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McLaren Spin Out

One of my main areas of interest is cars. Although unfortunately my current (and most likely, future) financial position means I can’t afford a supercar, I do drive a reasonably fast cheap car (a twin turbo Subaru) and keep up with the latest car news and trends.

Maybe the supercar manufacturer I admire most is McLaren. That’s because they produce brilliant cars, including what is arguably the greatest car ever, the F1 (produced in the 1990s). I admire the F1 so much that I wrote a blog post specifically about it, titled “Favourite Things 4” and posted on 2013-02-17.

Recently there was a convoy of McLaren cars touring New Zealand, which included an F1 which had an estimated value of $20 million! Unfortunately the cars didn’t reach my home town so I didn’t get to see them, and the F1 was actually involved in a fairly serious crash just a couple of days ago.

The organisers of the tour claim the driver wasn’t exceeding the speed limit, but skid marks 80 meters long were found near the crash site. Now, I haven’t tried this, but my car (which as I said has good performance but obviously nowhere near that of the F1) can stop from the speed limit in less than 40 meters. So it seems to be that the driver of a car capable of 4 times our speed limit (yes, that is 400 kph or 240 mph) might have been going just a tiny bit faster than 100. And who could blame him? I know I certainly would be!

But the really intersting aspect of this event, and the thing which encouraged me to write a blog post, is the way McLaren handled the accident. They were on the scene fairly quickly offering large sums for photos, and covering the car with a cover, the name badges with tape, and then removing it as quickly as possible. I thought the protection of their corporate image was bit over the top.

And it’s not the first time. McLaren make another car called the P1 (yes, I know their names aren’t so inspirational) which is one of the “holy trinity” of modern, hybrid supercars (the other two being the Porsche 918 and the Ferrari LaFerrari). Car enthusiasts have wanted a comparison of these cars for years but McLaren has been uncooperative.

To be fair, so has Ferrari, threatening owners with having their cars confiscated if they allowed them to be used in a comparison race. I know, could you make this stuff up? Only Porsche seem to be fairly relaxed about having their cars used however the owners wanted.

One common measure of performance, car enthusiasts often use, is Nurburgring lap times. McLaren did this test but never released the result. The Porsche 918 has the best recorded time for a standard road car (there are better times but they are for open-wheel, quite specialised cars). Again, McLaren seems to be playing corporate games.

The first episode of “The Grand Tour”, the new program featuring the hosts of the old Top Gear, managed to test all 3 cars and found the Porsche was the fastest and the McLaren the slowest. Of course, this was a rather informal test on a specific track with a specific driver, so we shouldn’t read too much into it. But it is an indicator that the P1 isn’t quite as good in real life as it should be. I do have to say that even though the Porsche and Ferrari were faster, the P1 was still incredibly fast, and not far behind the other two.

Now to move on to my more general point. There are obvious parallels between Apple and McLaren. In fact, recently there were talks between the two and a rumour that Apple wanted to buy or invest in McLaren in some way. At the very least they both represent great engineering and premium pricing. And while they both represent great products they also both suffer from questionable corporate ethics.

So people ask me as an Apple fanboy (I use Apple computer products almost exclusively) and as a fan of McLaren cars, what I think of them as corporates. Well, like almost every corporation (or maybe that “almost” isn’t necessary): they suck!

I have a theory (which is based around my personal political biases rather than any real empirical evidence) that there are two types of big business: successful ones, and moral ones. For anyone who works in IT you just have to choose which immoral corporation you will tolerate. And for any car fan you have to choose which products you like while trying to ignore the corporate malfeasance shown by the manufacturer.

There is no doubt that large corporations do achieve some excellent results, and that some projects do need extensive teams that only larger organisations can provide, but I can’t help but think that things would be even better if the power of the corporates was significantly curtailed. I think things have gone a bit too far towards greater dominance by corporations.

We don’t really need that. We don’t need dodgy tax deals, we don’t need dominant companies forcing their inferior technology on us, and we definitely don’t need any more corporate spin!

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