How to build a McLaren supercar

August 19, 2018 06:01 CET

McLaren Automotive builds its high-dollar supercars in an unusual building in bucolic southern England.

Unlike the typical sprawling auto plant that can be seen for miles, the McLaren Production Center is partially underground. The two-floor building is part of a Norman Foster-designed campus that includes McLaren’s glass-walled, semicircular headquarters building and a lake. The lake is not just for aesthetics — the water is used to cool the building and an on-site wind tunnel used for r&d.

A worker joins a carbon-fiber tub to a vehicle chassis.

The first thing one notices on entering the cavernous production center, accessible via tunnel, is the lack of whirring robots and conveyor belts typically associated with auto manufacturing.

McLaren engines await new homes.

“When [former CEO] Ron Dennis first thought of the technology center, he wanted a building that would showcase McLaren — very calm, very quiet, very efficient, very focused,” brand ambassador Amanda McLaren told Automotive News during a tour of the plant in Woking, England. “This building is based on those same principles.”

A team brings a chassis, powertrain and body together.

Automation is not ideal for McLaren’s highly custom, low-volume manufacturing. Super Series models alone have about 4.5 million variations. McLaren builds cars as they are ordered. That means the production line could have a 540C followed by a 720S followed by a 570S Spider.

Body shells are prepared to be hand-painted.

“Robots are incredibly good at doing the same thing over and over and over,” said McLaren, daughter of company founder and Formula One driver Bruce McLaren. “It would be very hard for them to cope with the variety on our production line.”

A McLaren Senna awaits rear bodywork.

All parts in a McLaren are sourced from suppliers with the Woking plant handling assembly. All vehicles are hand-painted.

A McLaren Senna sits on the factory floor.

Every McLaren starts out as a 175-pound carbon-fiber tub, made by Mubea Carbo Tech of Salzburg, Austria. McLaren will bring tub production in-house once it opens its Sheffield, Eng-land, plant next year.

“All cars start off as a spider (convertible), and then we bond the roof structure on if we want a coupe,” McLaren said.

Vehicles receive end-of-the-line quality checks.

The plant operates in two shifts with a daily production capacity of about 20 cars. Over about 15 days, a 570 will move through more than 50 stations on a wheeled trolley, where wiring, powertrain and the interior are added. Employees work at stations on multiple cars, rather than following the same car through assembly. McLaren’s Sports Series and Super Series models follow the same line through the building. The $1 million flagship Senna model gets its own special line.

You can reach Urvaksh Karkaria at ukarkaria@crain.com.

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