DETROIT — McLaren North America President Tony Joseph has been with the brand since it set up shop nine years ago, leading its growth from a fledging operation to a profitable automaker with a growing retail base.
Before joining McLaren Automotive, the road-car unit of the British race-car builder, the Michigan native spent time at Ferrari, Porsche and Subaru. Last week, McLaren said the brand will open a store in the Detroit area as it increases North American retail locations to 24, including three stores in Canada. Joseph, 50, spoke with Automotive News editors and reporters here last month.
Q: Considering the compliance and legal requirements to sell vehicles in the U.S., why bother for only 1,000 sales a year?
A: We're actually the largest market in the world and have been from the very beginning. We were tied for sales, or a little bit above, with the European market in the beginning. But now, we're close to 42 percent of the global volume.
It was a struggle in the beginning, even for a dealer letter of intent, from a compliance issue, and getting the attorneys there to understand the regulations here, and even from a certification standpoint.
In Europe we launched in the summer of 2011 and in the U.S. we didn't deliver our first car until December 2011. That was because of certification. It was even worse in Canada. We didn't have certification there until January 2012.
McLaren is pushing lower on price, right?
Not necessarily. We did launch the Sports Series two years ago, which started just under $200,000.
Now with the Spider, you're at $210,000 on up with options. I don't foresee us having anything below $200,000.
How will McLaren grow in a market where segments are shifting?
We're focused in it. We don't have any other products to get us distracted. We built our product to be high in demand, low in supply. We're going to continue to innovate with new product and make sure we keep production low in terms of the particular car or variant that we build.
We're finding that people want to understand what the car can do. A lot of people want to come and see what the car can do on the track. It doesn't mean they're necessarily track people, but they want to be able to drive on the track and understand the performance, the engineering behind the car. We are seeing more people who are new to the brand.
Where is McLaren conquesting from?
We're conquesting a lot from Porsche and Audi with the R8. Some Ferrari, some Lam- borghini. With this segment, you're competing for somebody who is looking at art, a boat, a second home. A lot of the customers are very much into the lifestyle component of the brand as well. They want to do the rallies. They want to do the track programs. They want to do the drive events.
Is a McLaren someone's first sports car?
With Sports Series customers, it's a lot of first-time customers. Not so much with the Super Series. And definitely not with the Ultimate Series.
What's McLaren's biggest U.S. market?
This year, California will be. We've made a change of ownership in Beverly Hills and that dealership is doing very, very well. They're going to be at about 160 cars this year.
Believe it or not, for North America, do you know who the largest dealer was for us last year? Toronto.
What's the right number of dealers for McLaren in North America?
Under 30. We'll continue to add some points but we won't overdealer. I think we'll be significantly less than any of the other niche brands.
How many employees does McLaren North America have?
We've got 21 employees. We actually have fewer employees than we do dealers.
If a customer orders a McLaren today, how long would it take to get it?
If you ordered one today, it would be built in October, so you're looking at November. We do have longer lead times. With the Super Series, like the 720, you have customers who will spec the car and wait that long.
With the Sports Series, like the 570S, 570GT and 570S Spider, they don't typically want to wait that long, because those cars compete with the [Lamborghini] Huracan and the [Porsche] 911 Turbo S. If they can't get their car today, they'll go down the street and get one of those cars.