"We shouldn't do a classic SUV," said CEO Michael Leiters.
When Porsche announced it would enter the SUV segment - a segment that was far from bustling at the time - fans keeled over in shock. Purists argued that a sports car maker had no business producing cumbersome off-roaders. Fast forward to 2022, and the Cayenne and its baby brother, the Macan, are the strongest sellers in the range.
Lamborghini and Aston Martin have followed suit, and even Ferrari is getting in on the action later this year with the Purosangue. But what about McLaren? The automaker has previously said it would never build a high-riding SUV, but that could all change now that Michael Leiters is captaining the Woking-based ship. We reported on the rumor previously, as Leiters worked at both Porsche and Ferrari when the SUV ideas became a reality. But now, the rumor seems to be gathering steam and could prove to be a reality.
The newly-appointed CEO told Autocar that he is very passionate about high-end SUVs. "I developed an SUV at Ferrari [and] I developed an SUV at Porsche, so I love SUVs. But we won't do it for me. Yet I think it's a really important market ... and it continues to grow. It's very attractive as a market segment."
McLaren has had to contend with myriad financial woes in the past few years, and building a performance SUV is a one-way ticket to mega profits - just ask Lamborghini.
A potential McLaren SUV would compete with the aforementioned rivals (in terms of price and performance) but will differentiate itself in execution. "What we have to understand as McLaren is 'how can we find a product that is in line with our DNA?'" said Leiters. "We shouldn't do a classic SUV."
The popular body style would, most likely, garner plenty of sales success for the brand, but that doesn't mean it's a done deal. It's still early stages, insisted Leiters, but if it is to retain the brand's DNA, then it's more likely to be a lifted GT like the Purosangue than a genuine SUV.
As Leiters said, it would expose the boutique brand to more customers than ever before. He told Autocar that the Cayenne has a wonderful effect on sales. Not only were Cayenne buyers moving on to 911s, but traditional 911 buyers were adding Cayennes to their fleets.
Importantly, it would also add some diversity to the McLaren lineup, which currently seems pretty one-dimensional. Leiters admitted that the contemporary lineup has plenty of overlap. If a new model is introduced, it should be unique enough to appeal to a different crowd.
So, if it ever arrives, what can we expect? It's clear to see that Leiters is all for electrification. The company's first SUV will probably debut with a fully electric setup. Leiters noted battery power is an appealing option as the architecture required would pave the way for new McLarens of all shapes and sizes.
As for the ongoing rumors surrounding a potential partnership with BMW and Audi, Leiters remained tight-lipped. He admitted that McLaren is open to working with partners, but nothing concrete has been discussed. While a proposed partnership would bring untold benefits, the CEO has said the preservation of McLaren's heritage is the top priority.
"We have to maintain our DNA; I'm not interested in any partner which gives me only 'me too' technology. So the question is... not to find a partner... the question is to find the right partner," said Leiters.