McLaren CEO Mike Flewitt calls for UK to become leader in lightweight materials

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The UK can become a world leader in lightweight materials that could help create more efficient future vehicles, said Mike Flewitt, CEO of McLaren Automotive.

Delivering his keynote speech to automotive leaders and policy makers at the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders) International Automotive Summit 2018 in Central London on June 26, Flewitt called for a future ‘weight race’ to replace the more traditional ‘power race’.

Flewitt said industry and government need to work hand in hand to develop the synergies between future powertrain development and the clever use of lighter materials that will help save weight and, therefore, reduce the energy needed to power them.

While McLaren Automotive expects to hand-assemble around 4,000 cars this year, with 90% of what it makes exported to over 31 markets, Flewitt believes the technology developed will also benefit the automotive industry, economy and road users more widely.

Lightweight carbon fiber has long been a part of McLaren’s DNA, the company having introduced the very first carbon fiber chassis into Formula 1 in 1981. Carbon fiber’s innate strength and lightweight properties mean that the company has never made a race car, sportscar or supercar without it since.

McLaren Automotive is itself poised to open a brand-new £50m (US$65.5m) McLaren Composites Technology Centre (MCTC) in the Sheffield region later this year. The 22,965ft2 (7,000m2) facility will be where McLaren will innovate the process for making the ultra-lightweight and strong carbon fiber tubs at the heart of its cars.

Around 45 McLaren employees are already housed at the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC). When fully operational, the team is expected to grow to around 200 people. It will also mean on average around 58% of content by value will be from the UK, up from half.

“We now have a fantastic opportunity for the UK to be at the very forefront of a new automotive ‘weight race’ that can help achieve increasingly tough environmental targets. While McLaren has a long history in using lightweight materials to boost vehicle performance, it’s something we are also heavily investing in as part of our future with the opening later this year of the brand-new McLaren Composites Technology Centre in Yorkshire.

“It will lead to innovations in the technology going into our cars and not only provide a significant boost to that region, to jobs and the supply chain but also to the UK’s reputation for innovation.

“It is clear to us that to be successful in lightweighting, industry and government need to continue to work closely to ensure we all capitalize on the benefits for the sector, for the UK in general and also for vehicle owners who will increasingly demand more efficient products that deliver the driving attributes they expect.”

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Rachel's career in journalism has seen her write for various titles at UKi Media & Events within automotive, tire and marine. Currently editor of ATTI, her favourite aspect of the job is interviewing industry experts, including researchers, scientists, engineers and technicians, and learning more about the groundbreaking technologies and innovations that are shaping the future of transportation.

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