New mod­els to keep McLaren in the fast lane

IN­TER­VIEW/ Jolyon Nash talks to De­nis Droppa about driv­ing ex­hil­a­ra­tion, con­tro­ver­sial styling, and re­sale val­ues

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

ne may right­fully won­der how McLaren plans to top the two most re­cent cars it has launched: the Senna, its ul­ti­mate track-based driver’s car; and the 403km/h Speed­tail, which rep­re­sents the brand’s speed-chas­ing apogee.

But the Bri­tish firm is far from ready to rest on its lau­rels. It plans to launch 18 new mod­els or de­riv­a­tives over the next six years, Jolyon Nash, McLaren’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of in­ter­na­tional sales and mar­ket­ing, told us at the re­cent SA un­veil­ing of the Senna.

The car, named af­ter Brazil­ian For­mula One leg­end Ayr­ton Senna who won all three of his ti­tles at the wheel of a McLaren, was un­veiled at the soon-to-be­com­pleted new 8,000m² Mel­rose Arch show­room of lo­cal McLaren im­porter Day­tona. Six of the 500 Senna units be­ing built have been re­served by SA buy­ers, with two of the 75 track­only GTR de­riv­a­tives.

Based on the 720S, the car­bon fi­bre-bod­ied Senna is fired along by an up­rated 4.0l twin-turbo V8 en­gine with out­puts of 588kW and 800Nm. Apart from its 340km/h top speed and 0100km/h sprint in 2.8 sec­onds, the Senna’s main fo­cus is to achieve faster lap times through its light­weight de­sign and high down-force.

“McLaren cre­ates the most en­gag­ing and ex­hil­a­rat­ing cars you can drive,” says SA-born Nash, based at McLaren’s head­quar­ters in Wok­ing, UK, as the right-hand man to McLaren Au­to­mo­tive CEO Mike Fle­witt.

“The Senna is the ul­ti­mate track car that’s still [just] road le­gal, and that’s why we named it af­ter the great­est driver of them all.”

ODIVIDED OPIN­ION

The Senna’s con­tro­ver­sial styling, a busy con­coc­tion of scoops and wings, has di­vided opin­ion, how­ever, and we asked Nash how the pub­lic and cus­tomers have taken to it.

“It’s re­ceived a gen­er­ally pos­i­tive re­ac­tion, once cus­tomers saw it in the ‘flesh’. Ev­ery­thing is about func­tion and down-force. The car has 800kg of down-force at 250km/h! I think it’s beau­ti­fully ag­gres­sive, like a Lam­borgh­ini Coun­tach in its day,” he says.

So what about the new Speed­tail, which has sim­i­larly gen­er­ated love­hate re­ac­tions to its rad­i­cal de­sign? At 5.1m it’s longer than a BMW 7 Se­ries and is shaped like the “stream­lin­ers” that once set world speed records, com­plete with front-wheel cov­ers to re­duce air tur­bu­lence.

“There was a great deal of sur­prise when images of the Speed­tail came out, but re­ac­tion has been very pos­i­tive over­all,” says Nash. “Peo­ple un­der­stand the rea­son for the styling. You look at a Speed­tail and know what it’s for.”

In­deed. With its claimed 403km/h top speed, this hy­per-GT, as the com­pany clas­si­fies it, is the fastest road-le­gal McLaren to date, beat­ing even the leg­endary 391km/h McLaren F1 of the 1990s. Along with those front-wheel aero cov­ers, the Speed­tail also has ac­tive rear ailerons to make the car slip even more ef­fi­ciently through the airstream.

As with the McLaren F1, only 106 units of the Speed­tail will be pro­duced, all of which are al­ready re­served by buy­ers at £1.75m (R32.5m) plus taxes.

Cool, but how do you top the Senna and the Speed­tail, which rep­re­sent the apexes of their re­spec­tive line-ups?

“That’s the chal­lenge for our en­gi­neers,” says Nash, with­out go­ing into de­tails about the 18 new mod­els be­tween now and 2025. The brand al­ready has three prod­uct fam­i­lies: Sport, Su­per Se­ries and Ul­ti­mate Se­ries, in­clud­ing track-based LT (Long­tail) and GTR evo­lu­tions.

How­ever, he did say that most of the up­com­ing cars will be hy­brids, a con­cept McLaren has al­ready ex­plored with its P1 petrol-elec­tric 350km/h su­per­car. A top­less 720S is also set to be launched on De­cem­ber 8.

Nash slammed the door on any talk of an SUV, how­ever, de­spite ri­vals such as Fer­rari, Lam­borgh­ini and As­ton Martin go­ing down that vol­umechas­ing rab­bit hole. “It’s just not in our brand DNA. We’re about light­weight sports cars. It’s not just a power race but a weight race, and an SUV is the an­tithe­sis of that. And we don’t need the vol­ume; our pro­duc­tion will peak at 6,000 units a year.”

Speak­ing of vol­umes, the brand has been churn­ing out many dif­fer­ent mod­els since the found­ing of McLaren Au­to­mo­tive in 2010. The MP4-12C barely got a chance to stake its claim in the su­per­car world be­fore it was re­placed by the 650S, which in turn was quickly su­per­seded by the 720S. Don’t such short prod­uct cy­cles af­fect re­sale val­ues?

“Yes, the shorter life spans did af­fect re­sale val­ues, and we’ve now set­tled on five years, which we feel is an ap­pro­pri­ate life cy­cle for a su­per­car.”

So what about an elec­tric McLaren? “We’re look­ing at the pos­si­bil­ity, but not right now where bat­tery tech­nol­ogy is to­day. We need a car that can do a min­i­mum of 30 min­utes on a race­track and we may have bat­ter­ies that can achieve this in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture. Also, the sound is im­por­tant, and a McLaren elec­tric car would need to be truly ex­hil­a­rat­ing.

“Our phi­los­o­phy is to fo­cus on the drive, and our cus­tomers tend to buy our cars mostly for how they drive; I think more so than other brands,” he says.

Left: The Senna is the most ex­treme lap timechas­ing McLaren yet. Be­low left: Jolyon Nash, McLaren’s Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of Global Sales and Mar­ket­ing, who pre­vi­ously held se­nior roles at BMW SA , Volk­swa­gen SA and McCarthy. Be­low: The Speed­tail is 403km/h of aero­mas­saged car.

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