McLaren toys with EVs, but ‘can’t find a way to do it’ — yet
But it’s struggling to make its silent sizzler a better sports car
Electric vehicles (EV) might have the headline numbers in straight-line sprints, but most of the world’s exotic car makers have yet to turn them into supercars.
It’s not for want of trying and among them is McLaren.
The British supercar maker has been secretly working with a pure battery-electric vehicle (BEV) test supercar for more than 18 months and expects to make a full electric-powered supercar or hypercar.
But, its CEO Mike Flewitt recently revealed, it doesn’t know when that might be.
"EV is a tricky one. We do have an EV mule car," Flewitt says. "We are working with it not so much on the powertrain but to ascertain whether an EV can have the same emotional characteristics that a car we use today can.
"The answer at the moment is that we can’t find a way to do it, so we are going to keep working at it," he says.
McLaren’s only dabble with electrification was with the P1 hypercar in 2012. That car ran a 542kW/720Nm twin-turbo V8 boosted by a Kers-style 131kW/ 260Nm electric motor, all driven through the rear wheels.
McLaren isn’t the only traditional supercar brand not seeing a clear path to EVs. Ferrari hasn’t exactly dived into the EV realm either, electrifying the LaFerrari for the same reasons as the P1 and stubbornly resisting suggestions of an EV in its future.
Porsche probably has an EV supercar coming around 2022-23 on the back of the Mission E’s BEV architecture, but it will be more 928 than 911 GT3 RS. Lamborghini has at least shown an EV concept car, the Terzo Millenio, but much of the stunning carbon monster is hypothetical dreaming rather than a heads-up for future production.
The most convincing EV hypercars haven’t come from traditional European sources, but from Chinese startup Nio, and Croatia’s radical Rimac.
"I only really want to do it if it’s going to be a better sports car," Flewitt insisted.
"It’s difficult to say if it’s three years or five years or seven years but I believe it will come."
There is no provision for an EV supercar in McLaren’s current business and product plan, which stretches out to the early stages of 2024.
"The technology from a powertrain point of view isn’t there yet to do a car like a 720S or a P1 or a 670 LT, but I believe it will come," Flewitt says.
"Now, again, we might get mandated. That would change things for us."
While he refused to go into detail about the pure EV test car it has been pounding around Britain’s test tracks, he insisted it is a pure research exercise and not bound for production.
"We have only had it for 18 months or something like that," he says. "What we are working towards is a very large (percentage), if not 100% of our cars eventually being hybridised. And hybridised cars can give you a level of EV range that can hopefully meet city range limits for zero emissions but still give you the excitement of the cars we have today.
"So (we are) heavily invested in hybrid, kind of unsure about the next step into full EV. I’m not saying we’re perfect, but we’ve given it a lot of thought."
If and when the step to EVs comes for supercars, McLaren doesn’t expect to be diving in as a leading battery or electric motor developer. Flewitt doesn’t see that as the brand’s job.
"There are things that we really focus on, like aerodynamics, like lightweight materials, like chassis features of the car," he says. "And there are things we don’t, and we just accept that we will buy them, like batteries and electric motors.
"We have great suppliers and we are happy to let them, and for the market they’re developing for, frankly, they’re going to do a better job of it than we could."
Tesla, a suggested rival with a theoretical sub two-second Roadster on its planning books, makes its own batteries in a vertically integrated supply structure that no other car maker seems interested in copying. Including McLaren.
"For me a battery should be a battery. You go pick the battery you want for the application you want," Flewitt says.
"For us to start designing and working on the chemistry of the cells for our kind of volume doesn’t feel like it’s going to make economic sense to us."