2013 Chief Executive of Mclaren Automotive 2012 Chief Operating Officer of Mclaren Automotive 2011 Global Vice President of Ford 2010 Manufacturing Director of Ford Europe 2005 Managing Director of Ford Otosan 2003 Quality director for Ford Europe 1998 Managing Director of Autonova, a joint venture between Volvo and TWR 1995 Production Director for Rolls-royce and Bentley 1983 Production Operator, Foreman, Senior Foreman, Superintendent, Shift Manager, Area Manager for Ford Motor Company in Halewood, Liverpool F1 Racing: Mclaren have been building road cars on and off for a long time, but have got much more serious since you joined…
Mike Flewitt: Back in Gordon Murray’s days it was a department of the race team. It only stopped being that at the end of 2010, when it became an independent company. But it still had to stand on its own two feet. When I came in it was very much the junior partner to racing. It has developed because we developed our own business plan in 2013, and grew Automotive in parallel with the racing company.
F1R: How much has the company grown in that time?
MF: We’ve gone from, in 2011, one car – the MP4-12C Coupé – and below 600 units, to this year over 4,500 units, and a range of models. We’ve grown from 800 people to about 2,300. The F1 team is now only about 700. We’ll add another couple of hundred people and will round out at 5,000 cars a year, focusing on exclusivity rather than chasing volume. Fundamentally, we’re not about the technology for its own sake, we’re about the driving experience.
F1R: Does Automotive bring extra cachet for the F1 team?
MF: Absolutely. When Zak [Brown] and the team go out representing the F1 team, Automotive is a significant asset. I don’t think anyone buys our cars because of F1. They might have heard of us because they’ve heard of Mclaren in F1, but they choose us because of the car. Our cars are the best in their segment, and when customers buy our cars they stay loyal. The fact this isn’t a great time in F1 isn’t hurting us, but that’s not to say it wouldn’t be wonderful when we start winning again. What you want is all the companies within Mclaren enhancing the brand and credibility. I’m looking forward to the day we’re not 17th and 18th.
F1R: You race yourself, don’t you?
MF: I mainly race historics: a couple of Lotuses – a 1961 Lotus Elite and a ’63 Lotus Elan. I’ve also got an F2 Mclaren – the ex-piers Courage car that he won the last race of the Tasman Series in ’67-68. It’s a gorgeous car to look at, lovely to drive, but you are constantly on edge… I could do with having a bit more of my hero Jim Clark’s talent.
F1R: Does the success of the road car division create internal tension while the race team is struggling – especially now you’re responsible for 80-85 per cent of total revenue?
MF: It doesn’t create tension, or certainly not tension I’m aware of. I think we’re all just generally supportive of each other. The foundation of the automotive company was funded out of the money Ron [Dennis] and the team earned in F1, so we wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for F1. I think that is such recent history that we just feel co-reliant. We don’t look at them and think ‘you silly buggers aren’t doing well now!’ Quite the opposite – it’s ‘what can we do to help?’
F1R: And your success will surely help the F1 team in terms of Group revenue?
MF: Absolutely. We are a group, so if we are starting to generate cash they can use to develop to become more competitive then that’s a great position to be in. There really isn’t rivalry. Every Monday afternoon Zak, myself, Jonathan Neale and two of the shareholders have a very informal call. I have breakfast with Zak every week. We had a customer evening for Speedtail – our new top-end product – and Zak was there with his wife hosting one of the tables for me. We’re all in it together.
F1R: How do you answer critics who say the automotive side is a distraction from the F1 team?
MF: I understand how the external perception could be that, but they are fundamentally separate. We don’t consume any resource from F1 at all. Arguably, we help them financially. We don’t take any of their people, consume or dilute, in any sense at all. It’s really far-fetched, that: if anyone criticises a Mercedes road vehicle it’s never because they are doing so well in F1. I don’t read it about Red Bull, where Adrian Newey is trying to design an Aston Martin road car…