Mclaren remains focused on making pure driving cars
Mark Smyth talks to McLaren Automotive CEO Mike Flewitt about the company’s plans - and its thoughts on the SUV bandwagon
McLaren sales rose 43.9% in 2018 with 4,806 models hitting the world’s roads. Those are impressive numbers but in line with the company’s Track 22 strategy, there is much more to come.
We spoke to the man in charge of this renewed drive for the British sports carmaker, CEO Mike Flewitt about new models, plans for electric vehicles, the challenges and whether the brand will join rivals in creating a sporty SUV.
Flewitt announced at the recent Geneva International Motor Show that McLaren is going to make its first grand tourer (GT), something that we said we would put money on the company building after driving the 570GT back in 2016. That car was not a proper GT, but a slightly more everyday version of the 570 meant to gauge customer opinion on a future model.
“I think when you say McLaren today people think pure supercar, but we have pure supercar, we have extreme supercars like Sennas and LTs and we have slightly less extreme, more road focused, more luxury like Speedtail or the grand tourer we’re bringing in,” he said.
“We’ll make the most compelling, best driving, lightest grand tourer in the segment. The engineering we have lends itself to doing that.”
But what about creating a SUV to rival the likes of the Porsche Cayenne, Lamborghini Urus and upcoming Ferrari SUV? Flewitt does not see it happening, at least not in the medium term.
“When you look at an SUV, it doesn’t fit with the brand today. Could we stretch to that, well maybe one day, Porsche did after 50 years of making sports cars and competing in motorsport and all the rest of it. We’re only seven years in, it would not be brand enhancing, it would be brand diluting in my view.”
So far he has been adamant it will not happen, but he’s realistic about where the industry is going.
“It would be a foolish guy who said never ever ever, but not in the next five or 10 years would be my view. Beyond that point I don’t know what it would be. It could well be if we ever make an SUV it'll be an autonomous EV SUV because that may be where technology is by the time people are interested in that,” Flewitt said.
For now the company remains focused on what it does best, making pure driving cars.
Right now he is focused on what many British carmakers are focused on, Brexit. Yes, the dreaded B-word, but Flewitt is keeping a level head about it all.
“Even I as a rabid car enthusiast I have to keep things in perspective. People won’t be worrying about being able to buy a McLaren if they can’t get food or can’t get medicine. One has to assume, I used to say assume, I now say hope or pray, that common sense will prevail here. We’ve got amazing trade relationships across Europe — are we really going to destroy that? It’s not as if someone can win here — everybody loses.”
“We’re going to have a partnership with Europe, we just need to work out what the rules are,” he said
“I liked trading as part of the EU. As a manufacturer, as someone who manufactures in the UK and exports nothing could be easier for me. But we are where we are.”
In the meantime, McLaren is continuing to invest in new models and new technology, particularly when it comes to future drivetrains.
“We are going through an evolution in terms of engines effectively, drivetrains, so you don’t have to go back that many years ago and we were looking at naturally aspirated V12 engines. We’ve come to low capacity, turbocharged V8 engines and we are moving into hybridised powertrains and I do believe as that journey goes on, you get to electric powertrains either with chargeable batteries or fuel cells or whatever. I don’t know what that timescale is yet.
“For us the powertrain is part of what delivers the attributes, delivers the excitement of the vehicle. It isn’t there for its own right. There are companies that set up as an electric car company and their whole reason to be is they’re an electric car company.
Our reason to be is to build great driver’s cars and these powertrains are a means towards building great driver’s cars. It’s not that I’m agnostic about it, we’re actually quite excited and emotional about what goes on, but it has to build a better car, we wouldn't do something for the sake of it.”
“We’ve said we will hybridise all of our Sports and Super Series, which is 90% of our production I guess by 2024 so we’re going to progressively introduce hybrids right across the range.”
But what about electric vehicles (EVs)?
“The next step of EV is the challenging one for us, so at the moment the power-to-weight equation for batteries isn’t appropriate for the kind of cars we make, so there are faster cars out there but if you drove them like we drive supercars, if you took them on a track you’d have very little range indeed, you might have a couple of laps.”
“I think battery technology will start getting there from about 2025 onwards. My forecast is that by 2025 I doubt there’ll be 5% of the new car sales that’ll be EV. But how you get there with the emotional engagement I think is going to take a bit longer.
“We’ve built electric cars, we’ve got an electric mule vehicle, a modified 12C running round, pure EV, helping us understand some of those considerations that we need to manage,” Flewitt said.
So when could we expect an fully electric sports car wearing the illustrious McLaren badge? “I have no idea, I wish I could, it’s 2050, probably, but if you start working back from there the rate of change is really hard to predict.”
Another thing that is hard to predict, is McLaren’s role on the race track. It’s had a great start in GT championships, but Formula 1 is proving challenging at the moment.
“We will build on our position from last year and start to become competitive again. It’s a long hard road. Motorsport I always think is at the heart of McLaren. The road car company is 90% of the group today, but there is something about the competitiveness of motorsport that does inspire us all.”