Why McLaren wants to start building Grand Tourers
March 07, 2019
Mike Flewitt on that new GT, all-wheel drive and why we might see McLaren back on the grid at Le Mans
Without wishing to sound trite, Mike Flewitt is very much a PHer's CEO. He swapped his F80 M3 for an M5, he races a Lotus Elan and his previous work includes time with TWR and Rolls-Royce. He clearly knows business as well, McLaren aiming at a ninth consecutive year of record sales, the new Longtails introduced to rave reviews and the Track22 plan continuing apace.
Given our surroundings when we sit down for a brief chat at the Geneva Motor Show, it makes sense to begin the conversation with new products; particularly the as-yet-unnamed Gran Tourer, having been revealed 24 hours prior as the fourth car in Track22's 15-model onslaught. Why has it happened? Two reasons, Flewitt says: "One, if you go all the way back to 12C and 650, we were producing a car that in a sense was trying to do everything. And as we've evolved, in addition to our mainstream cars like the 720, we've then introduced the LTs - much more focussed cars. But there is still a considerable demand for cars that aren't actually track cars, that are more road orientated." So it's the same level of focus, employed in a different remit; a junior Speedtail if you will. Flewitt sees the relationship between the 600LT and the Senna as like that between this new GT and the Speedtail.
While still a two-seater, we're told to expect more space for passengers and luggage, more luxury and comfort than we've seen in a McLaren, a new infotainment system (accompanied by a wry smile that suggests he understands the current shortcomings as well as anyone) and a price in the region of £165k - splitting the Sports and Super Series. Buyers should still expect a McLaren experience, though: "We're not moving away from the things we think define McLaren, but we are putting McLaren in a different position in the market." So it'll still be the lightest and sportiest car in its segment (with the best power-to-weight ratio, apparently), but occupying a different niche to usual, one Flewitt describes as "maybe not as intuitive a portion as McLaren building supercars." Hence giving it a new name and not pigeonholing it in a series, to better communicate the car's intentions - this is not a McLaren we're used to.
As for what the segment actually is, Flewitt says the Continental GT is "one of the defining cars of the sector", and also mentions the 911 Turbo and the 8 Series at a slightly lower price point. The McLaren, however, is said to be pitched more at the sports car end of the GT segment, "more like the 60s grand tourers, which were more sports car orientated than big luxury coupes." Sounds rather like McLaren's own M6GT of the time, then (you read it here first if that is the name...) We're not far off knowing it, either, the final sign-off drive taking place on March 14th, with cars going into production in a matter of months and deliveries in July or August.
So what about McLaren in motorsport? Both Mike and wife Mia race extensively, the former making no secret of his passion for four-wheeled competition. When the new WEC Hypercar rules are brought up, he says there's "definitely a desire" for McLaren to investigate the possibility, especially with Zak Brown (his equivalent at McLaren Racing) keen to expand the motorsport empire. "I'd like to see us do WEC... we're talking about it. If the regulations are there, such that the tech is relevant to our road cars, and the cars look like our road cars, or are derivatives of our road cars... The prototypes didn't really interest me, but if you go back to GT1 I adored that, like most of us did. So if we could go back to a world like that then I'd be very excited about that."
As for what the future holds for McLaren road cars, there's plenty more of note. Asked about how long hydraulic steering can stay in McLarens - because it's one of the best bits of the cars - Flewitt responds immediately and effusively: "I hope forever!" While EPAS was typically introduced for efficiency savings, the McLaren mantra under his leadership has always been to drive weight out rather than "corrupt our steering", which is music to PH's ears certainly. At present McLaren is working on a solution with suppliers that can hopefully retain the hydraulic assistance while permitting an electric intervention where required (as part of the legislation around active safety). Flewitt describes the steering as "one of the real pleasures" of driving the LT McLarens in particular, so is keen to retain it.
So the steering looks set to stay, but a solely rear-drive line up doesn't. While there will be no mechanical four-wheel drive McLaren, Flewitt reckons an electrically driven front axle could have benefits as hybrid tech advances further and regain improves. Not only does it keep them abreast of the competition in the supercar acceleration arms race, it also makes McLarens more attractive in markets with inclement weather. "I can see us getting there", he says of four-wheel drive.
Finally, with the incredible Koenigsegg Jesko shown at Geneva, and so much of the McLaren F1 mystique surely in its long-held position as the fastest car in the world, it seems worth bringing up speed records and the race to 300mph. "No" comes the simple response to whether there's interest in doing 300mph, Flewitt keen to emphasise the usability of McLaren's new fastest car - the Speedtail. It can do 250mph but it can also cruise to the opera, all without changing a thing. What a way to spend the day that sounds.
Clearly, then, there's a lot to be kept occupied by at McLaren Automotive currently - as an aside, MSO's work has tripled in the past two years - and Flewitt will be responsible for keeping sales high once the record years inevitably stop. Given the calibre of the cars being produced, and his ideas for further advancing them, there seems no reason to doubt its continued success.