Currently reading: McLaren primes electric super-SUV for launch by 2030
Woking to follow rivals in chase for big profits; new high-riders will be electric-only

McLaren is working on a brand-new high-performance crossover – a project that directly contradicts its previously declared intention of only ever building supercars and hypercars.

The new crossover, on course to hit the market in the second half of this decade, will be a fully battery-electric proposition, not a hybrid, and will never be available with a combustion engine.

McLaren is understood to be eyeing a single model to begin with, but past practice suggests different specifications and power levels will be offered in time, similar to the Aston Martin DBX.

The new McLarens are believed to be relatively low, compact, dual- or tri-motor, four-wheel-drive designs offering exalted performance levels likely to match the recently launched Aston Martin DBX 707, currently billed as the world’s fastest SUV.

Their size and complexity, plus the cost of what will undoubtedly be top-end battery technology, are likely to push prices well beyond the £250,000 level of McLaren’s current production sports cars, perhaps closer to £350,000.

McLaren’s radical change of heart about crossovers is undoubtedly a result of the sales success of its rival performance brands, whose existing crossover and SUV models already heavily outsell their lower-slung models and generate most of their profits.

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For example, Porsche delivered more cars than at any point in its 91-year history in 2021, with the Porsche Macan SUV and larger Porsche Cayenne together accounting for well over half of its 300,000 sales, while the Porsche 911 sports car accounted for just 38,464.

It’s a similar story for the Lamborghini Urus SUV, outsold the Huracán supercar in 2021 at a rate of around two to one.

The DBX made up half of all Aston Martin global sales in the same period, its first full year on sale.

Even Ferrari, easily the most profitable supercar manufacturer of all, is within months of launching its own crossover, the Purosangue (above), although that will appear at first powered by a normally aspirated V12.

Perhaps the clearest guide to Woking’s changed intentions is the imminent arrival of a new CEO, Michael Leiters, a German engineer who spent more than a decade at Porsche overseeing the gestation of the highly successful Cayenne and Macan SUVs, then joined Ferrari in 2014 as chief technical officer – ideal timing for the design and conception of the Purosangue

His predecessor, Mike Flewitt, who presided over McLaren’s successful first decade, was the executive most often quoted on the company’s lack of interest in crossovers and SUVs.

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He stepped down abruptly and without explanation late last year, about the time a new management team was installed to run the wider McLaren Group.

Although McLaren’s planners are undoubtedly well aware of the success of high-performance crossovers that are already in production, insiders say the company is determined to stay true to its well-established traditions of performance efficiency through compactness, light weight and sophisticated aerodynamics.

This is understood to entail waiting for promised improvements to batteries – specifically the reduced size and weight and improved energy density promised by solid-state technology (once hailed as a “game-changer” for lightweight performance cars by Flewitt) – that will most likely be available from around 2028.

At present, McLaren has no official comment about its crossover plans, although insiders have acknowledged “an appetite for the idea”.

The company is believed to have its hands full with the imminent launch of the long-delayed Artura plug-in hybrid supercar while it awaits Leiters’ arrival early in July.

Recent trademarks filed by McLaren, however, hint at a continuation of the naming theme established by the latest additions to the ranks (Speedtail, Senna, Elva, GT and Artura), which have shunned the numerical designations Woking had used since launching the McLaren MP4-12C in 2011.

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Most recently acquired by McLaren are trademarks for the names Solus, Aonic and Aeron, the latter meaning ‘mountain of strength’ and therefore potentially best suited to a larger and more lifestyle-friendly model.

What do we know about McLaren's new boss?

New McLaren CEO Michael Leiters will bring a slightly paradoxical skillset to Woking, having spent a combined 21 years at two of the world’s most revered and competitive sporting brands but coming away arguably best known for his work in introducing family-friendly SUVs to their ranks: the Porsche Cayenne and the Ferrari Purosangue.

“I’m convinced on this car and the technical concept,” he said of the latter, batting back any suggestion that it wouldn’t be a true Ferrari and thereby demonstrating a keen awareness of the need for sports car manufacturers to diversify.

But despite the push to usher in more mainstream models, Leiters remained committed to preserving enthusiast-friendly, highly strung engines for use in specialist performance cars.

Speaking to Autocar recently about the future of Ferrari’s hallowed V12 in the electrified era, he said: “I personally believe we have to fight for this engine. From a technology point of view, it’s not the most efficient. A V8 turbo could be better in terms of performance, but from an emotional point of view, it’s the best you can have.”

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Not that he was blind to the benefits of electrification, previously telling us that “you gain a lot” dynamically with the addition of an electrically driven front axle and that the lack of sound can sometimes be a boon: “Even though you want to have so much power for certain moments, you don’t always want the sound. If you leave early in the morning, you don’t have to make a racket.”

Crucially, though, given McLaren’s predilection for lightness, Leiters is an ardent advocate of minimising kerb weight. “It hurts,” he said, to install a 250kg hybrid drive component in an electrified supercar, but he added that extensive use of carbonfibre and keeping the centre of gravity ultra-low (both already Woking specialties) can help to minimise the impact on vehicle dynamics.

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manicm 16 June 2022
I don't want to say I told you so.....
JJ 15 June 2022
The big question would be whether they pull off being first to market, with a carbon-tubbed SUV: one radically lighter than its rivals, size for size.
Having moved their carbon tub production in-house, perhaps there's an opportunity for this?

Being lighter than the competition would be a great USP.
It may not appear strictly necessary right now, from a sales perspective, but by 2030 it might be needed, because of how crowded the sector could be.

bol 15 June 2022

I like the thoughtful addition of a nice big pocket in the door to keep the charging cables.