McLaren’s automotive division, dubbed McLaren Automotive, has launched themselves, while revealing the MP4-12C supercar.
The MP4-12C is the first road car fully developed by McLaren since the legendary F1. Sadly though, this is by no means an F1 successor.
The occupants of McLaren’s new car will be situated in a carbon fibre monocell tub, which is designed to be stiff, strong and light. However, the most innovative thing about the tub is the new manufacturing method McLaren has created for it. Normally, the manufacturing of such a part could take more than 24 hours. McLaren’s manufacturing method can get the job done in just four hours. A carbon mat is put into a mold, resin is injected and after two hours of curing time, the tub comes out. Before it’s finally ready for assembly, it is trimmed. The corner-to-corner dimensional tolerance of the process is under 0.5 millimeters, which helps make sure that the chassis of every single car produced complies with the design intent McLaren had in mind.
The tub is surrounded by aluminum structures at the front and rear. These are designed to absorb impact if you should crash into something, while the carbon tub remains intact, protecting the occupants. During crash tests, one single tub was used, and while the aluminum and some suspension pieces had to be replaced, the tub remained free of any damage, even cracks.
As you can tell from the extensive use of aluminum and carbon fibre, McLaren really wanted to make this light. In fact, they wanted to make it so light, that when the vendor for the aluminum cross-car beam in the cockpit proposed a raised embossed McLaren logo in it, engineers decided that they should engrave the logo, removing material instead of adding it. It saved a mammoth 2.6 grams. Another example of the weight-saving is the wiring harness. By using hexagonal aluminum conductors rather than traditional circular wires, they saved four kilograms. The end result is a car which weighs just 1,300 kg.
Underneath the hood of the MP4-12C will be a 3.8L twin-turbo, direct-injected V8, developed in-house by McLaren. It’s called the M838T, and in the MP4-12C, it puts out 600 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque, at least 369 lb-ft of which is available from 2,000 rpm to the 8,000 rpm red-line. The engine sends all this power to the rear wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. No love for the good old manual in this car, it would be too slow for a car in which attention to detail is everything. This flappy paddle gearbox features a special system McLaren calls Pre-Cog. For those of you familiar with the shutter release button on a camera, this works in essentially the same way. When you press the paddle down halfway, it will pre-condition the transmission for the gear change. Press it down all the way, and you get a lightning quick shift.
The powertrain was also designed to be compact, which benefited the car’s aerodynamic efficiency. With a compact engine and exhausts which exit high through the rear panel of the car, McLaren could implement a rear diffuser that starts well forward under the tail of the car. This makes the diffuser more effective. It combines with the air-brake on the top to produce more downforce, which makes the rear brakes more effective for high speed driving. The small engine also allows for a narrower car, reducing frontal area and overall drag.
Another neat performance feature is a brake steer system similar to what Formula 1 cars use. It allows the driver to apply individual rear brakes to help the car turn in on tight corners.
Despite the enormous focus on speed, McLaren also wanted the car to be livable. So it had to have a comfortable ride for everyday driving. The “pro-active chassis control” helps achieve this by giving the driver the option of three different modes for both the stability control and damping systems. The roll control system has also been designed with comfort in mind. Rather than using roll bars, McLaren has given the 12C hydraulic actuators at each corner to allow a full range of wheel motion in a straight line and then tighten up as you enter a corner.
It’s not all about the technology under the skin though. Also adding to comfort will be what McLaren calls its IRIS infotainment system. It features a portrait mode seven-inch touch screen located in the centre console, backed up by a 1.6 GHz Intel processor and Microsoft software. You can connect a range of wired and wireless (such as Bluetooth and WiFi) devices to it.
McLaren has been rigorously testing the 12C. By the end of this year, the prototypes will have accumulated over one million test miles, and over 100 crash tests will be completed. To build the high-quality car people will expect for the $200,000 price tag, McLaren has put a lot of effort into the production process. A U-shaped assembly line, completely open and set up for lean manufacturing and just-in-time parts delivery, will be used. The car will be inspected at each station, and any mistakes from the previous station will be corrected there rather than waiting for an end-of-line rework. This helps avoid problems which can occur when the car is disassembled and reassembled at the end of the line.
McLaren currently employs 1,500 people at facilities in the UK for both Formula 1 and the Automotive division. Up to 300 more jobs will be added to build the 12c and other models, two of which are already in development. They plan a production figure of over 4,000 cars by the middle of this decade, quite an ambitious goal. As for where the cars will be sold, over 500 dealers have applied to sell McLaren’s cars, but the company will only launch with 35 outlets in 19 countries in 2011. McLaren intends to deliver over 1,000 cars in 2011 alone, and then grow the number as more models are launched. The dealers, pricing and final performance numbers for the MP4-12C will be announced in the second half of this year. We’ll keep you updated.