The announcement by McLaren that it plans to open a new factory in England to build carbon-fiber tubs for its future models was pretty much ignored in the excitement of the 720S debut. But that doesn’t mean the news isn’t important; after all, the new factory indicates that change is coming to the way McLaren’s cars are made.
McLaren’s tubs have been made in Austria by contractor Carbo Tech, but the company has decided that its next-generation models will switch to a more flexible architecture, with the tubs set to be made in the aforementioned new facility in Sheffield, England, which will employ 200 people. Every modern McLaren road car has been built around basically the same structure, but the new platform will offer vastly more flexibility.
When we spoke to company CEO Mike Flewitt at the Geneva auto show, he confirmed that the new tub will be much easier to adapt and even to resize.
“It’s going to evolve,” he told us, adding that it is “lighter and stronger, and there’s more opportunity for different forms and different packaging.”
The ability to move hard points, which are fixed on McLaren’s current platform, surely will help McLaren package different powertrain configurations. Chief among those powertrain options is McLaren’s forthcoming hybrid powertrain, which will need space for batteries and an electric motor that will assist a V-6 engine.
But beyond that, things get very interesting, with Flewitt admitting there’s the possibility to do different-size McLarens and maybe even extra seats. While the company is already working on a three-seater, the McLaren F1–inspired BP23, we could see models with either fewer or more chairs.
“We’ve had people internally speculating about a single-seater as a track car,” he told Australian publication Wheels. He told us: “Would we go to a two-plus-two or a four-seater? I think I wouldn’t rule it out, although it isn’t on the plan today. But as the brand grows, maybe. If you look at the 570GT that we launched last year, it’s a superb GT car. In that segment, maybe there’s scope to grow and offer more occupant space.”
EV Development Continues
Work is continuing on McLaren’s EV prototype, with the plan to build a single test mule to gauge reaction to the idea of a combustion-free Macca.
“It’s not a prototype for a production car at this stage; it’s literally a mule to develop attributes,” Flewitt told us. “We’re trying to understand the emotional characteristics of a car like that. We could copy Tesla and build a very fast electric car. Some of the acceleration figures for [the Model S] aren’t far from a 720S. The key is making a car that’s as exciting as a 720S. That’s where the challenge lies.”
Flewitt confirmed it is possible that McLaren will produce this EV mule and then decide it’s not the right step for the brand, although he hopes that won’t be the case.
“I’m an optimist,” he said, adding: “I’m sure we’ll be building EVs one day, I’m just not sure we’ll be building only EVs. Enthusiasts will always have a desire for the internal-combustion engine, but how the mix ends up is really hard to call.”
No Dumbing Down
McLaren definitely won’t produce higher-emitting or less clean models, even if CAFE standards are relaxed in the United States. “A one-world set of standards would make our lives so much easier,” Flewitt said. “The U.S. and Europe have long been different on emissions, on crash, on a whole number of things—and that makes life much more complicated for us.
“We build a very small volume so we build, as near as possible, one car. To have an increasing number of standards around the world adds complexity and cost.”
While stressing that he didn’t want to give a “political answer” to the potential of relaxed U.S. fuel-economy standards, Flewitt said they won’t change his company’s direction. “We’re not going to start dumbing down the technology or moving backward on emissions or efficiency just because one market does. Absolutely not.”