Interview: McLaren Chief Designer, Robert Melville

By: Andy Enright

Presented by

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McLaren's chief designer Robert Melville sits down with Unique Cars and discusses plans, passions and pans the idea of an SUV

"The McLaren F1…" and there Robert Melville, McLaren’s 39-year old Chief Designer, trails off wistfully. We’re at the launch of the 570GT, the Woking company’s development of the Sports Series and a car that initially raised more questions than answers. With its curious glass tailgate, the GT seemed an answer to a question that nobody was asking. Melville disagrees and has some pretty convincing reasons why. "The F1," he continues, "was a car that was special in part because of its practicality. That was something we were keen to carry into the 570GT."

Based on the 570S, the GT introduces a glass roof, and a side-hinged hatch that opens to reveal a low cargo compartment. "The different look was created in the increased stowage capacity, so instead of 150 litres it has 370 litres. You’re looking at 150 litres in the front and 220 litres in the touring deck. This allows you to take an extra two flight bags, a gym bag and a laptop bag and a suit bag as well as your two flight bags and soft bag in the front so you can really go on a journey at speed in luxury," Melville explains. "It actually has more luggage space than a Ford Focus."

So where is McLaren going with this? Are there plans to expand the range to introduce 2+2s or four seat models? "There are no such plans," Melville stonewalls. "Definitely not for the next six years… We’ll say six years because our business plan doesn’t go beyond that at the moment. The next six years is very much two-seat sports cars/supercars. That’s all. No SUVs, no 2+2s. We’ve got a very clear focus on two-seaters." Three seaters would also seem to be off the agenda.

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So where’s the growth potential going to come from, if not a Mac truck?  Sales are on the up but the global market for super sports cars remains a finite and bitterly contested arena. McLaren’s recent products – and especially the 570S – have changed public perceptions of what was once considered a steely and robotic outfit. "As a company we had been seen as Teutonic, quite Germanic, " conceded Melville. "That has a lot of positives because when you think of Germanic you think of precision, obsession with detail, high level of execution. And we stand for all of that but we also stand for passion. Bruce McLaren – his vision was born on the track, he was an enthusiast, he was going out racing because he loved it. Everyone who works at McLaren are absolute car nuts. We’re mad car fans, we absolutely love to bits what we do and that passion is starting to come through now.

"The 650 really started to get that message across, the P1 did, the 675LT is an incredible machine and it’s such an engaging machine but it is a technological tour de force. The 570 is a fixed aero package, it’s got narrower tyres, it was actually a bit of a risky move on our part but we realised that this is what we enjoy about a sports car and a sports car is about being nimble, agile, lightweight, fun, with great feedback and they were the key attributes that we wanted from that car. And that’s why the journalists have engaged with the car so well. It’s a purist’s way of doing things.

So what’s in the pipeline? "Next year we’ve got the Spider version of the Sports Series due out – that’s our next confirmed launch. Beyond that we’re working on our future projects. Me, I’ve been involved in all of them, I’ve been looking twenty years in advance on vision projects and ten years in advance on advanced design, just so we can forecast where we need to aim for. We can’t have these ‘moonshots’ in terms of technology and visual appearance. How do we get there? We start thinking already how we aim for that twenty years from now. We take clear steps and make clear plans; a clear vision for everyone to buy into in the company."  Quite Germanic, that.


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