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Geneva show: McLaren design ‘evolving’

Looks like staying: The mighty P1 introduced Frank Stephenson’s vision for McLaren styling and the look, which has propagated to all models in the line-up, is here to stay according to its creator.

Significant Geneva show plans to reveal next chapter in McLaren styling evolution

18 Jul 2016

McLAREN is gearing up to reveal the next significant development in its design language with plans already underway for the next Geneva motor show, but the car-maker says the March 2017 event will not reveal a dramatic change but an “evolution” of the range-wide styling.

Since the unveiling of the new design language and the P1 at the Paris motor show in 2012, the distinctive styling signatures have found their way onto each of the Sport Series, Super Series and P1 Ultimate Series models, and the company says the unique look is working.

Speaking to GoAuto at the launch of Australia’s third McLaren dealership on the Gold Coast, McLaren design director Frank Stephenson described his approach to penning some of the world’s most desirable cars and revealed that there would be something special to look forward to in Geneva.

“I would recommend going to Geneva for a few reasons. For three reasons,” he said.

Mr Stephenson did not reveal specific details about the planned publicity events but made the remark after a lengthy discussion about the direction of the brand’s styling and design philosophy, and the reference to “three reasons” could hint at a trio of cars for the show.

If a reveal is chalked for the show it is likely the car or cars will be production versions, with the company ordinarily choosing to bypass the concept car process and cut straight to the showroom version.

“We don’t really have time to do concept cars,” said Mr Stephenson. “We have to do concept cars as production vehicles.

“They’re (development team) really enjoying their work because whatever they do is going straight to production. It’s not trying this and trying that. We don’t have a lot of time to waste producing ten ideas. We do one idea and we refine the heck out of it. The engineer is not wasting their time, they are concentrating on one good solution.”

Whatever the company has primed to roll out will not break the McLaren design mould, said Mr Stephenson, and would instead represent the established course of the design language, which is steadily evolving.

“Not a change but an evolution because a change is for change’s sake. It’s not going to radically change and you’re not going to say ‘is that still a McLaren’ because the identifying element is that the car looks like a McLaren and it is unique.

“Nothing is predictable in a good sense. We don’t change it for change’s sake.

We are moving the design with the technology and it’s a technology driven company so when they come up with a new aero solutions or driver position or packaging solutions, that has to be reflected back in the design.”

Since the arrival of the P1, the design team has strived to apply the same unmistakable looks to each of the models in the line-up, and Mr Stephenson explained that the cars must look similar given how young the brand is compared with its competitors.

“It’s necessary because our biggest challenge is to start a design language and a recognisable look for McLaren and you’re naturally going to be doing cars that have common elements of design.

“You have to lay down the foundations of design first of all and then work from there upwards. Designing a range of cars they all have to look, I wouldn’t say like brothers and sisters, but definitely like cousins.

“You don’t want to be too extremely different with all your cars.”

With the keys to McLaren’s sprawling Woking UK headquarters, anyone strolling the advanced manufacturing and development facility would have a glimpse of many of the company’s future cars, according to Mr Stephenson.

“What we’re talking about are projects that I finished a couple of years ago and so I’ve already got an insight into what’s coming in the next few years and I can tell you that you will have the wow factor with every new model that’s coming out.”

Mr Stephenson explained that the range of vehicles were strongly influenced by evolving technology and the design team worked closely with engineers to make the best use of the latest tech.

“I can’t emphasise how closely we work with the engineers. Our setup is quite different to most design studios in the world where nobody is allowed in except the designers and maybe the CEO. Our studio is inhabited by more engineers than designers.

“You’re pretty much tied into a general dimensions for the car because we are working off the same platform but that’s not going to stay the same forever, we’re going to be improving all the packaging points of the car, which will allow us to do different sized cars and different areas for the engine and hybrid batteries to go.

“The pressure is on technology to keep the game moving and keep us coming up with the need to design things in a different way to reflect the technology.”

Prior to working with McLaren, Mr Stephenson has had previous tenures with a variety of brands and has influenced many significant vehicles, including the first Mini to be produced under BMW ownership, the Ferrari 430 and he was responsible for the esteemed double spoiler that defined the Ford Escort RS Cosworth in the 1990s.

Despite his involvement with a number of classic vehicles, Mr Stephenson said he does not set out to create an icon with every vehicle.

“You don’t design iconic cars with an icon in mind,” he said. “They become that if you’re lucky.”

So what’s next for the man who has designed so many celebrated cars and even an electric boat named the Riverbreeze?“Now my whole thinking is geared towards the ultimate temple of hedonism or what they often call a man cave. I’m looking to build something where I can just get away from everybody and just lock myself in there for a few hours and just think.

“I need somewhere where I can just think about being creative, write a book or paint a lion.”

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