Having recently parted company from Mercedes Benz, hired a new design director and started work on a new supercar, the team at McLaren is as busy as ever, but still not busy enough, it seems. To add to their plate, McLaren Group has spun its automotive division off to form a separate company, McLaren Automotive, to be headed up by Ron Dennis.
The split of automotive operations and Ron Dennis' leadership from the McLaren Group mothership is being viewed by many as a peace offering to the FIA for the McLaren F1 team's recent bad behavior, but according to Dennis the foundation for the split and Dennis' departure was laid by none other than Dennis himself.
"I admit I'm not always easy to get on with. I admit I've always fought hard for McLaren in Formula One. I doubt if Max Mosley or Bernie Ecclestone will be displeased by my decision. But no one asked me to do it. It was my decision," said Dennis. "Equally, I was the architect of today's restructure of the McLaren Group. Again, no one asked me to do it. It was my decision."
Dennis stepped down as the head of the McLaren F1 team on January 16, handing the reins to Martin Whitmarsh.
The fact that McLaren's automotive operations have been slowly gathering in new personnel in design and PR--personnel that might be redundant in a single McLaren Group operation--gives a bit of backing to Dennis' statements regarding timing and motivation. Whatever the cause of the new McLaren Automotive's arrival, however, their product is sure to be interesting.
The new company is working on three new models, an entry-level sports car expected to cost around the $100,000 mark, a new V-8 model aimed at the likes of the Ferrari F430 and Lamborghini Gallardo, and a flagship supercar that is to be the successor to the legendary F1.
The first of this new trio will be the mid-level V-8 supercar, currently going by its internal codename of P11 and spotted recently undergoing cold weather testing in Northern Europe. The second will be a flagship supercar, but unlike the P11, it will be a clean sheet design and production numbers will be extremely limited.
"For the F1 replacement, there are not the restrictions on us, like with P11," McLaren design boss Frank Stephenson revealed to AutoWeek. "This one will be my influence from start to finish."
It’s still early to speculate as to what mechanical package McLaren has for its F1 successor, but at least we know with Stephenson on board the car’s styling should be safe. Previous projects the American designer has worked on include Maserati’s stunning MC12, the Alfa Romeo MiTo and the Ferrari F430.
There are few details on McLaren’s third model, the P8, but Stephenson has revealed that it will be designed as a rival to the upper range Porsche 911s as well as the Audi R8.
McLaren is serious about its future models, having already poached Stephenson from Ferrari, the company has now announced that BMW's longstanding corporate communications manager Mark Harrison will head up its PR function. This is a shrewd move as the company has an ambitious plan to boost production from its current output level of around 100 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren supercars per year to more than 1,000 P11s by 2011, and eventually up to 4,000 cars per year once the F1 successor and P8 arrive in the middle of the next decade.
The company will be investing heavily in its infrastructure to cope with its output goals as well, an undoubtedly welcome boon amidst the U.K. car industry current bust. "With planned additional investment in the company of £250 million, proposals in place for a new McLaren car production facility in the U.K., and the potential for up to 800 skilled jobs, McLaren Automotive's expansion will represent a significant investment in the U.K. automotive industry," said Dennis.