Britain's McLaren opened its first car dealership in mainland China on Thursday, hoping to sell the country's wealthy elite its Formula One-inspired vehicles for up to $2.1 million apiece.

China has become crucial to luxury car makers, as a growing number of super-rich with an urge to flaunt their fortunes pay enormous sums for a single vehicle.

The Shanghai showroom is in the centre of China's commercial hub, not far from other luxury car dealerships including Britain's Rolls Royce and Italy's Lamborghini.

Among the models available, the top-of-the-line P1 is listed at 13 million yuan ($2.1 million), while the 12C Spider will go for at least 3.7 million yuan, a salesman said.

McLaren, based in Surrey in southeast England, says its high-performance sports cars are based on the knowledge it has developed from decades of Formula One racing.

"Our biggest advantage... is the technology content of the car. From a technology point of view, McLaren has some features that no competitor brand has," the company's Asia-Pacific regional director Mirko Bordiga told a news conference.

Analysts said McLaren would find a market in China despite its high prices.

"Wealthy Chinese tend to pursue more sophisticated and differentiated goods for consumption," said John Zeng, general manager of LMC Automotive Consulting (Shanghai) Co.

"Top global brands never lack enthusiasts in China. I think this is a fundamental reason for its entry."

McLaren's Shanghai showroom will be followed by others in Beijing, Chengdu in the southwest and Guangzhou in the south, company representatives said, with another eight dealers to come in smaller cities next year.

"China definitely has potential for McLaren," said Bordiga. "I think China can levitate up to 10 percent of the total worldwide sales (for the company)."

McLaren sold more than 1,400 vehicles globally last year, 80 percent outside Britain, according to a company statement.

The independent Hurun Report has estimated that China's millionaires typically own at least three cars per family, typically a business and personal car for the chief earner and another for the spouse.