Going head-to-head with Ferrari was seen as suicide until McLaren threw down the gauntlet in 2010. In five years, the Woking company has become firmly established as a genuine rival to the Italian sports car maker.
Yet it’s the acceptance of the British brand by discerning supercar customers around the world, who bought a record 1,649 models in 2014, that has underlined that McLaren has not only arrived, but is here to stay.
The firm has built a state-of-the-art factory, developed a range of successful supercars and taken on 1,200 workers in the UK. Even given McLaren’s 50-year expertise in Formula One racing, the achievement of setting up and delivering a world-class car business is unprecedented.
McLaren’s move into road cars was the sixties dream of founder Bruce McLaren, and became the vision of Ron Dennis, the mastermind behind the company’s grand prix success, who has applied the same meticulous standards of excellence and relentless pursuit of perfection.
The man responsible for turning Dennis’ vision into reality is Mike Flewitt, the chief executive of McLaren Automotive since 2012, who is pushing even harder as the firm looks to almost triple sales to 4,000 cars by 2017.
Flewitt’s own story is as spectacular as the rise of McLaren Automotive, from starting on the production lines of Ford’s Halewood plant in the eighties, as a 20-year-old fitting Escort heater hoses, to becoming the firm’s European quality director and vice president of manufacturing over 20 years later.
Along the way, he gained an invaluable insight into the luxury car sector by working for Rolls-Royce/Bentley, where he set up the brand’s first ever bodyshop and became production director, before returning to Ford.
But when the chance to run McLaren came in 2012, he jumped at it. “McLaren was a rare opportunity,” he says. “It was the right brand at the right time, with cutting-edge technology, great engineers and good shareholders. I felt it could work.”
Flewitt was also impressed by the McLaren factory and facilities at Woking: “I have worked in the car industry all over the world, but these are the most mind-blowing facilities I have seen, absolutely cutting edge.”