McLaren Says Hybrid Powertrain Was the ‘Best Compromise’ For P1

In order to build the absolute best performance car it was capable of turning out, McLaren said it chose a hybrid powertrain for its $1.15 million – and already sold-out – P1.

In previous reports we’ve heard that European and U.S. CO2 and mpg mandates were driving such supercar efforts – Ferrari’s La Ferrari and Porsche’s 918 Spyder are also hybrids – but for McLaren going hybrid was all about the fewest compromises.

This we learned in an interview last week in New York with McLaren Automotive product planning head Jamie Corstophine.

In short, Corstophine said the 903-horsepower P1 with its 176-horsepower electric motor can deliver all the low-end torque one would hope for, while also spooling up a high-end rush from its 727-horsepower twin-turbocharged V8.

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“We looked at a number of differnt powertrain solutions for P1,” said Corstophine. “We just concluded that the one we’ve delivered with the car is the best compromise of technology, weight, performance response.”

Drivers of the Tesla Model S, and other EVs, frequently talk about prodigious torque as afforded by the electric motor which has 100-percent torque on tap from zero rpm.

This same advantage was merged into the P1, said Corstophine.

“If you’ll excuse the pun, what’s electrifying about the car is the fact that you’ve just got this amazing response, throttle response, and the car in no way feels like a turbocharged car,” he said.

We asked then does this mean McLaren could not have “shoehorned in” any other internal combustion engine and achieved the same result?

Corstophine said no.

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However, he said, don’t expect to see another McLaren hybrid next year, or the year following, or really, until further notice.

“We were very, very strict with ourselves on the P1 program. If we were going to put the system in the car it was going to have to bring a benefit in terms of outright performance as well as response rate,” he said. “And we achieved that with P1 but it was a challenge and we had to really push our suppliers and actually develop our own components ourselves along with our partner company McLaren electronics.

“You can only do that at a certain price point because those components are very expensive to develop. And, it’s appropriate for P1 at over a million dollars. It’s not appropriate at this point [for lesser priced McLaren cars] given the cost level of the components.”

The occasion for these comments were actually during the media introduction of McLaren’s conventionally powered 650S coupe and Spider priced at $265,000 and $280,000 respectively.

So, you heard that right. A McLaren costing over a quarter million cannot be justified by the bean counters to receive a hybrid system to meet McLaren’s demanding standards.

This is also because every component of the carbon-fiber intensive machines are built to ultimate specifications.

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And despite other reports that the supercar makers of Europe are trying their hand at electrified drivetrains just to stay in business as EU and US regs come into force from 2017 onward, Corstophine said this was not a consideraton for McLaren.

As a small-volume manufacturer, he said, McLaren is less worried about looming regs – although its 650S can hit 22 mpg and is efficient enough to not be slapped with a U.S. gas guzzler tax.

No, the P1 was developed around the same time that Ferrari and Porsche decided to make their ultimate cost-is-no-object cars into hybrids also.

“I think it is just coincidental that both Porsche and Ferrari came out with what seem like similar systems on the surface,” said Corstophine. “But actually when you delve into it they’re very, very different systems in terms of the way the – they’re all hybrid cars – but they’re very different in the way they do the technology.”

The P1 was limited to just 375 units, and they were sold in relatively short order. Corstophine said North America got 124 and approximately 80 percent will get their cars this year.

Jay Leno got one a few weeks ago, and word has it he’s racked up over 1,000 miles on his, which McLaren takes as a testament of how everyday drivable the car is.

Corstophine did not say so, but one might surmise McLaren could trickle down its already developed P1 tech – sister company McLaren Electronics developed its own motor and battery management system – but the thought imparted was this would not be something it would do.

The company is keeping its eyes on electrified powertrains into the future, he said, and in the mean time, its motor developed for the P1 is being used in the Formula E series spec racers.

But as you might also guess, don’t expect an all-electric McLaren supercar to go chasing after what Tesla is doing.

What does McLaren think of all-electric cars?

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“I think they’re very exciting. I think Tesla is doing a great job at demonstrating what electric cars can do,” said Corstophine.

However, for McLaren, there’s “still barrier for us given how we know that our customers use our cars.”

No, for McLaren, a hybrid is as far as it will go, and only for north of $1 million at this juncture.

The P1, at 3,075 pounds dry weight has a superior power to weight ratio to even the 918 Spyder, and its active aerodynamics make it a terror, albeit docile when needed, and capable of 6 miles EV range.