Mike Flewitt: “I’m not against SUVs. They are just not what McLaren does.”
WEST SUSSEX, England — McLaren Automotive is planning a powertrain transformation. The British automaker, synonymous with throaty V-8s, is in the early days of exploring a full-electric vehicle that could arrive by 2025. It is part of an ambitious plan to convert McLaren’s sports car and supercar fleet to hybrids by 2025 as the auto industry prepares for tighter emission standards around the world.
During last month’s Goodwood Festival of Speed here, McLaren CEO Mike Flewitt, 56, spoke with Staff Reporter Urvaksh Karkaria about the automaker’s electrification plans and global expansion outlook.
Q: What’s moving McLaren toward an all-hybrid fleet and eventually an all- electric supercar?
A: China is very aggressive about emission standards. The world is going in that direction. I think legislation will drive us in that direction, and we need to be ready. The only way we can meet emission standards at the performance we want is to be hybrid. There’s no other way.
As it stands at the moment, we don’t think the battery technology will be ready until 2025 to give us what we want in terms of performance. A McLaren EV has got to be usable. It shouldn’t be that we offer a powertrain solution that compromises. It won’t just be lower emissions, it’ll be a better sports car. We’ve set ourselves half an hour full-on track use. You need to be able to do that without recharge, and when you come in and recharge it needs to recharge in 30 minutes.
Lamborghini has entered the white-hot crossover/SUV market. Why is McLaren against going down that path?
I’m not against SUVs. They are just not what McLaren does.
An SUV is hugely expensive to do. We wouldn’t have the shared engineering that you need to have the kind of business model that supports what we do.
When we decide to do a product there are three simple tests: It has to be right for the brand and right for the customer base, we’ve got to have the technology to do the best car in class and we’ve got to make money.
An SUV starts to reduce the purity of the brand as a supercar driver’s brand. Secondly, we don’t have the technology. Can you imagine from a standing start if we wanted to go out and do a better car than a Range Rover, or a Cayenne — the billions we’d have to invest? Third, therefore, is we wouldn’t make any money. So it doesn’t tick any box.
McLaren will launch a successor to the P1, its gasoline-electric hybrid hypercar introduced five years ago. What can we expect from the new vehicle?
The P1 shocked the world. It was a 900-horsepower car, light, lots of aero, incredibly compelling to drive. I think it was a huge step over anything that was there.
The P1 successor has got to be significant again. I think it’ll come from a combination of things — driving dynamics, software controls, powertrain technology.
We are going to want a lightweight, high-performance, super aero-car that’s going to do things only race cars could do in the past. And also be a great car to drive on-road.
McLaren built about 3,300 vehicles last year, and plans call for producing 6,000 a year in 2025. What’s driving the increased production?
Our cars are always going to be very exclusive products. If you looked at how many cars we sell in the U.S. and the U.K., that isn’t going to change. What is changing is that a lot of new markets are opening. We’re selling cars into markets that you didn’t sell sup-er-cars to 10-15 years ago.
A few years ago, when we announced the P1, we sold 38 cars in China. That market has changed dramatically. Our growth in Asia, apart from China, has been superb. Taiwan is one of our best markets. Thailand is doing well. Korea has been a huge success since we went in there. We’re having a study done on India and Russia right now about market size, about the access to the market.
In India, you’ve certainly got enough high-net-worth individuals and enough car enthusiasts. What you don’t have there is a road structure for really enjoying these cars.
North America is McLaren’s largest market, accounting for about 35 percent of sales. What effect might the Trump administration’s proposed 25 percent tariff on auto imports have on McLaren as a low-volume luxury automaker?
I am probably more worried today about the threat of tariffs into North America than I am about Brexit. My goal in life is completely free trade. What happens when you see tariff duties change is the market tends to stop while it understands what’s happing, to digest what the new world is. I don’t want that interruption in our business.
In the initial phase, we’ll probably have to absorb some of the tariff-related price increase, so it harms our profitability. We’ve got to see what happens with competitors. We’ve got to see what happens with any negotiation that comes after it and then determine what the right course is. Inevitably, some of the price increase will flow through consumers eventually.