How McLaren aims to rebuild supercars for EV era

HEADLEY DOWN, England — There is nothing quite like the roar of a revving McLaren engine to set a car fan’s pulse pounding, or the full-throated scream as it tears across the tarmac.

Yet new gasoline-fueled engines like McLaren’s could be illegal in many countries by 2030. The supercar maker, like all automakers, has to go electric – but that is easier said than done for a niche player that cannot compromise the performance, and racing experience, that supports its rarefied pricing and exclusivity.

McLaren could probably produce a full-electric vehicle tomorrow, said Ruth Nic Aoidh, the British automaker’s executive director for purchasing. But the weight of today’s batteries “would kill all of the attributes that make a McLaren a McLaren”.

So instead, Nic Aoidh says McLaren is taking more time to rethink the way it builds vehicles from the wheels up. It is also looking to overhaul its business model, to generate revenue from selling some of its new technology to other automakers.

The people it ultimately must keep happy are affluent enthusiasts like Steve Glynn, who make up McLaren’s base.

A racing driver, Glynn teaches others how to drive their supercars around private tracks, where the combination of raw speed and precise handling separate McLarens and Ferraris from cars that cost a tenth as much.

Glynn just bought his fourth McLaren, a black 620R, in January. He declined to say what he paid for it, but the 620R starts at around 250,000 pounds ($346,000).

“I’m a petrolhead through and through, but I think we have to accept the future of electrification beckons everyone,” he said at his home in Headley Down, a village in southern England less than hour’s drive from McLaren’s Woking headquarters.

“But an electrified McLaren would still have to put that same smile on your face.”

Even for deep-pocketed behemoths like Volkswagen Group, developing electric vehicles is an expensive proposition that is taxing their capital resources.

Other smaller premium automakers such as VW unit Bentley or Tata Motors’s Jaguar Land Rover, which both plan to electrify their model lineups by 2030, can rely on their owners’ financial backing to make the switch.

But for niche manufacturers like McLaren, lack of scale is a major challenge. Last year McLaren said it would cut 1,200 jobs – more than a quarter of its workforce – as it dealt with fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

McLaren’s cars start at around 120,000 pounds and range up to 750,000 pounds. It sold 4,662 vehicles in 2019, but thanks to pandemic shutdowns the company said in November its 2020 sales would hit around 1,700 cars and its revenue could fall by up to half.

McLaren will reveal some of its progress toward it electric ambitions with the Artura, a hybrid model, launching on Feb. 17.

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