McLaren Artura Off to Rocky Start: Fire, software issues, delays

ByLance T. Lee

Jun 16, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on all automakers, but McLaren Automotive appears to be one of the hardest hit. McLaren has struggled with wave after wave of parts shortages and financial losses that have led the company to seek emergency funding, sell a stake in its F1 team and even sell its headquarters just to lease the building . After 18 months of delay, the company was finally ready to show off its next-generation car, the Artura hybrid. Replacing the successful 570S, it was redemption time. This was what he was working towards. That’s when we heard about critical issues during its media launch.

The gestation of the McLaren Artura was not easy. As the first mass-production hybrid and a car that shares no major components with previous McLarens, it is one of the most ambitious undertakings in McLaren Automotive’s short history. Unfortunately, it has been beset by major delays, and with customer deliveries due to begin next month, the car is not completely ready. After canceling on very short notice a media testing program last October over what McLaren said were pandemic-related software issues, the press drove the Artura last week and a number of UK-based journalists Uni have reported serious issues with the car. A test car caught fire on the track and several were hampered by software glitches.

That’s not ideal, as the Artura is of crucial importance to McLaren and that’s not just the opinion of this reporter. McLaren itself said this in its FY2021/Q1 2022 results presentation last month: “The delay in the launch of Artura had a negative impact on the Group’s cash flow with a EBITDA [earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization] and some working capital absorption, as Artura’s inventory was built up before deliveries to customers. The start of Artura deliveries supports a stabilizing cash position in H2 [half 2 of 2022] compared to cash absorption in H1 [half 1 of 2022].”

McLaren

McLaren needs the Artura to succeed. Sales fell from 4,662 units in 2019 to 1,659 in 2020, and the company was forced to raise funds from shareholders and obtain a loan from the National Bank of Bahrain, sell a stake in its Formula 1 team and sell its head office in Woking, UK. In 2021 it leased its headquarters and took a huge investment from the Saudi Investment Fund, and also benefited from a turnaround from its F1 team, and sales rose to 2,138 thanks in part to the 765LT. Still, there were problems. McLaren Automotive cut planned production of 399 cars of the Elva first to 249 units and then to 149. At the time of the initial production cut, then-CEO Mike Flewitt said the decision had been taken to ensure “exclusivity”, although Coach reported that McLaren had underestimated demand for the car.

McLaren unveiled the Artura in February 2021. The original plan was for deliveries to start by the end of the year, but that obviously didn’t happen. Shortly after the cancellation of the October media test drive, McLaren Automotive has announced that Mike Flewitt retired after eight years at the head of the company, without offering any explanation why. Flewitt’s permanent replacement, former Ferrari technical director Michael Leiters, was only announced two months ago. In December 2021, Automotive News reported that Artura deliveries would be delayed until July 2022, which a McLaren spokesperson at the time said was the result of the global chip shortage affecting the entire automotive industry.

Artura’s first media campaign last week did not go smoothly, at least for the initial group of UK-based journalists in attendance. To Coach, Matt Saunders writes “our Artura test car encountered thermal powertrain management issues which brought a worrying end to our first track practice session, and was the cause of a lot of smoke, and the stewards of track hastily emptied their fire extinguishers into the car’s engine bay McLaren explained that the car’s cooling system had been mistakenly installed with the wrong oil cooler, an honest mistake, but another car of the launch suffered from its own thermal incident unrelated to ours, and others eventually had less severe but still concerning software issues.”

This “thermal incident” was a fire, as R&T contributor Lawrence Ulrich reports, which McLaren said were the result of an improperly tightened nut on a fuel line. In a video for Carfection, Henry Catchpole said his car’s brake pedal was also long. Note that neither Ulrich nor R&T Editor Mike Guy has had issues with the cars they’ve tested, and it’s also worth noting that cars can catch fire on the track for a number of reasons, and brake pedals last a long time at due to disc/pad wear and boiling fluid. The software issues reported by UK-based journalists who took the Artura to US media were less dramatic, but perhaps the most concerning.

mclaren artura

McLaren

“On the road, our test car’s dashboard and center touchscreen suddenly went black for no apparent reason,” said Angus McKenzie. written to Engine trend. “The digital dashboard came back to life, but the central touchscreen remained out of order – along with air conditioning, navigation, audio and telephone connection – for the rest of the trip… Our car was not not the only one with issues; several other Arturas suffered similar infotainment system failures, and a reporter was stuck on the side of the road when his car just yelled uncle and stopped working.’ which slowed the return to base.”

More than Automatic weekBritish Mike Duff (another R&T contributor) wrote”[m]y the test car’s sleek new UI system shut down 15 seconds after I started driving it and had to be restarted. He also failed to detect the presence of his wireless key in the passenger compartment on several occasions. Other journalists have reported similar flaws throughout the driving program.”

McLaren said Road & Track that the test drive cars were pre-built customer cars that will not be sold. Both hardware issues were ultimately the result of using parts that did not meet production specifications, and oil coolers and fuel lines were checked for reporters arriving later. The company also tells us that customer deliveries will only begin when a software update is released that fixes the bugs. It’s so reassuring because, as Duff said, it’s “[begs] the question, what have the company’s data engineers been up to for the past eight months?”

mclaren artura

McLaren

The Artura isn’t just important for McLaren’s short-term financial relief. It’s also McLaren Automotive’s first all-new car since the brand launched the 12C (née MP4-12C) in 2011, and it’s a platform from which it will build further new models. It’s a hugely ambitious project, with an in-house made carbon fiber monocoque, an electrical architecture that uses Ethernet cabling instead of a traditional wire harness, an in-house designed twin-turbo V-6 – the V-8 from McLaren is derived from a 1990s Nissan racing engine and a hybrid system. McLaren has made hybrids before with the P1 and Speedtail, but the Artura is the first that will be built in significant numbers. In addition, the brand plans all its offerings will be electrified by 2026.

It’s safe to say that McLaren has a lot going for it on the Artura.

You might remember the engine fires that caused a worldwide recall of the first 991-generation Porsche 911 GT3s in 2014, which forced the automaker to replace the engine in the first 785 cars delivered. Now the GT3 is a big money-maker, but a low-volume car in the context of Porsche. What’s happening with the Artura is more like if Porsche had been on the brink for two years and couldn’t make the Macan work. Ferrari also experienced fires with early production 458s, due to poor adhesives in the wheel arch trim. Still, the 458 was not a game-changing car for Ferrari like the Artura is for McLaren. Ferrari is and was part of a larger automotive company, was on stronger financial footing at the time, and is significantly more established than McLaren, a relative upstart in the exotic car market.

McLaren is maintaining the hardware issues that plagued two of the cars at launch and larger software issues won’t be an issue for customers. It is also to seek build customer confidence offering the Artura a five-year or 45,000-mile warranty, a six-year or 45,000-mile hybrid battery warranty and three years of free maintenance.

mclaren artura

McLaren

It’s of course possible that none of the issues that surfaced at the media event will affect customer cars, as McLaren says. The warranty could be a true reflection of McLaren’s confidence in the Artura. Still, such major issues with a press order for a car held just weeks before deliveries to customers begin are worrying, even before taking into account the Artura’s time delay. Major and/or frequent problems with customer cars could very well have disastrous consequences for a business still heavily recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It would be a shame too, because McLaren makes great cars. The 720S is well-liked and reviews of the Artura are largely positive, even acknowledging the issues. Like the 570S it replaces, the Artura seems like a very compelling supercar, mixing old-school thrills with new technology. It also provides a platform that McLaren will build on for years to come. There’s a lot riding on his success.

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