Since 1963, McLaren has been renowned for its race cars and is the only racing team to have won Formula 1, Indianapolis 500, Can-Am and Le Mans championships. McLaren Automotive was established in 1989 and eventually manufactured the iconic McLaren F1 which, when it launched in 1992, was the world’s fastest production road car with a top speed of 386 kilometers per hour. Only 100 were built. Executive spoke with Ian Gorsuch, McLaren’s regional director for the Middle East and Africa, in Beirut after his company announced McLaren Automotive’s launch as a new, high performance car company.
E You said in your presentation that a McLaren F1 sold for $4.1 million some eight months ago. That is quite remarkable in a recession, no?
People were surprised as it was at the height of the recession. But it shows there is an interest and understanding of what we did in the world [at the time], the first luxury super car that was way above $150,000 — at $1 million, but now there are many [brands] at that price. It was great to see such confidence in McLaren… [F1 driver] Lewis Hamilton has been promised one if he wins three F1 championships with McLaren.
E How is the Gulf market for super cars compared to the rest of the globe?
The US and Europe are the major markets. Here is perhaps 10 percent of demand because, although there are a lot of wealthy people, [the population is smaller], and there are more millionaires in the US than here, although here [they] may be retaining their wealth better.
E What super cars does McLaren compete with, in the Middle East and globally?
E The world is going through a financial crisis. Why are you marketing now for the 2011 launch?
I think it was good planning but also good luck; develop in the recession and hopefully by 2011 — what everyone is saying — the recession will be over, and we’ll launch the McLaren P11. We have also been very conservative with our figures, not looking at the 2007-2008 market — a record year with sales up — but at 2003-2004, when sales were lower. And we’re lucky, when we sell in 2001, we will have demand and not a stock situation, but a clean sheet.
Our competitive benchmark has suffered a slowdown in sales, but Lamborghini, Ferrari and Aston Martin are still selling, in less amounts, and that is why we have a conservative model from several years ago, not last year.
E And how have sales of McLaren been in the Gulf?
While McLaren builds the SLR, it is Mercedes-Benz that actually sells them and possesses all the information relating to sales in the region. Globally, the SLR has been the most successful supercar ever in its price bracket. What we are doing at McLaren Automotive now is to create a completely new car company — not only will we build our own cars, but we will market them through our very own distribution network.
E When was the first McLaren bought in the Gulf?
It was the McLaren F1 in the early 1990s.
E McLaren will have distributors in Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, Manama, and three in Saudi Arabia. What’s the plan until they open?
Our current focus is on building an understanding and awareness in the region of what McLaren, and in particular McLaren Automotive, is about. Currently some people know the brand from Formula 1, some from the McLaren F1 supercar and others from the success of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. We are also in the process of appointing a retail network and building a prospect and depositor base.
E A prospect and depositor base?
This is particular to the luxury car markets, the brand and the dealer. Customers order in advance to assure early delivery.
E There will be dealerships in the Gulf, but why not in Beirut?
When the car is launched, we will build 1,000 for the world. There will be large demand and we will not be able to open everywhere. We need a dealership to be profitable as they look after customers better. We want our customers to be comfortable when in Beirut. So in the initial stages cars will only be looked after here in Beirut, at a service center.
E Have you found a center yet?
We are still looking for a service operator. I think we have identified one, and it will be the same one that deals with top end customers with super cars.
E But given the road conditions in Lebanon — driving aside — there are potholes, speed bumps and other obstacles, is Beirut the right place to drive a McLaren?
If a guy comes here for his summer holidays and brings one to two cars, he might decide to bring say a Lamborghini and a Aston Martin because there is a service center, but not bring his McLaren — even though he loves driving it — so we want him to be comfortable and have the confidence to bring it here.
E There is a Formula 1 track in Bahrain, and over the past few years there has been talk of F1 tracks opening in Qatar and Dubai. That must be good news.
The whole region is car mad, and aware of cars, and loves racing cars… often on the streets. For F1 to be in Bahrain, it is good for us to be a major player at the cutting edge of technology, and for us to be there in the region.
E McLaren is known for its gold covered engines. Excessive?
It is not actually the engine that has a gold cover, but the engine bay of the original McLaren F1 supercar. This was for purely practical reasons, as gold was found to be the best material for heat insulation. Indeed, at McLaren we have a saying that everything we do is done for a purpose.
E You mentioned many brands that McLaren has worked with in the presentation. Is this still the case?
We developed the engine of the F1 car with BMW. During the 1980s, the Formula 1 cars’ engines were from Honda. Nowadays, we have Mercedes-Benz engines in our F1 cars, and of course we have been working with Mercedes-Benz on the SLR. What working with other brands has shown is that one plus one equals three. We learned a lot from our partnership with Mercedes on the SLR. With the new car, we will be building on all this experience yet producing a car that will be totally McLaren.
E Over the next few months you are going to be doing hot weather testing in the Gulf. Why there, not say in the deserts of Nevada?
The Gulf temperatures are hot and humid, and in the deserts [there is] low humidity and high temperatures, so a good environment for testing. A major concern of our Gulf customers is whether the car will be able to handle the conditions of the Gulf.
E You are to have a shareholding of $407 million. Will there be an initial public offering (IPO), or are you looking at an investor, or investors?
It’s all in equity, there is no debt, so we are looking for an investor.