Mighty Mac Pays A Visit: A Date With The McLaren MP4-12C

Automobile Staff
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Recognize this dark silver 2011 McLaren MP4-12C? You might, assuming you were at this year's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Seeing as the new McLaren is inching closer to its official production launch, McLaren Automotive’s North American regional director, Tony Joseph—a sales executive with eleven years of experience at Ferrari, Maserati, and Porsche—is traveling to each of McLaren’s planned ten North American dealers with this MP4-12C (non-driver) and a rolling chassis to show potential customers.

Luckily for us, he was kind enough to swing by Ann Arbor with his latest wares for us to ogle.

THE CAR

Simply put, it's stunning. It's nowhere as flamboyant as Ferrari's 458 Italia, but the crisp lines are clean, and refreshingly devoid of unnecessary detail. The wide rear graphic, which incorporates both tail lamps and exhaust ports -- is striking, as are the scissor-hinged doors. Those vertically-lifting doors are a subtle homage to the company's fabled F1, albeit the MP4-12C is certainly not intended to be a direct successor (that's the job of another car that's reportedly in development).

Beneath the smooth exterior is some equally slick engineering. McLaren's design staff obsessed about every ounce of material used to build the coupe. Thanks to this mindset (and, no doubt, to the extensive use of carbon fiber), the MP4-12C tips the scales at a lithe 3000 pounds (roughly 200 pounds lighter than Ferrari's 458).

Expect the power-to-weight ratio to be equally impressive. Power for the MP4-12C comes courtesy of a McLaren-designed, Ricardo-built 3.8-liter V-8. In F1 fashion, the engine revs to a screaming 8500 rpm, but is rated at an outstanding 600 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. Better yet, the shallow V-angle and dry-sump oil system help keep mass low in the car, further improving handling. All power will be sent to the rear wheels courtesy of a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

We've heard some rumors suggesting the company is interested in installing a KERS-style hybrid system into the MP4-12C, but we were left with the impression that the company's first focus will be additional models, like a convertible version of the MP4-12C itself.

THE PLAN

Behind any great launch is a strong dealer network, so it's no surprise that Joseph and his team has been busy establishing just that. Dealers have signed on in Greenwich, Connecticut; Miami, Tampa, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, Beverly Hills, and Newport Beach. Two additional outlets, in Philadelphia and Toronto, respectively, are still pending.

McLaren Automotive has been carefully laying the groundwork for a solid dealer body and positive first-year ownership experience. Dealers have worked with McLaren management to develop a sales and service plan, and sales people have spent a week training near McLaren’s new 35,000 square-foot facilities in Woking. Four of the new dealers are building stand-alone McLaren dealerships, and two are planning exclusive showrooms. According to Joseph, “It took[managing director] Antony Sheriff only a few minutes to decide that every dealer would open with a complete package of MP412C parts for service needs, and that they would sell that package to the dealers at cost. In addition, every dealer will also have a rolling chassis for showroom display."

McLaren plans to sell 1000 2012-model MP4-12C in its first year, with about 35 percent of sales coming from the UK and Europe beginning late in the first quarter of 2011. North America will account for another 30 to 35 percent, although sales won't begin until July. The remainder will be sold in the Middle East, Africa, and China. The Asia-Pacific region will see MP4-12Cs beginning in 2012, as McLaren ramps up production toward the yearly goal of selling 5000 of the $225,00 - $250,000 (estimated) two-seat supercars.

Will they? Quite possibly, judging by strong interest expressed by customers all over the world. McLaren began collecting prospect information from “people of interest” last September in the UK, and that list has passed 3000. The North American database has added 300 names since July.

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