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McLaren on course for 15 new cars by 2022

New or 'significant variants' in six years time - including hybrids - but no return for three-seat 'F1'

McLaren’s boss has been giving us more glimpses about the sorts of cars it will be making over the next half-decade. Hybrids will definitely be a significant part of it. A fully electric car? Just possibly. A ‘new F1’ three-seater? Not so much. Autonomous cars? Nope.

McLaren’s ‘Track22’ long-term plan covers all parts of the business – investment, sales, employment – but meeting the company’s CEO Mike Flewitt this week, it was the new cars that dominated the conversation. Track22 calls for 15 ‘new cars or significant variants’ by 2022. ‘Significant variants’ means, say, a Spider, or the lightweight track-focussed LT versions.

And yes, the LT sub-brand will spread to the ‘Sports Series’ (570S etc) soon. Also coming is a 570S Spider. And of course the whole ‘Super Series’ (650S, 675LT) will be replaced in the next few years.

The new Super Series cars will continue with the V8 engine. Says Flewitt: “Our M838T has many years development left.”

But without pausing for breath he goes on: “But by 2022 we will have a new powertrain architecture.”

Hybrids are vital to the company’s future. And that’s what this ‘new powertrain architecture’ is for. “Emissions are almost a secondary attribute. For us it must add to the attributes as a sports car. And by 2022, more than 50 percent of our cars will be hybrid.

“The new architecture integrates hybrid in an efficient way. It’s not just a bolt-on. The transmission is an important part of that.” Flewitt says it’s downsized, but won’t be a four-cylinder. Our money’s on a V6, then.

Then he gives the real electric shock. The end of combustion: “Beyond that, and I wouldn’t give you a date, we will all be driving EVs.”

And McLaren, unsurprisingly, wants to build the McLaren of electric cars. “An electric car isn’t included in the 15 cars in our plan [to 2022]. But I would love to do a limited run. And that means you would want it to be truly exceptional so it would be in the Ultimate Series.” Something as revolutionary and as drastically exciting as the P1, in other words.

“When we present an electric car it will be the most exciting sports car we have ever made.” Bold words.

McLaren is building a test mule for a full-electric car right now. But it’s strictly an experimental project, not a production prototype. “Batteries and re-charging and motors and software are moving fast, and that’s exciting. It pushes the supply base. But we have to take it and engineer it for our market. It will be more than seven years before we launch a standalone EV.

“We would use the limited edition car to get feedback on how our customers use their cars. And where they charge them. Customer acceptance is as much a factor as our ability to do this. You need 300 miles range.”

But it’s not just range on the road. Take an EV on the track and its batteries are flat in no time. “Most electric sports cars now can only do one lap of the Nürburgring.” But Flewitt, a frequent weekend track driver himself, says 10 minutes isn’t enough. “I would like to see a track capability of 30 or 40 minutes.”

And it’s not just about plain numbers, however impressive those numbers might be. “It has to be exciting. You have to be able to feel engagement, vibration and sound. I don’t like fakery: I want authentic noise. The stereo playing a V8 would be crap.”

Recently we’ve had a few conversations with McLaren people about what level of driver assistance is appropriate for a supercar. “I can see an evolution in autonomous capability to enhance safety,” says Flewitt. But not fully autonomous McLarens.

“We are not in the transport business. We are in the entertainment business. If cars that you drive yourself just become recreational vehicles that’s OK with us. It’s going back to how supercars used to be. A Lamborghini Miura wasn’t transport – you couldn’t drive to work in it. It’s only recently that supercars became reliable enough to be transport as well as entertainment.” He points out that a century ago the car killed the horse as transport, but not as recreation. “There are 2 million horses in the UK and I bet few of them are used for transport.”

So that’s the future. What about reviving McLaren’s past? For years there have been rumours of some sort of three-seat revival, in a nod to the great F1. Some say the three-seat layout is something McLaren’s MSO bespoking division could tackle.

Flewitt pours cold water on the notion. “We have to make a profit and it’s expensive for MSO to do a new chassis.” And it’s hard to see how the existing carbonfibre tub and front chassis structure could be modified to take three seats and a central steering column and pedals. “I regularly get asked for a V12, a manual gearbox and three seater. And I don’t have six unused chassis numbers from the F1. We are a forward-looking company. We love the F1 like everyone else, but we’re not doing another F1.”

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