SON OF AN F1 GUN

Three seats and a focus on benchmark-busting performance link the new McLaren Speedtail with its legendary predecessor

ANDREW CHESTERTON

IF THE incoming McLaren Speedtail is a window into the British brand’s future, then you best strap in. There’s a good chance the future is going to look a little bit weird. Because, and there really is no tactful way to say this, the mightiest McLaren to date looks somehow unfinished.

It’s as though some crucial elements (you know, pesky things like wing mirrors and alloy wheels at the front, or even some kind of downforce-inducing protuberance) have been forgotten in the rush to get it ready for its unveiling, and that, mere moments after the black silk was whipped back, someone at head office must have surely been receiving an Olympic-level bollocking for the cock-up.

Not that it’s hurt sales, mind you. Just 106 will be built, and each will wear a £1.75 million (A$3.2m) price tag. (With taxes, expect the figure to be close to A$5m in Australia.) Cars won’t start arriving until the end of 2020, but all have already been officially spoken for.

But on closer inspection, the sleek and swooping Speedtail suddenly sharpens into focus. It was all part of the plan from the outset, no less. Or, in the words of chief designer Rob Melville: “We wanted the car to be the world’s first three-seat hyper GT. The fastest acceleration and the highest top speed of any McLaren ever, yes, but with regards to the visual look, we wanted it to be incredibly sleek and seamless, all elegance and fluidity.”

That fluid elegance comes from stripping away almost everything we’ve come to know about collecting speed. Gone are the giant wings so looming they look like felled lumber hovering above the car. Gone, too, are the sharp scoops and jutting splitters we’ve grown so accustomed to. And in their place live silky-smooth lines and curves so soft they could be modelled by Sophia Loren.

While cars like the McLaren Senna were designed with a singular focus on downforce and lap times, its new Ultimate Series sibling is just the opposite, sketched to slip through the air (and across continents) as the British brand’s first-ever hyper GT.

F1 again?

It’s easy to draw F1 comparisons from the Speedtail’s three-seat layout, but according to McLaren, “The central driving position is where the similarities end.” Tell your two passengers it’s a spiritual successor as you touch 400km/h.

Phase IV breaks auction record

The classic Aussie muscle price bubble continues to expand, with one of only four Phase IV GT-HO Falcons reaching a record price at auction. While there was talk that the car might fetch as much as $3 million, it eventually sold for $2 million (plus buyer’ premium). Ford was ready to produce the Phase IV to homologate the car for Group E racing before the Supercar Scare’ and the shift to CAMS Group C regulations forced the company to abandon the project.

It’s why the wing mirrors have been replaced by high-definition cameras that pop out of the carbonfibre body work as required, beaming their image onto two screens in the cabin. And why the 20-inch alloy wheels at the front of the car have been smothered by carbonfibre covers that remain fixed in place as the hidden wheels behind them spin. Or why a traditional wing has been replaced by an active aero system made up of two tiny carbonfibre flaps that sit flush with the body work at the rear of the car, and that raise automatically to aid downforce or to act as an airbrake.

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Everything you’d usually find glued to the interior has been stripped, leaving the F1aping three-seat cabin almost impossibly clean. The sun-visors, for example, have been replaced by electrochromatic glass in the windscreen and roof that shifts to opaque at the touch of button. The traditional reading lights have been axed, too, replaced by a strip of LEDs embedded in the glass ceiling that are activated by touch.

And it’s all obviously worked, with the Speedtail now officially the fastest McLaren of all time, producing a staggering 772kW and a sprint to 300km/h of just 12.8 seconds. (Frustratingly, McLaren was not divulging full powertrain details at the unveiling, other than to confirm it runs the company’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 mated to an electric hybrid powertrain). Top speed is 402km/h. It could likely go much faster, McLaren says, but not on tyres anyone could live with. Welcome, then, to the future of the brand.

R8 turns up the wick

Audi has updated the R8 for 2019 with more power, a new design and revised technologies. The screaming 5.2-litre atmo V10 lives on, with power increased in the flagship variant to 456kW and 580Nm, increases of 7kW and 20Nm. Regular R8s get a bigger, 23kW power boost to 419kW (up from 397), however torque increases by only 10Nm to 550Nm. The steering and suspension has been revised, while Audi’ halo model adopts new styling cues which debuted on the A1 small hatch.

“I think what our Ultimate Series gives us is a technology showcase,” says McLaren vehicle line chief, Andy Palmer. “It gives us the ability to showcase innovation, and then allow more customers to share that over the next five or 10 years.”

One thing is certain, though: electrification is the brand’s unshakeable destiny

Take those front wheel covers, which admittedly do take some getting used to in the flesh (especially given the 21-inch alloys at the rear are uncovered), but are critical in achieving slippery aero.

“They’re not to everyone’s taste, but it’s part of the design of this car, and it contributes to the attributes of what we’re trying to achieve,” Palmer says. “And as cars need to become more efficient, whether that’s range or from a fuel perspective, this adds an aero story that reduces CO2, extends range or unlocks extra levels of performance.”

Asked whether this completes the brand’s Ultimate Series range, with the Senna built for the track, the Speedtail for the road, and the P1 (which will be replaced within the next five years) a bit of both, Palmer suddenly comes over a bit coy

“Possibly,” he says. “I’d say this; the team is so passionate about what we do, and If I have an idea for a car, I will come to the board and ask them what they think. And some of those ideas will get a ‘what are you smoking, Andy?’ But others get a ‘well this is a great idea’.” One thing is certain, though: electrification is the brand’s unshakeable destiny, with the Speedtail to debut the hybrid technology that should carry the brand through to the inevitability of full electrification.

“Fundamentally, we make sports cars, and what defines those cars are the performance attributes,” says McLaren CEO Mike Flewitt. “So for Speedtail, this hybrid version of our 4.0-litre V8 was the right way to go to get the performance characteristics we needed. It’s a different hybrid than we did in P1; it’s a direct-drive hybrid. There’s no EV capability, and it’s a fast recharge, so if you use the energy that’s stored, it recharges in about 90 seconds.

“So we produce incredible power for rapid acceleration or high speed, which is what this car is all about.

“As we go forward from there, we will keep developing drivetrains that give the performance we want. We will see more and more hybrids coming.”

ANDREW CHESTERTON

Exit Sandman

Triple Eight is spring cleaning, and its awesome 525kW shaggin’ wagon Sandman tribute race car is up for sale. Built as a promotional tool, Project Sandman placed a two-door wagon body onto a proper racewinning Supercar chassis, with a wicked-up 5.6-litre V8 making around 525kW at more than 8000rpm. During 2017, the Sandman served as a test-bed for the development of a twin-turbo V6 engine intended for the ZB Commodore race car but since shelved. Price? Make Triple Eight a generous offer.

Acadia on fire?

Could the new Acadia be the turn-around machine Holden needs? It’s a compelling package (see comparo p92) and debuts in the healthy large-SUV segment worth 86,918 sales YTD or 9.9 percent of the market. A circa 500-unit monthly volume would see it challenge Santa Fe and CX-9; at 1000 units it’d take on Kluger to be among the Lion’s top sellers.

This better not suck, Dyson

Manufacturer of high-end vacuums, Dyson, has signalled its intentions to build a pure-electric road car for some time; now the company has taken another step closer this month by starting construction on a manufacturing facility. Located in Singapore, the factory is expected be completed by 2020, with the first production vehicles rolling off the in 2021. Dyson bought a testing and engineering facility in the United Kingdom earlier this year.

Holden halts production

Slow sales of Commodore and Equinox models leaves Holden with thousands of excess vehicles in stock

HOLDEN HAS made an extraordinary decision to stop production of many of its popular models, affecting factories as far flung as Germany, Thailand and Mexico.

The order to stop the boats delivering more new cars was made to address a worsening stock-oversupply crisis due to slow sales.

Fresh from its worst-ever sales result – just 3927 cars in July – and months of market share below five percent, recently appointed Holden boss Dave Buttner has negotiated to halt production and deliveries of core models to clear existing stock.

Holden has thousands of cars gathering dust in paddocks and holding yards, a result of excess orders placed before anyone predicted the dire position the brand would be in once it ceased local manufacturing late in 2017.

“The sales were going like that,” Buttner says, motioning to the ground. “…and the tap hadn’t been turned off, so the production is still coming towards us – and that horrified me as an old [product] planner.”

“We’re trying to get back to a reasonable stock-carry level by the end of the year, so we can go into the new year in a healthy position.”

Buttner’s request to turn off much of the supply had the support of General Motors executives in Detroit, who hired the former Toyota Australia chief to try to turn Holden’s fortunes around in what has been its most challenging period.

With some Commodore models, Holden has requested the Opel factory in Germany (a factory now owned by the parent company of Peugeot and Citroen) not to build cars until 2019.

Similarly, the Equinox has been put on hold to address its poor sales position; in the first nine months of 2018, Holden’s sales of the medium SUV tally just 3621 units. That’s about as many as topselling competitors sell in six weeks.

“You have to able to turn production down, but the idea is that you don’t have to do that often”

Dave Buttner, Chairman and MD, GM Holden

Buttner says stopping the boats – in turn putting pressure on factories to deal with lower production levels – is about being realistic and accepting Holden has an uphill battle to build sales.

“If you don’t recognise the state of your sales and own up to it quickly, you’ve got a pretty huge pipeline coming towards you.

“We’ve looked at the whole portfolio, looked at what our standard stock should be … it was just a normal sales stock rundown … it’s not rocket science.”

But Buttner is adamant the slowdown in orders is a one-off about positioning the brand for challenges ahead.

“You have to be able to turn production down, but the idea is that you don’t have to do that often,” he says. “This is a fairly unique situation where we allowed the stock to keep coming towards us. Being an old manufacturing guy I’m fully cognizant of the burden that puts on a manufacturing plant.

“We’ve had good cooperation from the plants but it wouldn’t be something I’d like to repeat on a regular basis because from a credibility point of view you don’t build it by doing that.”

It’s understood Holden has recently been clearing some cars produced in 2017, which is far from ideal in the last quarter of the following year.

TOBY HAGON

Kia commits to full EV future in Oz

While other manufacturers are hedging their bets with hydrogen and hybrids, Kia Australia has made a bold gamble on pure electrics. “A decision was made that we weren’ going to take a half-step; we’ go straight to battery-electric,” Kia

Australia spokesperson Kevin Hepworth said. Kia Australia will kick off its venture into battery-electrics with the e-Niro small SUV in Q4 next year, with two more EVs (a small passenger vehicle and a larger SUV) to follow.

“Design is not dead”

Renault’s latest concept seeks to prove that, in a future of identikit driverless ride-sharing blobs, there is still hope for privacy, luxury and beauty

“WE WERE annoyed by this notion that we’re all going be riding around in white boxes,” smiles Renault senior design VP Laurens van den Acker. “I’m not saying we won’t – for most of us, 90 percent of the time, that will be the reality – but we won’t only be doing that. I like to think there is hope for design, even in this new world. Who wouldn’t want to be driven in this? Tell me this is a white box!”

There’s nothing like a deadline to set minds racing and change in motion. But when CEO Carlos Ghosn announced that a Renault robo-taxi would be a reality by 2022, you can’t imagine van den Acker and his design team were very inspired. Isn’t the ride-sharing, electrified, connected, autonomous pod nothing less than the automobile stripped of its romance, and anathema to car people like you, me and van den Acker?

Apparently not, and the EZ Ultimo concept is van den Acker fighting back – bringing hope where all appears lost. Officially it’s the third of a triptych of robo-taxi concepts exploring the opportunities the paradigm shift to driverless vehicles throws up. The first two (a robo-Uber and the best-looking delivery van yet conceived by man) were very worthy, but van den Acker and his team have let rip with the EZ Ultimo, the near-future equivalent of a Rolls-Royce or Bentley limo with no driver. And more marble.

“My boss Carlos is saying this is a big business and he wants us to take our fair share of it,” says van den Acker. “But we couldn’t resist doing something more exotic because people say that when we’re all using these robo-vehicles then design is dead. I needed to prove that we don’t agree.”

Provocative and thoughtprovoking, the EZ Ultimo riffs on familiar themes – a loungelike interior liberated of driving controls, architectural design influences – but delivers them with such flair you’re happy to suspend all disbelief.

The 1800kg package uses a single electric motor driving the front wheels, wireless charging to keep the 500-kilometre battery topped up and a magisterial body some 5.8 metres long but low like a supercar at 1.35 metres high. A pair of vast two-part doors unfurl to give access to the interior and its indulgent rear-facing front seat (which rotates to face the opened door for easier entry) and rear bench seat.

Gorgeous detailing abounds – moody lighting from lamps in pale gold, emerald green velvet seats, smooth expanses of marble, a bespoke flask for refreshments, the herringbone parquet floor in American walnut, and controls that work with the tactile precision of a top-end stereo. And all the time the car’s signature lattice-like skin, inspired by the Prada store in Tokyo, creates a cosy cocoon of contemporary cool.

Why so big? “It’s more premium to be stretched out.”

Sexy, private, public transport? The future according to van den Acker is bright.

BEN MILLER

Speed cameras: you haven’t been warned

ANSW Audit Office report has called on the state’ government to scrap speed camera warning signs, claiming there is limited evidence to show that the current system has prompted a change in driver behaviour. The NSW AuditorGeneral claims warnings signs that tell motorists where a speed camera is located have stopped the enforcement method becoming an effective deterrent. “This limits the opportunity to moderate driver behaviour through causing drivers to be worried they could be caught anywhere, anytime,” the report states.

F1’s kids in the skid-lids

Fernando Alonso’s replacement Lando Norris is young. But he’s not the youngest F1 pilot ever…

IN THE DAYS before forensic data analysis and NASA-spec simulators, drivers needed time-tempered experience to be fast F1. Technology is making it possible get quicker faster, but as this countdown shows, the presence of teenage drivers F1 isn’t a 21st-century phenomenon.