Farewell to McLaren's car guy as EV avalanche arrives: Andrew Frankel

“I’ve driven hundreds of electric cars and I don’t like the person they’re turning me into”

For the first time in my life, a month has passed in which I clocked up more miles powered by electricity than fossil fuels. So while I have driven dozens and possibly hundreds of EVs in the past, it’s only now that I’m beginning to feel like I’ve lived with them too. And I don’t much like the person they’re turning me into.

Sooner rather than later the International Classification of Diseases is going to identify and categorise a new condition it will call ‘rangeophobia’, and it will use me as its archetype. I have become obsessed with (my family might claim possessed by) the remaining range of any EV I drive. If I charge a car overnight and the claimed range is less than at the same time the previous day, I want to know why. If I have to pop outside the house while a car is charging, I’ll just have a peek through the screen to make sure evil spirits haven’t come and switched off the supply.

I’m even worse on the move. Until I started driving EVs I liked to consider myself fairly tolerant of my passengers. Not any more. “You want to put the seat heater on? Are you mad?” I look suspiciously at reading lights illuminating behind me, avoid standing water on motorways not because it’s safe to do so, but because I don’t want the drag on the tyres. I’d need to be in the Panamanian jungle before I’d consider using air conditioning again. If the car has driver selectable regeneration modes I’ll always choose the most severe, even if it feels like the car’s slamming on the brakes every time I back off the gas. I will even keep my eye on the range even if the journey can be easily completed, because I’m always mindful of when I’ll need to drive it again and how long it will take to recharge between trips.

Why is this? Partly it’s me. I can get caught up in not very important stuff and struggle to let it go. Mainly however it’s the almost exclusively grim experience I’ve had trying – and often failing – to charge cars away from home. You need a dedicated folder on your smartphone just for all the different apps and even when you’ve handed over your details – none of which is remotely necessary – to the data lords there’s no guarantee that any given charger will actually work. Which is a bit rich when you consider there are essentially no moving parts involved; when did you last find a broken fuel pump? I’m not sure I ever have. And even if you do get the electrons to flow, they’ll do so at a miserable rate unless you drive a Tesla or go for only a handful of Ionity stations. And wherever you go, they’ll charge you plenty for the privilege. How expensive it will be when the Government starts taxing it to replace lost fuel revenues I shudder to think.

So should you find yourself unlucky enough to be offered a lift anywhere by me, take my advice and check out the mode of transport first. If it’s an EV, you may end up wishing you’d walked.

Mike Flewitt has left his position as the CEO of McLaren Automotive after seven years in the job. He was recruited to replace Antony Sheriff in the wake of the botched launch of the original 12C and was responsible for McLaren being seen as the architects of some of the most dynamic, exciting road cars in the world, establishing the brand in a few short years as a credible alternative to Ferrari, an achievement of which he can rightly be proud.

“Mike Flewitt is a car guy who worships at the altar of lightness”

But there were problems on his watch too. Whether more perceived than real, McLarens became thought of as cars with suspect reliability. The market was oversupplied with cars, both factors hitting residual values, deterring customers from replacing their cars who might otherwise have proven loyal for life. And it is nothing but the truth to say that to date every single McLaren produced has been a mid-engine two-seater (OK, the Speedtail had three), powered by variations of the same twin-turbo V8 engine, sending power to the rear wheels alone through the same seven-speed double clutch transmission. And while there is nothing wrong with such a specification, to pursue it to the exclusion of all others limited McLaren’s reach and gained it a reputation for being something of a one-trick pony.

Then again there were many things for which Flewitt should be applauded. While everyone else adopted electric power steering, he kept with hydraulics because they make the car better to drive. His steering wheels remained unadorned with buttons, his cockpits were always easy to see out of, his cars were always lighter than anything to which they might be compared. Because whatever mistakes may have been made, Flewitt is a car guy through and through, a bloke who worships at the altar of lightness and who races a Lotus Elan and Elite.

It is possible this too was part of the problem, because he made cars whose first, second and third priorities were simply to be great to drive. And I just don’t think that most people who shop for supercars at that point in the market care very much about that, certainly not relative to how much they care about what they think such cars say about them and the size of various things, their wallets included.

I’m sorry to see him go. We got on well and liked the same qualities in a car. The search for his replacement is now on and I just hope however much he or she broadens McLaren’s ranges and outlook, that core quality of being the best there is to drive remains undiluted.

A former editor of Motor Sport, Andrew splits his time between testing the latest road cars and racing (mostly) historic machinery 
Follow Andrew on Twitter @Andrew_Frankel