( If I could just work out the financing..... )
Driving The Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren
Ordinarily, a race car is a terrible place to be. It is hotter than
Arizona in July, the G-forces at work while the car is in motion are
sickening, and sitting in the cockpit is like being buried alive in a
But DaimlerChrysler's (nyse: DCX - news - people ) $453,000 SLR McLaren
supercar is as comfortable as the typical race car is deathly. It is,
literally, the Mercedes-Benz of race cars.
The purpose of the vehicle is to put Formula One technology in an
accessible, comfortable vehicle. The SLR McLaren is part race car, part
typical Mercedes model. Forbes.com recently traveled to Le Castellet in
the south of France to test-drive the car at a promotional event. For
driving impressions and more information on the vehicle, please see the
slide show that follows.
The SLR McLaren, which arrived in May 2004, is selling "extremely
well," according to Klaus Nesser, chief executive of Mercedes' Maybach
and SLR divisions. Mercedes only publishes SLR sales at the end of the
year; in 2004, it sold 45 SLRs in the U.S., the car's biggest market.
In comparison, Porsche sold 207 models of its $440,000 Carrera GT
supercar, the SLR's main competitor, in the first seven months of 2005.
However, Mercedes was ramping up the SLR's volume in 2004, and Nesser
said he expects the car will soon catch up with the Porsche.
See the SLR McLaren slide show.
The SLR will take longer to meet its financial targets than its sales
goals. Nesser declined to reveal Mercedes' investment in the
project-a collaboration with legendary racing house McLaren, which is
both a British race car builder and Mercedes' Formula One partner-and
said he could not say when the SLR would break even. He did say
Mercedes will have paid off its investment in the model by 2008 or
2009, when it plans to end its production.
Mercedes owns 40% of McLaren, and the future for street-legal models
built in collaboration between the two companies is unclear. Some
reports have said the SLR will be the only road-going car the companies
build together, and when asked about the possibility of another vehicle
line, Nesser said, "At the time, it's not being discussed."
But while an entirely new Mercedes-McLaren vehicle may not happen for a
while-or ever-what is likely to materialize is a derivative of the
SLR. The companies are considering building an even higher-performance
version of the car-a version explicitly for amateur racing.
"Yes, we want that," said Nesser, and "we could easily provide that."
He said the derivative could have such modifications as a lowered
suspension, new tires and ten to 20 extra horsepower. However, Mercedes
will not discuss this potential model in detail or make a decision
about building it before next year. First, the company wants to meet
with SLR owners at the end of 2005 or in early 2006 to determine their
In the meantime, the SLR offers a staggering driving experience. Almost
no other cars can touch either its sticker price or its performance
chops, which come from such extravagant features as a supercharged,
617-hp V-8 engine, which-as you might imagine-is a blast to
control. But we won't spoil the fun just yet. Please follow the link
below to participate in the experience of a lifetime: a ride in the SLR