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McLaren starts its engines in China

Jonathan K. Li | CNBC

British supercar manufacturer McLaren opens its showroom doors in China on Monday as it races to catch up with global rivals in the world's second-largest luxury car market.

McLaren Automotive, which builds the £1 million P1 supercar, is entering the country as part of an aggressive drive to ramp up its Asian presence to 13 dealerships this year and hopes the region will account for a third of its global sales in future.

Mainland China has become a key market for luxury marques such as Ferrari, Lamborghini and Bentley. In spite of a recent slowdown in economic growth, the country is expected to overtake the US as the biggest premium car market by the end of the decade.

(Read more: Luxury auto market sizzles in August)

"China is one of the most exciting and dynamic markets in the world where we will make every effort to be well received," said Ron Dennis, McLaren chairman. "Our entry into China . . . represents a significant milestone in the development of the company."

The Woking-based manufacturer, which last year sold 1,400 cars and exported 80 per cent of its production, is targeting 10 per cent of future sales to come from China.

McLaren's growth is part of a resurgence in the UK car industry, written off at the turn of the millennium but now roaring back as a global leader in high-end manufacturing.

With European car demand hit by the continent's economic gloom, China and other emerging markets such as Russia and India have become crucial battlegrounds for high-end car brands targeting the emerging world's newly minted rich.

(Read more: Auto leasing surges to record high)

Ferrari, which entered mainland China in 2004, sold around 350 cars in the country in the first six months of the year – about 10 per cent of its global deliveries. China is Lamborghini's second-largest market, after the US.

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"Entering the Chinese market is both a huge honor and a major opportunity for McLaren Automotive, and it highlights the continued development of the company," said Mike Flewitt, chief executive.

China will be the 27th retail market for the carmaker, which has been ramping up its sales footprint in Asia this year, cutting the tape on dealerships in cities such as Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney.

(Read more: Auto rebound bittersweet in auto towns left behind)

Indonesia and Malaysia are set to follow before 2014 as part of a concerted effort since 2010 to expand McLaren's brand beyond Formula One racing and into sports cars sold globally.

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