Frank Stephenson on McLaren, 570 GT and car design

McLaren Automotive has ambitious plans. This relatively new company in its contemporary form, established only six years ago as the road car making arm of the race firm, is envisaging a £1bn expansion plan to produce fifteen new models and derivatives over the next six years. It is also aiming to increase annual sales from 1600 to 5000 cars, with half of these driven by sustainable hybrid technology.

We caught up with design director Frank Stephenson at the Geneva Motor Show last week as he unveiled the 570 GT, a perfect piece of aesthetic design and industrial engineering.

This latest car joins the 570S and C coupé in the more road-friendly Sport Series family. It shows how much the brand can expand in its product offering, but how far can you take this?

The 570 GT is one of the last building blocks. It completes our strategy that includes the Supercar and Ultimate range. We can of course add to this, introduce a city car, for instance – there’s room to move around.

You’ve set some pretty ambitious plans for a small company. How quickly do you sketch, design and develop cars?

For us designing the car is quick and this, I feel, is fresher and the design doesn’t get diluted. If you think about it too much you get cold feet! Here we don’t have time for too much discussion. We decide on the design straight away and boom it’s out there. The testing programme is very intense at McLaren as we have very little time for development. We are creating one car a year until 2022 at least. We imagine our cars, build them and then see them on the road. It is all very fast.

… and the 570 GT?

When I first gave the brief to my team that it has to have substantial luggage space and be the size of the Porsche 911 they designed a beautiful shooting-break, but it didn’t have an edge to it. It was just a pretty estate! So we killed this after six month and started from scratch but then decided on a fresh design approach straight away.

The car you say is the most practical McLaren with two boots, including the striking 220-litres boot space in the leather-lined side-hinged glass hatch. It must have been pretty challenging to design…

Yes. Initially I thought it was a joke! How can you put something on top of a hot engine? If you look at the 570S it is like Swiss cheese, it has holes everywhere to let the engine heat out. This car has the same engine so what we did was to suck the heat out from underneath the car, and through the lamps. This has never been done before. The issue is that the heat is so much that normally the plastic lenses on the taillights would melt, so we use special plastics that can take the heat.

Also our doors are becoming incredibly complex. Here we have 15 different pieces, which helps get air in the car and this makes our door structures complicated.

Would you say it is about having design integrity?

The challenge of creating something new is our reason to be – otherwise we’re not the leader. It is fun though. It is the excitement of discovering something new that hasn’t been done before and making this your top priority. Our cars are athletic, they have lean muscles and the cloth has to fit very close to the skin. We have to always strive to do less, less and less.

Our company is unique too in the way we work directly with our engineering team – we don’t have anyone from the outside coming in. The engineers here have the hunger like the design team to do something that hasn’t been done before.

You seem visibly excited to be working with McLaren. how would you define the brand?

Yes it is pretty exciting. In terms of design DNA we’re at a stage now where we’re building this, yet everything we do has to be functional. On the 570 GT, for instance, the lamp graphic where the heat comes out, that was functional and efficient so it will be used for future generations. It has naturally become a design element. The beauty of of what we do is that it doesn’t lock you – we can be unpredictable.

You’ve been with the McLaren Automotive team since the start. What’s been your favourite project to work on?

They get better and better. The 12C to make into the 650 was fun, as people didn’t think we could do emotion so we said watch this… then the P1 has huge emotion and is still looks like a McLaren and was basically designing a race car that is road legal.

With the 570 we knew the car couldn’t polarise; it has to be our volume-selling car and appeal to old, young, male and female so it had to be the new efficient 911. You don’t go home and say ‘wow I’ve seen a 911’, but hopefully you would about the 570 as we only make 2000 a year. We’re a small company so all ours cars are small volume.

Where is the brand heading now?

We have the smallest car design studio in the world so we haven’t got the resources to design cars for the future – instead we design concept cars for today. Now that we have the three lines (Sport, Super and Ultimate), it is time to establish the brand, work on credibility for people to see that we are making believable, exciting cars. Now we have the license to push further. We started quietly but if you saw what’s coming you’d see we’re really moving on… The last thing we will do are predictable cars.

You mentioned the possibility of an entry-level McLaren earlier. Would you consider a city car?

A city car is not in our strategy yet but I’m working with a couple of universities, in Turin and Sweden, where I asked the students to design an ultimate city car for the 2029 Frankfurt Motor Show to celebrate our 20th anniversary.

We’re not concerned with cost but to shoot high in terms of McLarenisation, materials, the electric drive technology, packaging, visibility and safety. I can see a car like this maybe in our future.

It makes sense to utilise the advanced McLaren racing technology…

Absolutely. For the 570 we use a carbon-fibre tub that is hugely expensive to create, so yes it makes sense to filter this technology down. The safest thing you can have for a city car is a carbon cage.

Visibility is key in a city car but you also don’t want to be exposed so perhaps there’s a way of working with glass, tinting it, so it gradually gets clear as it comes up or you can hit a button for it to go foggy to transparent glass. By 2029 the car will of course be autonomous.

What are the challenges of designing ultimate sustainable McLaren sports cars?

Weight is a huge thing for McLaren and for us to build an electric car we have to think about the battery size. For handling we would want to keep the batteries in the centre of the car, ideally low and positioned at the bottom of the car, and the motor would need to go right behind the driver, and then you’d consider where the driver and passenger would sit. The restriction is how thin and small can you make the battery not to impact on the handling of a sports car. We have people working on the battery technology now.

And how would you respond to autonomous driving; the cars are after all pure driving machines?

Very easily, as with autonomous driving you still have the choice to drive or be driven. So imagine you’re living out in the country, heading towards London you enjoy the car on the more dynamic country roads and let the car drive you in the traffic of the M25.

On the weekend you go to the track, you push the button for normal, fast or crazy fast and the car will take you around the track on the correct lines, shows you the right breaking points and what gear to use on a few laps. Then you take to the wheel and if you make a mistake it will correct you, much like a professional driving teacher. Unlike a real teacher, however, it won’t make mistakes.

With McLaren the relationship is always with you and the car, and this can be an extension of that. As long as you have a bit of control, it isn’t about the car just driving you, and you use this to learn from your car… then that is ideal.

What about inside?

For the autonomous future we will need to look at increasing the interior content. If being driven you may want to learn about the surrounding so we will offer a virtual reality scenario where the driver feels immersed into the surrounding. We are working on modern VR, and for us modern luxury is directly linked to technology.

The fascinating thing about car design is that you do have these parameters, which challenges the design. I love the challenge. It is the job of the designer to think differently.

Nargess Banks

Read our previous reports on McLaren here.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
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Design and innovations from Geneva Motor Show

Earlier this month we attended the Geneva Motor Show. The annual event is a great place to observe the future of vehicle design, and even though the offerings are far less conceptual than they used to be, there remains a nice buzz leading up to the show.

The degree of innovation – be it in design, material use and manufacturing methods – is at the highest level in the automotive sector. It never ceases to astonish how much they have to deliver.

Cars are at once a combination of industrial design, product design, architecture, textile design, electronic design… they need to pass stringent regulations, be safe, move efficiently, be comfortable and practical to inhabit, connect our words. Some have to be dynamic, others need to be beautiful sculptures that stand the test of time. All neatly packaged in a relatively small object. It really is industrial beauty.

At Geneva we saw some pretty spectacular examples. McLaren’s 570 GT, for instance, has a refreshing purity of design where form expresses the car’s intention. Form follows performance was also at the heart of Bugatti’s highly exclusive new Chiron. And Aston Martin’s stylish DB11 also abides to this simple yet powerful philosophy.

Read the full review in Wallpaper*

We spoke with the design directors at all three marques. Have a read of what McLaren’s Frank Stephenson has to say on designing the 570 GT and the future of car design for the marque.

Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
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Jaguar explores new territories with F-Pace

The F-Pace is Jaguar‘s first sports utility in its 70-year history. Designing an SUV was not an easy task for a marque associated with a low, long and sleek vernacular, and with such a rich sports car heritage. ‘The customer wanted one,’ admits Ian Callum, ‘It is a practical car but with the spirit of Jaguar,’ adds the design director.

We’re in Frankfurt at the biannual international motor show. The previous evening the F-Pace proved its claim as the ‘sportiest SUV’ by breaking the Guinness world record, and defining gravity, on the largest ever loop the loop completed by a road car. Witnessing stunt driver Terry Grant race inside the 19.08m tall, 360-degree circle was pretty spectacular.

The F-Pace unveiled at Frankfurt is a production car closely based on the 2013 C-X17 concept study. It’s underpinnings are the marque’s lightweight aluminium architecture which has allowed the design team the freedom to create a car with ‘latent poise, a svelte car with attitude,’ smiles Callum.

‘Of course a crossover is vertically more challenging,’ admits Al Whelan as we caught up with him on the Jaguar Land Rover show stand, ‘but in many ways the intensive aluminium architecture helped us set up the building blocks,’ says the chief designer, adding, ‘You get this right, and the Jaguar traits follow from that.’

It also allowed for a roomier cabin. The F-Pace can accommodate five adults and there is a versatile 650/1740-litre cargo space. The doors come alive with Jaguar’s signature blue ambiance lighting, and the optional panoramic roof expands almost the entire length of the car suggesting a more spacious cabin.

This is a highly intelligent car too, featuring the marque’s latest 8-inch touchscreen and infotainment system, with an optional 10.2-inch InControl Pro system, which can connect up to eight devices to a wi-fi hotspot in the car.

Whelan sees most of the competitors in the small crossover category producing quite similar proportions, ‘long overhangs and short rear overhangs, and balanced looking side views,’ he says.

So, when two years ago the team came to envisage a Jaguar crossover with the C-X17 concept, Callum insisted on taking the marque’s most recent designs, in particular the DNA of the F-Type coupé, as inspiration.

Whelan explains they set out to create a unique typography with the F-Pace ‘with a long bonnet, lots of tension on the side view, and of course big wheels,’ he smiles. ‘The key was to keep it sleek and exciting and I think we have achieved this.’

The F-Pace is handsome in the metal – subtly translating the Jaguar form language to a car that by nature should defy this. Callum had asked his design team to embrace Jaguar’s sporting heritage, extract some of the theories from the evocative cars in the company’s rich back catalogue, and apply it to the F-Pace.

The overall vision was ‘for it to be softer, more refined, and more muscular interpretation,’ notes Whelan. ‘We introduced the two strong character lines from the F-Type coupé, the long front fender and the rear haunch… and it all started to work.’

Nargess Banks

A full report from the Frankfurt Motor Show was published in Wallpaper*.

Read more about Jaguar design here.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design

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House of Essex in picture

This is House of Essex, a fantasy world and a fusion of art and architecture. Overlooking the Stour estuary in north Essex, not so far from London, the building sits amidst Wrabness, awakening this otherwise sleepy village with its fantastically eccentric appearance.

There is something of Hansel and Gretel about this collaboration between architect FAT and the Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry for the Living Architecture series.

The building responds to its rural setting through its form and materials. The pitched roof references local farmhouses, whilst the structure has been clad with some 2000 bespoke ceramic tiles from originals created by Perry. The roof is adorned by three large cast aluminium roof sculptures designed by the two.

House of Essex is dedicated to a fictional character, a secular ‘saint’ named Julie Cope, conceived by Perry.

Despite its eccentric external appearance, the interior is a mix of domesticity and an exhibition space for Perry’s artwork and tapestries, created specifically for this project. Together they tell the story of Cope’s life and death.

Like all Living Architecture’s properties House for Essex is available to rent as a short-term holiday home.

Read about Living Architecture’s Single House here.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ | UK 

Design Talks is published by Spinach Design

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New Range Rover in Morocco

Morocco is a curious mix. On the one hand cities like Marrakech have become magnets for hipster travellers, chic boutique hoteliers, designer bars and restaurants. On the other is a vast, predominantly peasant land where donkeys, camels and beat-up minivans, packed dangerously high with cattle, form the main mode of transport. High-end luxury meets robust living in Morocco – qualities shared by the new Range Rover, launched here.

Now in its fourth incarnation, the car is, in the words of global brand director John Edwards, a ‘special blend of luxury, performance and unmatched all-terrain capability’. This more of less sums up this excellent modern-day interpretation of the Range Rover – a car that was introduced to us 40 years ago when the world was a very different place.


Morocco presents a perfect spot for some real life off-roading in a car that will probably spend most of its lifetime in the urban environment yet is clearly very capable away from smooth asphalt. We should know since for over an hour we’ve been driving uphill dirt tracks through the Atlas Mountains – a gust of red dust occasionally disrupting the crystal clear air. Sitting high and comfortably in our cool air-conditioned cabin we watch in silence as the dramatic Moroccan landscape unfolds before us. Few cars venture in these remote parts, which are mostly inhabited by the Berber tribes

Jaguar Land Rover engineers are so completely secure with this car that they are testing it in the real life sand dunes, rock-strewn dirt roads, rivers and now the high altitude Atlas on pretty hairy dirt tracks carved in the mountainside.

The previous night, over dinner at the Palais Namaskar on the outskirts of Marrakech, over a meal of foie gras delicately wrapped in chicken, head of Land Rover design Gerry McGovern told me: ‘As much as we love the current vehicle, it was time to replace it.’ Sitting side-by-side outside on the hotel drive, I can see his point.

At just under 5m long, the new Range Rover has a very similar footprint to the outgoing model, but it has a smoother and more streamline profile – the roofline has been dropped by 20mm helping the car appear smaller, more compact. The faster screen angles also improve aerodynamics, and with a drag coefficient starting from just 0.34, this is the most aero Range Rover to date.

‘Every surface, every line is there for a reason,’ Gerry tells me. For instance the vertical fins reduce the visual length of the vehicle, and the flourishes on the lamp make visual connections with the smaller Evoque. Land Rover is keen to create a visual connection between its ‘work horse’ Land Rover range on the one side and the more luxurious Range Rover cars on the other. This is very much at the heart of its product and design strategy.

In the Range Rover driver’s seat, the centre console is uncluttered and simple with a nice mix of digital and analogue gauges. There’s a double glovebox, roomy door pockets and even a little fridge in the centre console that fits four small bottles of water and a couple of chocolate bars, which has come in handy on this rugged road trip.

A longer wheelbase allows for 118m worth of extra legroom for rear passengers – ideal for markets like China where customers are more likely to be chauffeured around. There is also the optional two-seat Executive Class package, which Gerry likens to flying business class. ‘It is a fantastic environment,’ he muses.

On the road the new Range Rover has gone to a new level in terms of its handling and performance as we have been discovering here. This is a lighter and tougher car thanks to its all aluminium body structure – a first amongst SUVs. It helps saves 420kg in weight. The revised suspension is a huge improvement too, especially in its low-speed ride quality where you don’t feel smaller bumps and the new Range Rover is much more refined on the motorway.

‘We believe we’re a brand on fire,’ says Gerry. The designer isn’t exaggerating. Sales were up 46 per cent with record number of vehicles sold in the last 12 months. The small Evoque alone sold over 100,000 vehicles becoming the fastest selling Land Rover to date. Like the design or not, the car has clearly resonated with buyers and brought something like 85 per cent new customers to the marque!

‘The car shows how far our brand can stretch and I keep asking myself where are the other white spaces, and opportunities,’ he says. Though not officially confirmed, an even smaller Range Rover is planned, one that will sit underneath the Evoque. I cannot help thinking this too will introduce the brand to an even larger consumer base.

With sales scheduled to start in late 2012, the all-new Range Rover will be introduced in 170 markets worldwide.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read our earlier interview with Gerry McGovern on here.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | | | Published by Banksthomas

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