The late cancellation of the Geneva Motor Show caused huge disruption for the carmakers who were planning to launch new models there. But it didn't actually interfere too badly with the usual press day round of media interviews with top-level executives. So although McLaren boss Mike Flewitt was sitting in Woking rather than Switzerland when I spoke to him on Tuesday, and I was at home with a nice cup of tea, I asked all the same questions I would have face to face.
The inability to launch the 765LT to potential customers at Geneva led to a hasty plan B - with both an online unveiling and with would be buyers invited to visit McLaren Technical Centre to see the car up close. Flewitt admitted the decision to switch back to limited production numbers - just 765 will be made - was due to some confusion caused by the time limited approach used for the 600LT.
"I'll be completely honest, we were trying something new with that car," he says, "With 600LT we found it really difficult to predict what the market demand for that product would be, we knew we were constrained by the available time for production - and Porsche operate a strategy very successfully with their GT cars of not limiting the volume but communicating it's only available for a limited time. We took that approach and frankly it didn't resonate as strongly in the market as when we've defined a volume, so that's what we've done with 765LT - defined the volume, communicating that and numbering each car."
There are still 765LT slots available - this hasn't been one of the McLarens that sells out on (or before) day one - but Flewitt says early response has been "overwhelmingly positive".
The other still-fresh product announcement to talk about is the Elva, the roofless, screenless 'Ultimate Series' hypercar we were told about late last year. Flewitt admits to being surprised by the sudden arrival of some very similar-deal rivals.
"Ferrari were first with the Monza, and we didn't see that coming," he says, "we thought we'd done something innovative, something unique."
Now there are two other similarly minimalist offerings, both of which were meant to be unveiled at Geneva, Bentley with the limited-to-12 Bacalar and Aston with the V12 Speedster.
"This speedster market place is a little more overcrowded than we'd like," Flewitt says, with a nice line in understatement, "it's a busy part of the market and I think the reality is the market is softer in that segment than it's been in prime years," he said, "so it's a slightly more difficult time. We've sold out production for the back end of this year and we're taking orders for the residual production in 2021, but we're not 100 percent sold out."
Next, electrification. McLaren is already committed to a fully hybridized range of road cars, with the new part-electric Sports Series getting close. So how does Flewitt feel about the British Government's decision to pull forward the abolition of internal combustion from 2040 to 2035, and also to include hybrids within it?
"It was a surprise, and not a particularly nice one, we need to work through and makes sense of it now," he says, "moving 2040 to 2035 was aggressive, and then including hybrids was obviously much more so. I see it as a vision by the government, there's no plan underpinning it in terms of infrastructure of technology at this stage. To eliminate sales of all vehicles with an internal combustion engine by 2035 is incredibly ambitious to me."
Flewitt says that McLaren will be lobbying for hybrids to be excluded for longer, but also acknowledges the company will probably still be working on cars using at least some combustion power for certain territories after these have been banned in other areas: "I've always thought that with EV rollout we would see different market segments responding at different speeds - it does suit small commuter cars pretty well. And other sectors like ours responding a little later. And I also think there will be geographic differences with some markets like probably China pushing aggressively, other markets having a more relaxed timeframe. Add all that together and you've got a mixed powertrain strategy for the next 20 or 30 years."
The problem being, as Flewitt is quick to point out, that McLaren's sales volumes mean the company's strategy is based around having a single platform, which is going to become much harder if they need to offer substantially different powertrain options, some of which require the accommodation of sizeable battery packs.
Bringing us to the question of how long until we will see a pure electric McLaren - and the related one of whether McLaren has been tempted to follow the lead of Lotus and Rimac into creating an EV hypercar.
Flewitt confirmed that work on the P1 successor is already underway. "After Elva we won't have any more vehicles in that segment until the next-generation P1, which will be out circa 2024," he said, "we haven't announced the powertrain for that. Obviously looking forwards it will either be hybridized or EV."
Bringing us to the "but". "I like EVs, I've driven them quite a lot lately and for regular use they are responsive, refined and have incredible performance," Flewitt said, "but the charging times are really restrictive. Take the 765LT as an example - we know a lot of customers are going to take that to the track. If it was an EV you'd be looking at maybe 30 seconds of running time and then plug it in until the next day. That's not a persuasive position."
For the last few years one of the regular fixtures of a Flewitt interview has been asking him about SUVs so he can deny that - unlike pretty much everyone else in this part of the market - McLaren is considering one. Rather than fall into that cliché I opt to try a slightly different version: as the world changes will McLaren get the point of having to do something that isn't a two-door, two-seat supercar?
The answer is similarly forthright. "I think that's a no," Flewitt says, after a few seconds of thought, "I think at the kind of numbers we have right now, 4500 to 5000 cars a year, that's a good volume. And as long as we're staying true to our core, which is supercars, there is going to be good global demand for that - we're seeing demand growing. We can be consistent with the brand, get good returns, invest in new technology and move it forwards. That's not to say that at some point we wouldn't want to grow the brand, grow the business, take some of our technical strengths into other areas. But there are no plans currently."
Presumably such discussions have been had, though? How does Flewitt persuade shareholders and board members that they really don't want to join this fancy party?
"We've had conversations at the board level and I've explained the realities," he says, "if we want to go into luxury SUVs then the reality is moving the brand to a whole new segment with a whole new customer base to win over. We'd be investing in all-new technology - it's not like Lamborghini and Bentley being able to use a platform that exists within the Volkswagen Group - we'd be starting from scratch. It would be a billion dollar investment to do it properly for which you wouldn't earn a return."
Or, in short, stick to what you know - a strategy that seems to be working well for McLaren.
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