- The CEO of British supercar manufacturer McLaren, Mike Flewitt (pictured with the 765LT), is stepping down after eight years in the position.
- While at McLaren, Flewitt was known for being straightforward with the media, and one of the points he made clear was that the company would not follow in the footsteps of other elite carmakers such as Ferrari and Aston Martin in developing a sport-utility vehicle.
- Flewitt's abrupt departure appears to have opened the door for a super-SUV that could be the company's savior, given the company's financial difficulties and the disappointing results of the GT and Elva.
We're not here to watch the soap opera that is the top of the auto industry; we're here to look at the automobiles themselves. As a result, you'll find us reporting the specifics of executive arrivals and departures only infrequently. However, a change in leadership can signal a much more significant shift, and although we only have half of the story so far—British supercar maker McLaren has confirmed that CEO Mike Flewitt is leaving, but has not revealed who will take over as CEO permanently—we suspect that there is something more going on in the background here.
Generally speaking, journalists liked Flewitt, a no-nonsense Liverpudlian who spent the majority of his career at Ford before joining McLaren in 2011. He was unafraid to speak his mind and to go further in interviews than his public relations managers would have liked him to; that there would be an LT version of the 720S on the same day the basic car made its debut was a fine example of this infectious enthusiasm. McLaren's CEO, Sir Frank McLaren, made an oft-repeated promise that the company would never build an SUV or anything remotely similar to one.
That pledge elicited a great deal of positive response. It appeared to be a low-risk strategy at the time, when sales of McLaren's carbon-fiber supercars were soaring and the company was still in the process of growing. However, as rival luxury automakers began to introduce their own super-utes, Flewitt's promise began to appear more like a gamble, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic struck and McLaren's global sales plummeted. After a cash-flow crisis forced the company to cut 1200 jobs and raise cash against its space-age headquarters, the company narrowly escaped bankruptcy.
An analogy could be drawn between McLaren's crisis and the one currently being experienced by another British luxury player, Aston Martin, which was also suffering from declining sales and revenues. At the time, Aston was on the verge of running out of money while developing its first SUV, the DBX, and was also attempting to raise the funds necessary to build a series of mid-engine supercars to compete with the likes of McLaren, Ferrari, and Lamborghini. However, Aston Martin also had a relationship with Mercedes-Benz, a relationship that has grown much closer in recent years, thanks to the appointment of Tobias Moers, a former AMG executive, as the company's CEO.
There is no such relationship between McLaren and Ferrari. Insiders at the company have told C/D that a technical alliance with a major German automaker, believed to be BMW, had been discussed for some time but had not materialized. McLaren and its beleaguered shareholders have therefore had to bear the enormous costs of developing its next-generation models, which will be built on a new carbon-fiber architecture, as well as the hybridized V-6 engine that will power the first of these models, the Artura, which will be introduced in 2015.
The Artura was originally scheduled to arrive in 2020, but its introduction has been postponed until 2022, presumably due to the engineering challenges associated with bringing such a complicated vehicle to market. Sales of both the McLaren GT, a fine car that is categorically not the Bentley Continental rival that it was originally described as, and the roofless, screenless Elva have been disappointing, as have sales of the Elva. Following Flewitt's abrupt resignation, technical leadership has been transferred to McLaren Group director Michael Macht, who previously served as Porsche's CEO, and other responsibilities have been transferred to executive chairman Paul Walsh while a permanent full-time replacement is sought.
It appears that the selection of a new boss will herald a shift in the organization's direction. Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini, and Aston Martin have all introduced SUVs, which are currently the best-selling models in their respective companies' lineups of vehicles. Even Ferrari is planning to create something very similar in the form of the Ferrari Purosangue, which will be released later this year. We can admire Flewitt for defying the current trend, but we would be surprised if his successor did not choose to reverse that decision, especially given the possibility of moving directly to a fully electric SUV based on someone else's platform in its place. In fact, Lotus has stated that it intends to license its forthcoming "lightweight" electric vehicle platform, which will support 800-volt architecture and produce vehicles capable of going from zero to 62 miles per hour in less than three seconds.
Matt Becker, Aston Martin's chief chassis engineer, was recently hired by McLaren, which was a happy coincidence in itself. He appears to be an ideal candidate to take another British luxury brand into a more sports-utilitarian direction, given his experience in developing the DBX in the first place.
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