THE McLaren 540C has been unveiled at the Shanghai motor show, aimed directly at the Porsche 911 Turbo and Audi R8 supercars and creating the most affordable performance car from the sports car maker yet.
Yet the supercar maker is confident that sales of the second Sports Series model to join its showroom ─ alongside the 570S ─ won't be hit by the McLaren racing team's disastrous start to the 2015 Formula One season.
At last weekend's Bahrain Gran Prix, McLaren's lead driver, former world champion Fernando Alonso, recorded his best result of the year ─ a lowly 11th ─ but has still failed to score a single point so far. Nor has teammate Jenson Button, whose McLaren MP4-30 failed to complete Friday practice, then qualifying, and couldn't even make the grid for Sunday's race.
"The heritage of the company is built on racing," McLaren's executive director of product development, Mark Vinnels, told Wheels. "But as a road car business we've only been around three or four years."
Vinnels said the road car division of McLaren now dwarfed the racing arm in terms of the size of its operations, but the achievements of the more than five decades old McLaren race team had enabled the young road car department to develop far more quickly than what would be possible using a new name from scratch. "We'd all love the F1 team to be doing better, but we knew it would be a tough challenge," he said.
That's in contrast to F1 rival Ferrari, where at the 2014 Paris motor show, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles boss Sergio Marchionne said that despite record sales of Ferrari road cars, winning in Formula One was 'not negotiable' for the Italian brand.
The McLaren 540C is based on the same carbonfibre monocell chassis as the 570S and powered by a 397kW version of the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 used throughout the McLaren line-up. Its performance claims boast a 0-100km time of 3.5sec and a 320km/h top speed.
While pricing for the Australian market is yet to be confirmed, the 540C's UK price of £126,000 is within a breath of the Porsche 911 Turbo at £120,598 and the Audi R8 V10 that costs £123,485. That would translate to an ask of around $300K here.
Yet despite using derivatives of the same chassis and engine, Vinnels denies that McLaren's products are too similar, and that its more costly models appear overpriced.
"No that's totally not true ─ I don't agree with that," he said. "It was always part of the plan to roll out as part of the platform strategy models in three price points; Ultimate, Super and Sports. And we did understand and consider cannibalisation issues that could occur, but now for us it's really important that we communicate clearly that there is a marked difference in performance.
With the company's expansion, Vinnels told Wheels that we're not about to see a McLaren on every corner, each rapper's music video or every merchant banker's McMansion.
"We don't want to be more than around 4000-4500 cars," Vinnels said. "We're never chasing volume ─ we want the brand to be recognised, we want the car to be recognised, but it's an aspirational and exclusive brand. Certainly our economics are based on thousands and thousands of cars."
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