performance for a company just four years old. So far this year McLaren has launched a pair of volume-boosting Sports Series models, the 540C and 570S, and revealed a limited-edition, extra-performance 675 LT (for Long Tail).
Another notable indicator of progress, though, has come from the coterie of well-heeled supercar owners who keep broadcasting how much Flewitt has done to turn austere, secretive McLaren into a customer-focused concern with an open house – which is one reason why, on a Tuesday morning, I’m in our 8000-mile 650S, heading for Silverstone.
8.00am - The mission is to meet Flewitt at one of the ‘Pure McLaren’ track days staged regularly for prospective customers and existing owners who want to drive better. This one is a three-day production. Flewitt came yesterday and will be here tomorrow. I’ll spend the morning here and then accompany him and his wife to London to attend a dinner in the New Zealand embassy to welcome a new Auckland University project to invoke the name of Bruce McLaren to inspire young Kiwi innovators.
8.30am - Fretting about slow traffic but marvelling at the McLaren’s limo-like ride. In the 650S, there’s a complete disconnect between its pliant bump absorption and its near-perfect body control. The steering, hydraulically power assisted, feels more ‘natural’ than the unassisted system in my Lotus Elise at home. As you drive, you can feel how many engineer-hours have gone into this
9.45am - Silverstone at last. “Are you Steve?” asks a cheerful McLaren-liveried bloke in the paddock, finding my name on his list. Another McLaren pulls alongside and its occupant gets the same brand of brisk friendliness. We’re directed to an inspection station where technicians check our tyres, do a visual check and clean our screens. Then we’re directed to park in one of the pit garages normally occupied by Formula 1 drivers.