What's your key reason bringing chassis manufacture in house?
We want to have control of all technologies we believe are core to McLaren - and lightweight composite construction is one of the most important. We still have a good relationship with our Austrian supplier, and we'll keep working with them. They'll build chassis for our existing models and the car we're launching next month at Geneva. But as you've heard, we ultimately expect to be able to make savings of about £10 million a year by buildings our own chassis.
Will this allow you to develop your chassis further?
It will. We've already produced several versions since the original design in the 12C, and we expect to do more. By 2022 we plan to launch 15 all-new cars - the first will be the Geneva car - and half of them will be hybridised. We want to offset the extra weight of a hybrid powertrains with savings elsewhere, and chassis development is going to be an important part of that.
How might the chassis change?
If you look at racing car design, they don't have the front and rear aluminium subframes we currently use in our cars, mainly for refinement purposes. Instead they bolt major components directly into the composite structure. It's hard to imagine us doing that for today's road cars, but our new hybrid powertrains might give us opportunities along those lines.
Does it really matter to keep the weight of your hybrids so low?
We believe it does. I often wish we were in a lightweight race, rather than a power race. Light weight gives you advantages in every area, not just performance, and we'll fight to keep the advantage we already have in this area.
Does this deal have any connection with Brexit?
None whatsoever. We've been looking at doing this for two years and we considered a number of possibilities before deciding on this one. But we're proud of the fact that it will lift British content of our cars to about 58%.
Why did you choose Sheffield?
Because of the know-how, the facilities and the assistance available. Sheffield University has lots of expertise in design of components - castings and alloy parts as well as composites. Besides, this is a really big investment for us, and the first time we've moved away from Woking. There are some pretty big costs associated with that, so it was good to have some assistance.
Will your Sheffield factory ever do outside work?
It's certainly not a priority. We have plenty to do between now and the early 2020s just meeting the timetable we've laid down. But I wouldn't rule it out.
Comment - why this move makes McLaren more British than the Brits
McLaren Automotive’s decision to open a new factory in Sheffield to manufacture up to 4500 carbonfibre chassis a year from 2020, looks like making McLaren’s range of supercars “more British” than most of the other 1.7 million vehicles currently made in this country.
According to CEO Mike Flewitt, the fact that the car’s two most valuable components — the engine and chassis — are made here will lift local content to nearly 60 percent by value. This contrasts with the SMMT’s recent calculation that 59% of components used in cars made here were imported.
In future, McLaren may make even more of its carbonfibre parts in Sheffield when its plant, complete with 200 employees, is completely on stream. Body panels and cabin trim parts would be obvious candidates, Flewitt says.
At a brief but impressive launch for the new deal — which involves Sheffield University as a technology partner and Sheffield City Council as backer — Mike Flewitt was adamant that the decision to open the new manufacturing centre had nothing to do with Brexit, though he did not deny that the recent decline in the value of sterling, if maintained, might bring savings in future.
As it is, the deal is tipped to save McLaren £10million a year, though the setting it up in the first place has required a £50million investment. McLaren built its 10,000th car and doubled its annual volume to 3300 cars in 2016, and has designs on an output of 4500 cars by the early ‘20s, half of them hybrids.