Around the world, McLaren is best known for its performance in Formula One racing and is linked with legends like Emerson Fittipaldi, who also raced for Lotus. In the U.S., McLaren is also a brand associated with Ford and Mercedes-Benz, both of which used a U.K. racing tech company's equipment for souped-up versions of Mustang and SLR, respectively.
And for a very few rock stars and extraordinarily wealthy people who could plunk down a million-plus on a super car, McLaren manufactured the F1, a three-seater of which only around 100 were sold in the U.S.
Now the British company is hoping to become known as a manufacturer of more comparatively affordable sports cars, albeit cars that compete with Ferraris and Lamborghinis.
The company says it has lined up a roster of European and Middle Eastern retailers and North American retail candidates for a new two-seat coupe that costs around $250,000. The car gets unveiled for the first time in the U.S. at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in Monterrey, Calif. next month.
The coupe, called the MP4-12C and first unveiled at the 2010 Goodwood Festival of Speed in early July, will go on sale next spring at 38 dealerships, with U.S. sales starting next summer.
In the U.S., retail showrooms will include McLaren Beverly Hills: The Auto Gallery; McLaren Chicago: Lake Forest Sportscars; McLaren Dallas: Park Place; McLaren Greenwich (McLaren's representative in the New York Tri-State area): Miller Motorcars; McLaren San Francisco: Price Family Dealerships; McLaren Tampa Bay: Dew Luxury Motor Cars. The company will open three more showrooms in the U.S. and one in Canada. Its goal is to make 4,000 cars annually in the U.K. and deliver to 70 McLaren retailers worldwide.
The Surrey-based carmaker has also launched its first world tour, taking the 12C to over 50 events this year, and the company says the car and its underpinnings will be shown in every city in which the car will be sold.
"From there, we will have an extensive product plan," says Lynne Arciero, McLaren marketing and communications manager, North America. "We will launch a new car or variant every year through mid-decade*, all sports cars."
Arciero says buyers will include collectors, particularly those "who are a little mad that they didn't get an original F1, but also I think people will want to have it for fun factor."
The challenge in the U.S. market, per Arciero, is that Americans who aren't big fans of Formula racing won't know the brand. "In the rest of the world, we have a huge presence with Formula One, but because it's not as popular in the U.S. we need to build up a 'cool' factor. For the brand's longevity, we have to promote what McLaren means."
She says marketing might include bringing prospects and owners to the Surrey factory, which is an architectural landmark designed by Lord Norman Foster.
Arciero says the company decided to launch the sports car line, one of whose attributes is a super-light carbon fiber cockpit, because it can.
"We have electronics and applied technology divisions; we are pioneers in carbon-fiber engineering and our experience with Mercedes and the F1 gave us the basis of a brand."*
Editor's note: The story was amended post-publication.