Jolyon Nash, McLaren’s Executive Director of Global Sales and Marketing, who previously held senior roles at BMW SA , Volkswagen SA and McCarthy. Picture: SUPPLIED
Jolyon Nash, McLaren’s Executive Director of Global Sales and Marketing, who previously held senior roles at BMW SA , Volkswagen SA and McCarthy. Picture: SUPPLIED

One may rightfully wonder how McLaren plans to top the two most recent cars it has launched: the Senna, its ultimate track-based driver’s car; and the 403km/h Speedtail, which represents the brand’s speed-chasing apogee.

But the British firm is far from ready to rest on its laurels. It plans to launch 18 new models or derivatives over the next six years, Jolyon Nash, McLaren’s executive director of global sales and marketing, told us at the recent SA unveiling of the Senna.

The car, named after Brazilian Formula One legend Ayrton Senna who won all three of his titles at the wheel of a McLaren, was unveiled at the soon-to-be-completed new 8,000m² Melrose Arch showroom of local McLaren importer Daytona. Six of the 500 Senna units being built have been reserved by SA buyers, with two of the 75 track-only GTR derivatives.

Based on the 720S, the carbon fibre-bodied Senna is fired along by an uprated 4.0l twin-turbo V8 engine with outputs of 588kW and 800Nm. Apart from its 340km/h top speed and ability to erase the 0-100km/h sprint in 2.8 seconds, the Senna’s main focus is to achieve faster lap times through its lightweight design and high down-force.

“McLaren creates the most engaging and exhilarating cars you can drive,” says SA-born Nash, now based at McLaren’s headquarters in Woking, UK, as the right-hand man to McLaren Automotive CEO Mike Flewitt.

The Senna, snapped here at its South African launch, is the most extreme lap time-chasing McLaren yet. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The Senna, snapped here at its South African launch, is the most extreme lap time-chasing McLaren yet. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

“The Senna is the ultimate track car that’s still (just) road legal, and that’s why we named it after the greatest driver of them all.”

The Senna’s controversial styling, a busy concoction of scoops and wings, has divided opinion, however, and we asked Nash how the public and customers have taken to it.

“It’s received a generally positive reaction, once customers saw it in the ‘flesh’. Everything is about function and down-force. The car has 800kg of down-force at 250km/h! I think it’s beautifully aggressive, like a Lamborghini Countach in its day,” he says.

So what about the new Speedtail, which has similarly generated love-hate reactions to its radical design? At 5.1m it’s longer than a BMW 7 Series and is shaped like the “streamliners” that once set world speed records, complete with front-wheel covers to reduce air turbulence.

The new Speedtail is 403km/h of aero-massaged car. It's the spiritual successor to the legendary McLaren F1 of the 1990s. Picture: SUPPLIED
The new Speedtail is 403km/h of aero-massaged car. It's the spiritual successor to the legendary McLaren F1 of the 1990s. Picture: SUPPLIED

“There was a great deal of surprise when images of the Speedtail came out, but reaction has been very positive overall,” says Nash. “People understand the reason for the styling. You look at a Speedtail and know what it’s for.”

Indeed. With its claimed 403km/h top speed, this hyper-GT, as the company classifies it, is the fastest road-legal McLaren to date, beating even the legendary 391km/h McLaren F1 of the 1990s. Like the F1, the three-seater Speedtail has a central driving position, diagonally flanked by two passenger seats.

Along with those front-wheel aero covers, the Speedtail also has active rear ailerons to make the car slip even more efficiently through the airstream. As with the McLaren F1, only 106 units of the Speedtail will be produced, all of which are already reserved by buyers at £1.75m (R32.5m) plus taxes.

Cool, but how do you top the Senna and the Speedtail, which represent the apexes of their respective lineups?

“That’s the challenge for our engineers,” says Nash, without going into details about the 18 new models on McLaren’s drawing board between now and 2025. The brand already has three product families: Sport, Super Series and Ultimate Series, including track-based LT (Longtail) and GTR evolutions.

However, he did say that most of the upcoming cars will be hybrids, a concept McLaren has already explored with its P1 petrol-electric 350km/h supercar. A topless 720S is also set to be launched on December 8.

Nash slammed the door on any talk of an SUV, however, despite rivals such as Ferrari, Lamborghini and Aston Martin going down that volume-chasing rabbit hole.

“It’s just not in our brand DNA,” says Nash. “We’re about lightweight sports cars. It’s not just a power race but a weight race, and an SUV is the antithesis of that. And we don’t need the volume; our production will peak at 6,000 units a year.”

Speaking of volumes, the brand has been churning out many different models since the founding of McLaren Automotive in 2010. The MP4-12C barely got a chance to stake its claim in the supercar world before it was replaced by the 650S, which in turn was quickly superseded by the 720S. Don’t such short product cycles affect resale values?

“Yes, the shorter lifespans did affect resale values, and we’ve now settled on five years, which we feel is an appropriate life cycle for a supercar, ” he concedes.

So what about an electric McLaren?

“We’re looking at the possibility of that, but not right now where battery technology is today. We need a car that can do a minimum of 30 minutes on a race track, and we may have batteries that can achieve this in the not-too-distant future. Also, the sound is important, and a McLaren electric car would need to be truly exhilarating and engaging.

“Our philosophy is to focus on the drive, and our customers tend to buy our cars mostly for how they drive; I think more so than other brands. McLaren customers tend to do more mileage and more track days than with other brands,” he says.