McLaren CEO: 'Weight Race' Should Replace Horsepower War

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

While it hasn’t been without reprieve, much of our automotive history has been occupied with manufacturers perpetually hunting for more power. The pursuit is a no-brainer. A motor releasing more energy than its rivals means a faster car and more bragging rights. Nowhere is this better epitomized than the muscle car era, where domestic automobiles morphed into ludicrously overpowered machines that we still look back upon with fondness.

The power wars continue into the present day. Dodge’s Challenger SRT Hellcat and Demon dragster are a prime examples, but Ford now hopes to rival the Hellcat with its Mustang Shelby GT500. Chevrolet made a valiant attempt with its Camaro ZL1. The quest for power spills over to everything from utility vehicles to hypercars, but there are other ways to go about building a swifter vehicle. You could always place it on an aggressive diet.

One of my all-time favorite automotive articles came from Sport Compact Car over a decade ago. The setup is that a kid has run out of money but wants to wants to modify his 2001 Nissan Sentra SE to beat his friend’s Mazda MX-6 in a drag race. He’s asked the magazine for help. The now-defunct publication took on the challenge by taking the car from 16.3 seconds in the quarter to just 14.3 by systematically hacking off every single nonessential component.

By the end, the car was little more than a frame, motor, and front wheels. But it proved that shaving weight is just as good as adding horsepower, and more cost-effective to boot.

Mike Flewitt, the CEO of McLaren Automotive, thinks we need that kind of mentality coming from the factory. Britain has historically been the king of lightweight sports cars. Consider Triumph, Lotus, Radical, Noble, and MG. A large portion of the nation’s most iconic sports cars were obsessed with minimizing weight to compensate for horsepower — an engineering choice that turned out to be less popular in the United States.

McLaren is also no stranger to maximizing its power-to-weight ratio. It thinks the automotive industry and government should work together to develop synergies between future powertrain development and the clever implementation of lighter materials to help save weight, thereby reducing the energy needed to power future vehicles.

If executed well, it’ll also make them more fun to drive. Thanks to safety mandates and additional standard equipment, cars are pigs today. A midsize sedan from 1995 would probably clock in roughly 600 pounds lighter than its present-day counterpart.

We keep hearing about the forthcoming energy crisis so, presumably, high horsepower won’t be remain an option for normal folks. But if automakers manage to slim models down without turning them into death traps, it’s doubtful buyers will mind as much — especially if it means they don’t have to downsize and can save a few bucks on fuel.

“We now have a fantastic opportunity for the UK to be at the very forefront of a new automotive ‘weight race’ that can help achieve increasingly tough environmental targets,” Flewitt said at the SMMT industry summit in Central London. “It is clear to us that to be successful in lightweighting, industry and Government need to continue to work closely to ensure we all capitalize on the benefits for the sector, for the UK in general and also for vehicle owners who will increasingly demand more efficient products that deliver the driving attributes they expect.”

[Image: McLaren]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Probert Probert on Jun 27, 2018

    Dear purveyor of stunningly fast and remarkably boring cars: many are doing this, you just aren't looking. I'd also suggest that purveyors of massively expensive rolling assholium are not generally viewed as industry oracles. Now about that F1 program....

  • Tonyola Tonyola on Jun 27, 2018

    The famed designer Raymond Loewy had "Weight Is The Enemy" signs posted in his studios.

  • Tassos Most people here who think it is a good idea have NO idea how much such a conversion costs. Hint: MORE than buying an entire new car.
  • Zipper69 Current radio ads blare "your local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer" and the facias read the same. Is the honeymoon with FIAT over now the 500 and big 500 have stopped selling?
  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh hmmm get rid of the garbage engine in my chevy, and the garbage under class action lawsuit transmission? sounds good to me
  • ToolGuy Personally I have no idea what anyone in this video is talking about, perhaps someone can explain it to me.
  • ToolGuy Friendly reminder of two indisputable facts: A) Winners buy new vehicles (only losers buy used), and B) New vehicle buyers are geniuses (their vehicle choices prove it):