Rob Melville â€“ The Man with a Dream Job
â€œIâ€™m in heaven,â€ Robert Melville says with a laugh. Yet while Rob â€“ as everyone calls McLarenâ€™s English chief designer â€“ adopts a self-deprecating undertone, we feel as though weâ€™ve entered a parallel universe. The McLaren Technology Center is an impressive combination of ultra-modern white spaces with huge glass expanses and a multitude of incredibly cool cars in bright colors. Even if weâ€™re not in heaven, it certainly feels as though weâ€™ve been beamed into the future. Located in Woking, 25 minutes outside of London, the McLaren Technology Center is much more than simply the McLaren headquarters. It is a state-of-the-art technology hub, initiated by Ron Dennis, former McLaren team leader and now group partner, who wanted to create a base for every one of the makeâ€™s business units. A place where passion fuses into cars and people are given the necessary space to realize the highest achievements in the world of sports cars.
But itâ€™s not just about racing cars. A lesser-known fact is that road cars are created and produced here as well. In 1993, the company built its first road car, the McLaren F1. 106 cars were manufactured before production ceased in 1998, and the rare vehicle is still sought-after among car connoisseurs and enthusiasts. Both Tesla founder Elon Musk and â€œMr. Beanâ€ are rumored to own one. Between 2003 and 2009, McLaren Automotive collaborated with Mercedes and built another model, the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren; the model, however, never became very popular and so the collaboration was dissolved. Ever since, road cars have been developed, produced, and marketed under the name McLaren, and the new models are extremely successful. The MP4-12C â€“ the production model to ring in the new era â€“ was presented to the public at the 2009 Geneva Motor Show, with a delivery date scheduled for two years later. The model was a great success, and the product family has grown constantly ever since. While other makes name their car models after women, cities, or winds, McLaren simply refers to the horsepower and adds a couple of letters, depending on the edition. The company only manufactures limited series, in part because the available resources are finite but also out of a desire that a McLaren should remain an unusual sight on the road.
Many of the models, with an asking price of approximately 180,000 euros, canâ€™t immediately be identified as a McLaren, but Rob doesn't consider that a bad thing. The chief designer sees this more as a challenge and an inspiration: â€œWeâ€™re a young brand when it comes to road cars. But the make has a long history, international prestige, and above all, buckets of reputation. A good foundation to build on.â€ He sees his role as his personal dream job or, as mentioned at the beginning, his heavenly job. And Rob takes his job â€“ seriously, very seriously. Nevertheless, he doesnâ€™t take himself so utterly seriously. While others in his position might slightly lose their grasp on reality, Rob comes across as a totally normal guy, with both feet planted firmly on the ground. He is fun to interview, especially as his answers have obviously not been rehearsed. And Rob doesnâ€™t categorically refuse to speak about his personal life either. Which is a good thing.
After all, this is where everything started some 40 years ago: Robâ€™s passion for detail, his curiosity to find out what makes things work. â€œAs a small boy, I remember spending most of my days outside observing and watching things,â€ he tells us. â€œThe way water flows, how animals move, â€“ Iâ€™ve just always been extremely interested in how things work.â€ Later he started taking a closer look at cars, planes, and motorbikes. Clearly, his future course to study design was set early on â€“ and it was also no great surprise that his career path led to the automobile industry. Prior to signing with McLaren in 2009, Rob was employed at General Motors, where he worked on their Hummer and Cadillac models. â€œHowever, I always wanted to have more freedom in my designs, so the offer from McLaren was like winning the jackpot,â€ is how he explains his decision to switch. But the career move certainly was also because, at McLaren, he can celebrate his passion
This is evidenced by a glimpse in the carâ€™s interior. Absolutely anything that is not strictly necessary has been left out. This allows new drivers to get in, have a look around, and theyâ€™re ready to go. Whereas other sports cars first have to be analyzed in terms of thousands of buttons, umpteen levers, and a touch (and sound) display, effectively ruining the driving pleasure before starting the engine, in a McLaren, drivers have everything they need at their fingertips. No more, no less. To quote Rob: â€œOur road car is easy and quick to understand. After that, thereâ€™s nothing to hold you back from having a carefree driving experience.â€
Rob Melvilleâ€™s workplace is also at the Technology Center, but there are no individual offices in sight. â€œWeâ€™re a big family. Everybody communicates with everybody,â€ he says. â€œWe all work with the same passion and do everything to make the personality of the McLaren brand come to life in every single detail of the car itself or in our marketing.â€ He explains that the team members donâ€™t keep secrets from each other â€“ just from the public. And that only until they are truly convinced that everything is as it should be. As a team, they discuss all aspects of a car â€“ the shape, the material, and every single curve. For instance, the desired feel of acceleration demands that the materials are as light as possible. Which is why a huge amount of effort was put into making the car seat, which now weighs only about five kilos. Currently the main materials theyâ€™re using are titanium and carbon, but Rob is sure â€œthat many new materials will still emerge that are even better.â€
The moment when he, as chief designer, finally gets to see the final version is always an emotional occasion for him. â€œActually, itâ€™s not a moment; it lasts longer,â€ Rob says. Just as he allows himself time during the development phase, he allows himself the time to savor this pleasure. â€œYou walk around the car, you touch it and feel extremely proud,â€ is how he describes the experience. â€œItâ€™s not just the wow effect, because obviously I also observe the reactions of the others. Itâ€™s a unique moment.â€ When asked about his contribution, what you might call the Melville stamp, Rob says his focus lies on giving each car its individual psychology. This comes to the fore through the functionality he values so highly.
Rob Melville has no fears that car fans or his superiors wonâ€™t like his designs. â€œAs a designer, you always want to deliver the best. And you are your own biggest critic,â€ he says. â€œA new model every year is certainly a big challenge. But one that Iâ€™m happy to take on.â€ Not least because he still hasnâ€™t lost his childlike enthusiasm for how things work. Itâ€™s a passion he appears to have passed onto his three children. Rob believes it is very important to ensure that the â€œgang,â€ as he calls his children, learn to live and experience life fully. And this includes visits to Dadâ€™s workplace. â€œYes, my kids think I have a cool job and they like coming here and looking around.â€ At home he doesnâ€™t have a McLaren parked in the garage. â€œTo drive my family around, Iâ€™m better off with our Honda,â€ he says and laughs. â€œI get enough opportunities at work to step on the gas pedal.â€ Which brings us back to the start of the interview â€“ when he said he felt like he was in heaven. A statement most people would concur with.
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