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Honda NSX concept

The birth of McLaren Automotive as a consultancy?

By Andrew Marsh, 09.04.13
Posted in: Manufacturer Profiles | Public

For many decades there was a profitable business in building vehicles on behalf of vehicle manufacturers, with many famous names such as Ghia, Touring, Pininfarina, Bertone, Hueliez, Karmann and more. Those arrangements from the 1950’s and 1060’s changed as the very purpose of out-sourcing manufacturing – to reduce capital expenditure in return for a higher build cost – created new joint ventures between these specialist companies and vehicle manufacturers.

Currently in large scale contract vehicle build there are only two players – Valmet and Magna Steyr. The rest have either regressed to pure design consultancies or gone out of business completely. Whilst contract vehicle manufacture remains a difficult market, out-sourced engineering services remains relatively buoyant. Porsche SE, for example, have quietly continued to expand engineering services throughout the last decade and produced ever increasing profits. The key to success in this sector is what the car company does for a living and what expertise it has to offer the wider market.

Take McLaren Automotive. The order of team required to address a range of legislative, quality, reliability and comfort issues that simply do not arise with an F1 car is immense. To produce a credible range of road cars takes a significantly large engineering team with a blend of skills that might interest other manufacturers. Aside from the production cars the team have shown their capability to produce a one off – the MP4-12C X1 for a very special customer.

McLaren MP4-12C X1

McLaren MP4-12C X1 is the very expression of modern coach building, just as Lamborghini demonstrated with Veneno. Whilst made almost exclusively from CFRP, the number of unique parts which had to be designed and manufactured is considerable. The MP4-12C remains at the core. © McLaren Automotive Ltd

Honda has committed to producing the next generation NSX in North America. The engineering of the last version was both fraught as well as – ultimately – a triumph, although not in terms of profit. The idea of changing the body material part way through the engineering programme was a disaster which cost most of the life time product profit as well as delaying launch by years. Consider the first generation car production start was in 1989, so the engineering team that created that have been occupied with high volume mass production vehicles or retired since. Honda after all finished small scale manufacture of the last NSX in 2005….

Producing a new mid-engined super car that is going anything less than brilliant is simply too risky for Honda, unless help can be found. McLaren Automotive on the other hand are committed to two door mid-engined cars and the present programme is pretty near completed after the launch of P1. They have ensued building cars with four doors (which is a much bigger engineering challenge), SUVs or MPVs. What better introduction to relatively low cost higher volume mid-engined 2 seater super car manufacture than to work alongside Honda to deliver the next NSX? The likely materials for the NSX body (aluminium and CFRP structure) along with the declared rear wheel drive layout closely match those of the MP4-12C series.

Commercially, as well a technologically, this makes far more sense than Honda getting back into F1, given sightings of Honda staff at a certain Woking facility.

McLaren MP4-12C P1 cutaway

McLaren MP4-12C P1 has a unique hybrid drive system, developed in-house by McLaren. Whilst this may not find its way into other vehicles, knowledge gained from the development process has significant commercial value to other vehicle manufacturers. © McLaren Automotive Ltd


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