Sheffield in pole position for more McLaren

A McLaren 720s parked outside the Winter Gardens in Sheffield.
A McLaren 720s parked outside the Winter Gardens in Sheffield.

Supercar company McLaren opened a £50m factory in Rotherham this week and already the talk is about when, not if, it opens a second.  

The event attracted superstar royalty Prince William and Kate Middleton and a host of global VIPs, including the crown prince of Bahrain, a major shareholder.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited South Yorkshire to officially open McLaren Automotives new Composites Technology Centre in Rotherham. Picture: Chris Etchells

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited South Yorkshire to officially open McLaren Automotives new Composites Technology Centre in Rotherham. Picture: Chris Etchells

But while staff now have the job of installing £25m of hi-tech machinery and ramping up production of carbon fibre chassis, fans of manufacturing are looking optimistically to the future.

And by many accounts the prospects are good.

McLaren was attracted to Rotherham by Sheffield University’s Advanced Manufacturing Research centre at Waverley where boffins helped the firm develop the processes which are being used in the newly-opened ‘Composites Technology Centre’.

But that was just a start, now the AMRC has plans for a £31m Lightweighting Centre which would accelerate what McLaren boss Mike Flewitt calls the ‘race for weight’.

The Crown Prince of Bahrain meets McLaren boss Mike Flewitt. Picture: Chris Etchells

The Crown Prince of Bahrain meets McLaren boss Mike Flewitt. Picture: Chris Etchells

For weight - not speed - is McLaren’s obsession in its pursuit of higher sales. The firm wants to increase production from 4,500 cars this year to 6,000 by 2025 - when they will be electric hybrid. And batteries are heavy.

And while the new chassis factory has the capacity to hit the higher figure, it still leaves the question of where the rest of the extra work will be done.

The company is running out of space at its headquarters in Woking, Surrey, where cars are assembled and where land is very expensive.

Mr Flewitt said talk of a new factory was “premature,” but he didn’t rule it out.

He said: “This is a long term future part of the business. We are genuinely delighted by the amazing support we’ve had in city region. But while I’m not saying there won’t be one, talk of another factory is premature.”

In September, Ken Smart, project director for McLaren Rotherham, said the firm was already looking at what else it could do in the region.

He said: "The McLaren Technology Centre in Woking is a wonderful building but it is just too small for our planned expansion. Added to that, there's not enough people in that area who want to be engineers.”

He added: "I'd be very surprised if there wasn't more to come."

McLaren will continue to work with the AMRC to create more complex, lighter chassis. Reductions are small, but if achieved across every component, they could shave 5kg off a car’s overall weight.

Mr Flewitt added: “We’d be delighted if we took that out.”

As well as the expertise, the company also received a £12m ‘golden handshake’ to set up in Rotherham from the taxpayer via the City Region organisation.

A huge sum, but one which officials insist will be repaid many times. InnovateUK, part of the Government, also put £2.4m into project ALPA, a drive by McLaren and the AMRC to reduce chassis weight.

Meanwhile, the AMRC Lightweighting Centre has been pledged £10m from the City Region and has two big bids in with public bodies to raise the rest. It would research using materials such as titanium, carbon fibre and aluminium alloys and bring together teams and equipment scattered across the sprawling site. If successful, it will be another big pull for South Yorkshire as the supercar firm expands.