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''The brand is growing and becoming a real competitor.'' - Mr Flewitt, on McLaren's share of the supercar market

McLaren to keep it racy and exclusive

CEO says the cap is 5,000 cars a year, due partly to capacity issues
Oct 8, 2016 5:50 AM

Singapore

MCLAREN Automotive may only be all of five years old but by next year, it will produce 4,000 cars - more than the roughly 3,300 made by Lamborghini last year but still less than Ferrari's almost 7,700 units.

Mike Flewitt, McLaren Automotive chief executive, said the 3,000-car forecast for 2016 is already twice that of 2015.

"The plan in 2017 is 4,000 cars, growing slowly to 4,500 when we will stabilise," he said during a recent visit to the Sepang International Circuit where a range of McLaren super sports cars was introduced to prospective customers. "By 2019, we will become an exclusive car company."

According to Mr Flewitt, the cap is necessary because of capacity issues and the importance of exclusivity. "We can't oversupply, so we try and balance all these for sustainability. The maximum will be 5,000 cars."

Mr Flewitt also touched on the carmaker's growing markets, dealer network and customer profile.

Despite the gloomy global economy, "the supercar market in the region is generally okay", he said.

"We are a young company - five years old. We weren't selling big numbers 10 years ago and have come down. We are 100 per cent up from a year ago and completely on track for what we want to do."

Having grown a total product range - Sports, Super and Ultimate series - McLaren is "getting all the basics in place", he said.

There may be "tax demands" in Asia but some markets in the region are doing "extremely well" with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand among the best. In terms of sales, China has the highest.

That, however, is not the measure for McLaren Automotive, which counts Singapore billionaire Peter Lim as one of its shareholders. "But it tells us we are being competitive, and we have good dealers and cars that people want," said Mr Flewitt. "The brand is growing and becoming a real competitor."

It is "not strong" in Singapore and Malaysia, though, where McLaren numbers remain small, in line with the rest of the supercar market, because of duties and financing restrictions. "We are competitive with other manufacturers but it is difficult from a tax point; S$1 million is a limited market and a reflection of economic circumstances," he said.

So having good dealers is vital and Mr Flewitt, who was in Singapore prior to Sepang for the Formula One Grand Prix, called the Eurokars Group's McLaren set-up "fabulous, one of the best facilities in the world".

McLaren has 82 dealers in 30 markets. It will have 86 dealers by 2017 and "100 by 2018, 2019".

"We are exploring new markets but the pace will be more measured than five years ago, when we had 30 dealers in June 2011 to end-2012, and 15 in 2013," Mr Flewitt added. "We expanded very quickly because we needed a distribution network in place to go into the market."

So who buys a McLaren? According to Mr Flewitt, people who are interested in the car's heritage and the way it drives. "They are not just looking at the cars like beautiful ornaments; they take them to the track. The typical customer is an enthusiast. This is not a wealthy person buying a status symbol but someone who is enthusiastic about driving and engineering and well-informed."

The last part sounds much like the personable Mr Flewitt himself. A mechanical engineer by training, he is also a keen driver who takes his company's cars on road trips with his wife Mia, who is an amateur racer herself.

McLaren buyers are divided into three regions - North America, Europe and Asia/ Middle East, with Asia accounting for about 80 per cent of that one-third in sales.

But while Europe is weak and questions hang over North America because of politics, Mr Flewitt is confident about Asia. "There will probably be more growth in Asia, provided there are no import duty or tax issues. The wealth is still growing, so there is significant opportunity in this area."