McLaren's carbonfibre chassis technology could be on the cusp of making its way into mass-market city cars. That was one of the headlines from the SMMT’s Specialist Car Manufacturing summit last night, which highlighted some of the work the UK's specialist car makers are undertaking.
Woking-based McLaren first innovated with carbonfibre monocoques in the MP4/1 Formula 1 car 31 years ago. After that came the F1 road car, the Mercedes SLR McLaren and the MP4-12C supercar, all of which used carbonfibre tubs. In that time the costs have come down more than 90 per cent, according to McLaren Automotive chief Antony Sheriff.
To put the expense of carbonfibre construction into context, Sheriff explained that if the cost of building the tub of the McLaren F1 was ‘100’, the price was brought down to ‘30’ for the SLR. For the 12C, it is now ‘8’.
Labour costs and manufacturing time are big elements of this reduction, Sheriff revealed. “It used to take a week to hand-build an F1’s chassis," he said. "Now it is just three hours for a 12C and is mostly automated.”
Carbonfibre is actually a cheaper material than aluminium when broken down to raw materials, Sheriff said. He added that it was the complex supply chain, with profit margins at every level, and the fact that it was so labour-intensive that pushed the cost up.