WOKING, England (Reuters) - McLaren unveiled the first of a range of supercars on Thursday that will take their Formula One battle with Ferrari and Mercedes out of the racetrack and into the automotive arena.
McLaren said the new MP4-12C, with a likely price tag of around 150,000 pounds ($229,200) and annual production of 1,000 cars from 2011, represents the “logical next step” for the British-based company.
“We know it’s a competitive market, we know many small car companies have come and gone but we are not going to be one of them,” chairman Ron Dennis told a news conference after the team’s world champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button had pulled the covers off an orange prototype.
“We are here to stay,” added Dennis, who stood down as Formula One team principal last year to head up McLaren Automotive.
“Our pedigree and our history and our brand can definitely support an entry into this segment of the market. There are some frightening statistics which have been burnt into my brain over the last few years.
“I think the most frightening is that since 1966, since McLaren first entered grand prix racing, 106 Formula One teams have come and gone,” added Dennis.
“Therefore for me, staying solely and exclusively a Formula One team is almost surely going to lead to extinction...so I think there is an imperative need to broaden the commercial basis of this company.”
McLaren last built their own sportscar, the F1, from 1993 to 1998 and then assembled the Mercedes SLR model at their Woking factory.
The winners of eight F1 constructors’ titles announced a divorce from Mercedes, who took over the title-winning Brawn team, last year but will continue to be powered by Mercedes engines on the track for some years yet.
The MP4-12C will have a McLaren designed engine, however, producing a top speed in excess of 200 mph (320 kph) and capable of sending the car from 0-200kph in under 10 seconds. The 200-0 braking time will be less than five seconds.
McLaren Automotive managing director Antony Sheriff said cars would be sold in every major market with 35 dealers to be appointed in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Australia.
The Middle East was expected to account for 10-20 percent of sales with waiting times globally expected to be around a year. Some 300 new jobs will be created at McLaren and more with suppliers.
Dennis put the maximum cash investment in McLaren Automotive at between 670 to 750 million pounds with a target of reaching “true profitability” within four to five years and capturing four percent of the market within the segment.
He said there were already two more models in development and McLaren, who are 30 percent owned by Bahrain holding company Mumtalakat, planned to sell a 48 percent stake in the car company with an announcement possible in the next three months.
Hamilton and Button, the reigning champion, would be among the first customers.
“These guys are going to have cars,” said Dennis. “The question is how much they pay for them. The starting point would be to win races and championships and then maybe they will get them free of charge.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez