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McLaren’s 2021 hybrid supercar will barely match Tesla’s 4-door sedan at 0-60

McLaren plans to hybridize its next-generation supercar with an electrically driven front axle, allowing it to hit 0-60 times of 2.3 seconds, down from 2.7 for its current model, according to CEO Mike Flewitt, as reported by Car and Driver. The car is planned for a 2021 release.

While an improvement, this will roughly match the 0-60 performance of Tesla’s P100DL, which was first released five years earlier, in 2016.

McLaren also plans to hybridize its entire lineup in the next three or four years. They will use a plug-in hybrid system with 15-20 miles of all-electric range.

There are other performance metrics than 0-60, but the reason we are focused on 0-60 here is because it was the only one mentioned in the Car and Driver interview.

Undoubtedly, McLaren’s next supercar will have a higher top speed than the Tesla Model S and will be faster around a track due to its smaller size. Also because the Model S, so far, is not designed to be tracked anyway (though that may change soon).

Flewitt believes that lithium ion batteries are currently too heavy to support all-electric supercars. He also thinks they are too expensive, despite McLaren’s propensity toward $1 million price tags.

While batteries are heavy, there are performance benefits that can be had. They allow for a lower center of gravity and reduced polar moment of inertia. They reduce rair intake required, which allows a more aerodynamically efficient shape. They can also help free up packaging space for designers to work with to make the car more beautiful or functional.

Also, they don’t burn fossil fuels that kill millions of people worldwide per year. We leave it as an exercise to the reader to decide whether that is a good or bad thing.

Flewitt states that he’s waiting for solid-state batteries to be commercialized in 2023-2025, expecting a battery breakthrough that will allow for more performance with lower weight.

That new technology is likely to be “expensive” at first, and besides, that isn’t really how battery technology develops. Batteries have been improving in density by roughly 5%-10% per year for several decades, and this trend shows no sign of stopping. A big breakthrough isn’t coming, just a series of small continual improvements, as is the case with most technology.

Despite those heavy batteries, Tesla’s future sports car, the next-generation Roadster, plans a 1.9 second 0-60 and a “250 mph+” top speed, even with 200kWh worth of heavy batteries (which, honestly, is too many). This car is likely to directly compete with McLaren’s next offering.

McLaren says the lithium ion battery in their next supercar will add about 65 pounds of weight to the car. Car and Driver suspects that the car will use a smaller V6 engine paired with this hybrid tech, rather than their current V8s, which will remain in use in high-end models.

Engines are also heavy, and McLaren has decided to put the gas engine over the rear wheels, in a traditional mid-engine configuration.  Generally, supercars use this configuration because keeping the weight near the center of the vehicle is beneficial (polar moment, mentioned above).  Also, it’s more important to have weight and power over the rear wheels for performance reasons, since a vehicle’s weight shifts backwards during acceleration.

This means that the electric motors will go on the front axle, where they can offer less performance benefit.  All-wheel-drive helps keep the car stable and can help launch a car faster, but what you really want is power on the rear wheels at low speed if you want a good launch.

Pairing electric motors with the rear wheels would work better for this purpose, as the strength of electric motors is low-end torque, whereas the strength of gas engines is high-end sustained power for high top speeds.

Electric motors on the front wheels will be helpful, but indicate that McLaren considers them as an afterthought, rather than integral to the design. The same happened with the BMW i8, which has an underpowered gas engine on the rear axle and underpowered electric motors on the front. As a result, the car is not nearly as fast as it looks.

The Koeniggsegg Regera, in contrast, uses only its electric motors during low-end acceleration and doesn’t even turn on the gas engine until it reaches 30 mph. On that car, electric motors are on the rear axle, just where they belong.

The interview doesn’t mention price, but McLaren’s current offerings start at about $200,000 on the low end and can go up to $1 million for their top-end V8 Senna.

Electrek’s Take

Hybrids have been around, and on sale to the public, for 20 years now. Twenty years. Yet McLaren, a company that prides itself on being on the forefront of technology, will only finally catch up with the technology of the 1999 Honda Insight in 2022 at the earliest, per the timeline given above.

McLaren builds Formula One cars. Formula One has had hybrid systems (KERS) since 2009. McLaren’s highest-performance vehicle, their F1 car, has used hybrid systems since then.

McLaren also made the P1, a plug-in hybrid supercar which came out in 2013 and later set a great Nurburgring lap time. Many outlets reported that the P1 had set an all-time lap record for a production car, which was true, but the P1 technically did it on the shorter 20,600m version of the course.

The all-electric NIO EP9 set a lap 2.7 seconds slower, but on the 20,832-m-long configuration. Correcting for the difference in track lengths, the EP9 — made by a company with nowhere near the motorsport history of McLaren — went slightly faster than the P1 over the full lap.

And McLaren’s current hypercar, the Senna, which costs $1 million and is not a hybrid, has not set a Nurburgring time. Generally, manufacturers do this when they don’t think the time will be good enough to set a record, so we can assume that the all-electric EP9 and plug-in hybrid P1 are faster than the Senna (prove us wrong, McLaren).

So why are they selling us old gasoline technology as if it’s the best thing available? Who would pay $1 million for a McLaren Senna with last century’s technology and nary a battery to be found? Not for performance reasons, at least. Maybe for the rumble. But then you’ve just got a $1 million set of speakers.

Other British marques have figured it out. Lotus’ next effort will be the stunning Evija, an all-electric 2,000 hp hypercar. The body design is gorgeous and functional, with really awesome airflow passthroughs for cooling and improved aerodynamic efficiency with new shapes that can only be made on a molded carbon fiber body (rather than stamped, like metal bodies are).  And Lotus is famous for lightweight design, pioneering the concept with Colin Chapman’s “simplify, then add lightness” philosophy.

Why can’t McLaren do that? Don’t give us hybrids 20 years too late. Give us something electric – or at least where electric is integral to the design, rather than an afterthought. Quit it with the fossil-fuel nonsense. It’s well past time for that.

This is as if China announced it was going to modernize its communications infrastructure by installing 56k modems all throughout the country. McLaren, you’re better than this. Quit with the hybrids and ditch the 6-cylinder anchor you’re planning to put in your next car.

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Avatar for Jameson Dow Jameson Dow

Jameson has been driving electric vehicles since 2009, and has been writing about them and about clean energy for since 2016.

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