Tesla calls claims of unintended acceleration in NHTSA petition “completely false”

Tesla pushed back Monday against claims that its electric vehicles may suddenly accelerate on their own, calling a petition filed with federal safety regulators “completely false.”

Tesla also questions the validity of the petition, noting that it was submitted by a Tesla short-seller.

Last week, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration said it would review a defect petition that cited 127 consumer complaints of alleged unintended acceleration of Tesla electric vehicles that may have contributed to or caused 110 crashes and 52 injuries.

The petition, which was first reported by CNBC, was filed by Brian Sparks, an independent investor who is currently shorting Tesla’s stock. Sparks has hedged his bets and has been long Tesla in the past, according to the CNBC report.

At the time, Tesla didn’t respond to requests for comment. Now, in a blog post, the company said that it routinely reviews customer complaints of unintended acceleration with NHTSA.

“In every case we reviewed with them, the data proved the vehicle functioned properly,” Tesla wrote in a blog post on its website.

The automaker argued that its vehicles are designed to avoid unintended acceleration, noting that its system will default to cutting off motor torque if the two independent position sensors on its accelerator pedals register any error.

“We also use the Autopilot sensor suite to help distinguish potential pedal misapplications and cut torque to mitigate or prevent accidents when we’re confident the driver’s input was unintentional,” the company wrote.

Here is the complete response from Tesla:

This petition is completely false and was brought by a Tesla short-seller. We investigate every single incident where the driver alleges to us that their vehicle accelerated contrary to their input, and in every case where we had the vehicle’s data, we confirmed that the car operated as designed. In other words, the car accelerates if, and only if, the driver told it to do so, and it slows or stops when the driver applies the brake.

While accidents caused by a mistaken press of the accelerator pedal have been alleged for nearly every make/model of vehicle on the road, the accelerator pedals in Model S, X and 3 vehicles have two independent position sensors, and if there is any error, the system defaults to cut off motor torque. Likewise, applying the brake pedal simultaneously with the accelerator pedal will override the accelerator pedal input and cut off motor torque, and regardless of the torque, sustained braking will stop the car. Unique to Tesla, we also use the Autopilot sensor suite to help distinguish potential pedal misapplications and cut torque to mitigate or prevent accidents when we’re confident the driver’s input was unintentional. Each system is independent and records data, so we can examine exactly what happened.

We are transparent with NHTSA, and routinely review customer complaints of unintended acceleration with them. Over the past several years, we discussed with NHTSA the majority of the complaints alleged in the petition. In every case we reviewed with them, the data proved the vehicle functioned properly.

Byton is launching an app developer program for its M-Byte electric SUV

China-based electric car startup Byton might be best known for its massive 48-inch wraparound digital dashboard screen in its upcoming M-Byte SUV as well as a host of other screens sprinkled throughout the vehicle. Those screens might get all the attention, but they are merely the delivery mechanism or “stage” for what Byton hopes will be a smart device on wheels.

The company announced Sunday ahead of CES, the annual tech trade show in Las Vegas, it will launch a developer program to unlock the kinds of apps that will turn these screens into an interactive and valuable experience for customers.

Jeff Chung, Byton’s vp of digital engineering, said the company has known from the outset that it would need to invite partners to “create truly compelling interactions.”

“Byton’s unique user interface offers developers a challenge and an opportunity to engage with an in-car experience like none they ever seen,” he added.

Byton has already been working with companies like Access, Accuweather, Aiqudo, CloudCar, Road.Travel, and Xperi to develop apps and services for entertainment, health and ecommerce. The developer program aims to expand that app ecosystem.

Byton has released UX design documentation as well as app development guidelines with the launch of the program.

Byton is launching an app developer program for its M-Byte electric SUV

China-based electric car startup Byton might be best known for its massive 48-inch wraparound digital dashboard screen in its upcoming M-Byte SUV as well as a host of other screens sprinkled throughout the vehicle. Those screens might get all the attention, but they are merely the delivery mechanism or “stage” for what Byton hopes will be a smart device on wheels.

The company announced Sunday ahead of CES, the annual tech trade show in Las Vegas, it will launch a developer program to unlock the kinds of apps that will turn these screens into an interactive and valuable experience for customers.

Jeff Chung, Byton’s vp of digital engineering, said the company has known from the outset that it would need to invite partners to “create truly compelling interactions.”

“Byton’s unique user interface offers developers a challenge and an opportunity to engage with an in-car experience like none they ever seen,” he added.

Byton has already been working with companies like Access, Accuweather, Aiqudo, CloudCar, Road.Travel, and Xperi to develop apps and services for entertainment, health and ecommerce. The developer program aims to expand that app ecosystem.

Byton has released UX design documentation as well as app development guidelines with the launch of the program.

Tesla surpasses 2019 goal and delivers 367,500 electric vehicles

Tesla said Friday that it delivered 367,500 electric vehicles in 2019 — 50% more than the previous year — a record-breaking figure largely supported by sales of the cheaper Model 3.

More than one-third of those deliveries — about 112,000 vehicles — occurred in the fourth quarter.

The electric automaker reported production also grew 10% from the previous quarter to 105,000 vehicles.

The results pushed shares up 3.8% in trading Friday morning.

The fourth quarter caps a year that started poorly for Tesla. The company delivered just 63,000 vehicles in the first quarter, nearly a one-third drop from the previous period. The low first-quarter delivery numbers signaled what was to come: wider-than-expected loss of $702 million driven by disappointing delivery numbers, costs and pricing adjustments to its vehicles.

However, the company then rebounded, delivering 95,200 vehicles in the second quarter and then 97,000 electric vehicles in the third quarter.

The positive report comes as Tesla ramps up production of Model 3 vehicles at its new factory in China. Earlier this week, more than a dozen Tesla employees took delivery of the Model 3.

The first public deliveries of Model 3 sedans produced at its Shanghai factory will begin January 7, one year after Tesla began construction on its first factory outside the United States.

Tesla said that it has produced “just under 1,000 customer salable cars and have begun deliveries” in China. “We have also demonstrated production run-rate capability of greater than 3,000 units per week, excluding local battery pack production which began in late December,” the company added in its report.

Made in China: Tesla Model 3 deliveries to Chinese customers to begin January 7

The first deliveries of Tesla Model 3 sedans made in China will begin January 7, one year after the U.S. automaker began construction on its first factory outside of the United States.

The deliveries to customers — which Reuters was first to report the news based on confirmation from a Tesla representative — is a milestone for Tesla as it tries to carve out market share in the world’s biggest auto market as well as lessen the financial pain caused by tariffs. Deliveries to customers will occur at the Shanghai factory. Earlier this week, more than a dozen Tesla employees took delivery of the Model 3.

“We believe China could become the biggest market for Model 3,” the company said in its third-quarter earnings report.

Producing vehicles in China for Chinese customers allows Tesla to bypass tariffs, but it’s no guarantee that this will be the revenue-generating boon the company needs to push itself into sustained profitability. EV sales have been sluggish for other automakers in China over the past several quarters as the government has rolled back subsidies on new energy vehicles.

The company and its CEO Elon Musk are jumping into the market with gusto, despite gloomy EV sales. Tesla has said the production line at the factory in China will have a capacity of 150,000 units annually and will be a simplified, more cost-effective version of the Model 3 line at its Fremont, Calif. factory.

Tesla China Model 3 parking lot

Aerial photo of Tesla factory in New Lingang District, Shanghai. The number of Model 3 cars in the parking lot is about 500.

Tesla also said this second-generation Model 3 line will be at least 50% cheaper per unit of capacity than its Model 3-related lines in Fremont and at its Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada.

Tesla struck a deal in July 2018 with the Chinese government to build a factory in Shanghai. It was a milestone for Tesla and CEO Elon Musk, who has long viewed China as a crucial market. And it was particularly notable because China agreed for this to be a wholly owned Tesla factory, not a traditional joint venture with the government. Foreign companies have historically had to form a 50-50 joint venture with a local partner to build a factory in China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has pushed forward plans to phase out joint-venture rules for foreign automakers by 2022. Tesla was one of the first beneficiaries of this rule change.

The opening of the China factory comes at a time of rising trade tensions between China and the United States. Tesla has been particularly exposed to relations between China and the U.S., and the resulting rising tariffs. Tesla builds its electric sedans and SUVs at its factory in Fremont, Calif. and ships them to China, which subjects the vehicles to an import tariff.

All the high-tech, powerful vehicles TechCrunch reviewed in 2019

TechCrunch occasionally reviews cars. Why? Vehicles are some of the most complex, technical consumer electronics available. It’s always been that way. Vehicles, especially those available for the consumer, are the culmination of bleeding-edge advancements in computing, manufacturing, and material sciences. And some can go fast — zoom zoom.

Over the past 12 months, we’ve looked at a handful of vehicles from ultra-luxury to the revival of classic muscle cars. It’s been a fun year full of road trips and burnouts.


In the last weeks of 2018, we drove Audi’s first mass-produced electric vehicle. The familiar e-tron SUV.

I spent a day in an Audi e-tron and drove it hundreds of miles over Abu Dhabi’s perfect tarmac, around winding mountain roads and through sand-covered desert passes. The e-tron performs precisely how a buyer expects a mid-size Audi SUV to perform. On the road, the e-tron is eager and quiet, while off the road, over rocks, and through deep sand, it’s sturdy and surefooted.

Read the review here.

A few months later, we got an Audi RS 5 Sportback for a week. It was returned with significantly thinner tires.

This five-door sedan is raw and unhinged, and there’s an unnatural brutality under the numerous electronic systems. Its twin-turbo 2.9L power plant roars while the Audi all-wheel drive system keeps the rubber on the tarmac. It’s insane, and like most vacations, it’s lovely to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live with the RS 5.

Read the review here.

At the end of Spring, a 2019 Bentley Continental GT blew us away.

The machine glides over the road, powered by a mechanical symphony performing under the hood. The W12 engine is a dying breed, and it’s a shame. It’s stunning in its performance. This is a 200 mph vehicle, but I didn’t hit those speeds. What surprised me the most is that I didn’t need to go fast. The new Continental GT is thrilling in a way that doesn’t require speed. It’s like a great set of speakers or exclusive liquor. Quality over quantity, and in this mechanical form, the quality is stunning.

Read the review here.

In late May, we drove Audi’s 2019 Q8 from Michigan to New York City and back. To the passengers, it was comfortable. For the driver (me), it was unpleasant.

Yet after spending a lot of time in the Q8, I found it backwards. Most crossovers provide the comfort of a sedan with the utility of an SUV. This one has the rough comfort of an SUV with the limited utility of a sedan. Worse yet, driving the Q8 around town can be a frustrating experience.

Read the review here.

2019 bmw i8 1

The BMW i8 is a long for this world, so we took it out for one last spin, several years after reviewing it just after it was released.

The BMW i8 is just a stepping stone in BMW’s history. An oddball. It’s a limited-edition vehicle to try out new technology. From what I can tell, BMW never positioned the i8 as a top seller or market leader. It was an engineer’s playground. I love it.

Read the review here.

2020 gt500 3

This fall, we went to Las Vegas to get the first taste of Ford’s latest GT500. It’s exhilarating and yet manageable.

During my short time with the 2020 GT500, I never felt overwhelmed with power when driving it on city streets. The 2020 GT500 is an exercise in controlled restraint. Somehow this 760 HP Ford can hit 60 mph in 3.3 seconds and still be easy to putz around town. It’s surprising and a testament to the advances made within Dearborn.

Read the review here.

McLaren Senna GTR doors

Supercars are often an exercise in excess, and yet the McLaren Senna GTR is something different. It’s a testament to how McLaren operates.

Sliding into the driver’s seat, I feel at home. The cockpit is purposeful. The track was cold with some damp spots, and the GTR is a stiff, lightweight race car with immense power on giant slick tires. Conventional wisdom would suggest the driver — me in this case — should slowly work up to speed in these otherwise treacherous conditions. However, the best way to get the car to work is to get the temperature in the tires by leaning on it a bit right away. Bell sent me out in full “Race” settings for both the engine and electronic traction and stability controls. Within a few corners — and before the end of the lap — I had a good feel for the tuning of the ABS, TC, and ESC, which were all intuitive and minimally invasive.

Read the review here.

Quick thoughts on other cars we drove this year.

2020 BMW M850i xDrive Coupe
A grand tourer for the modest millionaire. With all-wheel drive, a glorious engine, and heated armrests, the 850i is exciting and comfortable anywhere.

2019 Ford GT350
Forget the GT500. The GT350, with a standard gearbox and naturally aspirated 5.2L V8, is a pony car that gives the driver more control and more thrills than its more expensive, supercharged cousin.

2020 BMW M2 Competition Coupe
This small BMW coupe is perfectly balanced. It’s powerful, controllable, and, during our week with it, gave endless thrills (and donuts). This was my favorite car this year.

2019 Ford Raptor
Need a pickup that’s faster than a sports car? You probably don’t, but if so, we discovered the Raptor was capable and enjoyable if not a bit unwieldy in traffic thanks to its wide body.

Tesla to begin delivering China-built Model 3 cars next week

Tesla will start making the first deliveries of its Shanghai-built Model 3 sedans on Monday, Bloomberg reports. The cars are rolling off the assembly line at the new Tesla Shanghai Gigafactory, which is operational but which will also be expanding in future thanks to a fresh $1.4 billion injection in local funding reported earlier this week.

The Shanghai gigafactory’s construction only began earlier this year, and its turnaround time in terms of construction and actually producing vehicles is impressive. The Model 3 vehicles built in China will provide a price break vs. imported vehicles, since cars made in-country enjoy exemption from a 10% tax applied to imported cars. Tesla Model 3s build in China will also get a government purchase incentive of as much as $3,600 per car, which should drive even higher sales.

Tesla’s Shanghai factory is its first manufacturing facility outside of the country, though there’s also a gigafactory in the works in Germany just outside of Berlin, and Tesla has teased plans for at least a fifth gigafactory with a location to be revealed later.

Tesla’s production capacity in Shanghai probably isn’t ver high-volume to begin with, although the company has said previously it was targeting a production rate of around 1,000 cars per week by year’s end, with potential to ramp up to around 3,000 cars per week. Tax breaks and incentives have helped demand for the Model 3 in China grow significantly in 2019, so any progress on production in-country is bound to help lift global vehicle sales.

Rivian adds $1.3 billion in funding for its electric utility and adventure vehicles

American automotive technology startup Rivian has raised $1.3 billion in new funding, the company announced today. The new investment is the fourth round of capital announced by the company in 2019 alone, following prior announcements of $700 million from Amazon, $500 million from Ford (which includes a collaboration on electric vehicle technology) and $350 million from Cox Automotive.

That’s a lot of money, but Rivian’s not your typical startup, since it’s aiming to bring fully electric vehicles to market, including the R1T pickup truck and the R1S sport utility vehicle. Both of those are consumer cars, which the company aims to bring to market starting at the end of next year – and Rivian is also working with Amazon on all-electric delivery vans, of which the commerce giant has ordered 100,000 with a target of starting deliveries of the first of those in 2021.

Rivian’s new monster round includes participation from Amazon and Ford Motor Company, along with funds advised by T. Rowe Price Associates and BlackRock, the company said in a release. It’s not adding any new board seats attached to this funding, and it’s not sharing any further details on the specific funds involved in the investment at this time.

The company, founded in 2009, has R&D facilities in a number of cities globally, and also has a 2.6-million square-foot manufacturing facility in Normal, Illinois. It debuted its pickup and SUV at the LA Auto Show last November, and the the vehicles will launch with higher-end trim levels first, including up to 410 miles of range on a single charge. Base prices for the R1T pickup start at $69,000 before any tax credits are applied, while the R1S SUV starts at $72,500, and Rivian has been taking pre-order reservations available with a $1,000 deposit.

For a company that in many ways has seemed to appear out of nowhere, Rivian’s capitalization and partnerships make it one of the better existing contenders to take on Tesla, especially in the truck and SUV categories, where Tesla has less presence with only the high-end Model X actually available to purchase so far.

Electric vehicle startup Nio lays off 141 employees at its North American headquarters

Electric vehicle startup Nio is laying off 141 people at its North American headquarters. According to a filing from Employment Development Department of California, the employees at its San Jose office received notice on December 6.

Nio, whose global headquarters are in Shanghai, announced last month that it is partnering with Intel’s Mobileye to develop autonomous vehicles for consumers. Under the agreement, Nio will engineer and produce a self-driving system designed by Mobileye.

The Intel partnership was a spot of bright news after a difficult year for Nio. Nio’s third quarter saw an uptick in sales, thanks in part to competitive pricing, but its share prices have fallen about 78% since the end of February.

The company reported losses in the first and second quarters of the year and in June, voluntarily recalled 5,000 of its ES8 electric SUVs after battery fires in China, impacting its production and delivery. CEO William Li said during the company’s earnings report in September that it would implement cost-cutting measures, including reducing its workforce from 9,900 people down to 7,800 by the end of the third quarter. Nio has offices in 11 cities, including Beijing, London and Munich.

Review: Driving the track-ready, race-banned McLaren Senna GTR

The McLaren Senna GTR shouldn’t exist.

This feat of engineering and design isn’t allowed on public roads. It’s built for the track, but prohibited from competing in motorsports. And yet, the GTR is no outlier at McLaren. It’s part of their Ultimate Series, a portfolio of extreme and distinct hypercars that now serve as the foundation of the company’s identity and an integral part of their business model.

The P1, introduced in 2012, was McLaren Automotive’s opening act on the hypercar stage and was an instant success for both the brand and its business. McLaren followed it up with the P1 GTR, then went on to chart a course toward the Ultimate Series of today and beyond.

Since 2017, the automaker has added the Senna, Speedtail, Senna GTR and now the open-cockpit Elva to the Ultimate Series portfolio. While the GTR is certainly the most extreme and limited in how and where it can be used, it follows a larger pattern of the Ultimate Series as being provocatively designed with obsessive intent.

Automotive takes the wheel

Purpose-built race cars that call on every modern tool of engineering and design have historically been produced for one purpose: winning. This objective, nourished by billions of dollars of investment from the motorsports industry, has led to technological and performance breakthroughs that have eventually trickled down to automotive.

The pipeline that has produced a century of motorsports-driven innovation is narrowing as racing regulations become more restrictive. Now, a new dynamic is taking shape. Automotive is taking the technological lead.

mclaren-car-stats-final

Take the McLaren Senna road car, the predecessor to the GTR. McLaren had to constrain the design of the Senna to make it road legal. But the automaker loaded it with active aerodynamics and chassis control systems that racing engineers could only dream about.

McLaren wasn’t finished. It pushed the bounds further and produced a strictly track-focused and unconstrained race car that expands upon the Senna’s lack of conformity. The Senna GTR might be too advanced and too fast for any racing championship, but McLaren said to hell with it and made the vehicle anyway.

The bet paid off. All 75 Senna GTR hypercars, which start at $1.65 million, sold before the first one was even produced.

The Senna GTR is the symbol of a new reality — a hypercar market that thrives on the ever-more-extreme, homologation standards be damned.

Two weeks ago, I had a chance to get behind the wheel of the Senna GTR at the Snetterton Circuit in the U.K. to find out how McLaren went about developing this wholly unconstrained machine.

Behind the wheel

Rr-rr-rr-kra-PAH! The deafening backfire of the GTR’s 814-horsepower 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engine snapped me to attention and instantly transported me to the moment earlier in the day that provided the first hints of what my drive might be like.

Rob Bell, the McLaren factory driver who did track development for the GTR, was on hand to get the car warmed up. Shortly after he set out, the car ripped down the front-straight, climbing through RPMs with an ear-protection-worthy scream that reverberated off every nearby surface, an audible reminder of how unshackled it is.

As Bell approached Turn 1, the rear wing quickly dropped back to its standard setting from the straightaway DRS (drag reduction system) position, then to an even more aggressive airbrake as he went hard to the brakes from 6th gear down to 5th to 4th. The vehicle responded with the signature kra-PAH! kra-PAH! and then promptly discharged huge flames out the exhaust as the anti-lag settings keep a bit of fuel flowing off-throttle.

I thought to myself, ‘Holy sh*t! This thing is no joke!’

McLaren Senna GTR driver

Sliding into the driver’s seat, I feel at home. The cockpit is purposeful. The track was cold with some damp spots, and the GTR is a stiff, lightweight race car with immense power on giant slick tires. Conventional wisdom would suggest the driver — me in this case — should slowly work up to speed in these otherwise treacherous conditions. However, the best way to get the car to work is to get temperature in the tires by leaning on it a bit right away. Bell sent me out in full “Race” settings for both the engine and electronic traction and stability controls. Within a few corners — and before the end of the lap — I had a good feel for the tuning of the ABS, TC and ESC, which were all intuitive and minimally invasive.

As a racing driver, it’s rare to feel a tinge of excitement just to go for a drive. As professionals, driving is a clinical exercise. But the GTR triggered that feeling.

I started by pushing hard in slower corners and before long worked my way up the ladder to the fast, high-commitment sections. The car violently accelerated up through the gears, leaving streaks of rubber at the exit of every corner.

Once the car is straight, drivers can push the DRS button to reduce drag and increase speed for an extra haptic kick. The DRS button is now a manual function on the upper left of the steering wheel to give the driver more control over when it’s deployed. After hitting the DRS, the car dares you to keep your right foot planted on the throttle, then instantly hunkers down under braking with a stability I’ve rarely experienced.McLaren Senna GTR drive

The active rear wing adds angle while the active front flaps take it out to counterbalance the effect of the car’s weight shifting forward onto the front axle, letting you drive deeper and deeper into each corner. It’s sharply reactive; the GTR stuck to the road, but still required a bit of driving with my fingertips out at the limit on that cold day. I soon discovered that the faster I went, the more downforce the car generated, and the more speed I was able to extract from it.

Tip to tail

In almost any other environment, the Senna road car is the most shocking car you’ve ever seen. Its cockpit shape is reminiscent of a sci-fi spaceship capsule. The enormous swan neck-mounted rear wing is one highlight in a long list of standout features. The Senna road car looks downright pedestrian next to the GTR.

McLaren Senna GTR doors

The rear wing stretches off the back of the car with sculpted carbon fiber endplates and seamlessly connects to the rear fender bodywork. The diffuser that emerges from the car’s underbody — creating low pressure by accelerating the airflow under the car for added downforce — is massive. The giant 325/705-19 Pirelli slicks are slightly exposed from behind, giving you the full sense of just how much rubber is on the ground, and the sharp edges of the center exit exhaust tips are already a bluish-purple tint.

The cockpit shape and dihedral doors are instantly recognizable from the road car. But inside, the GTR is all business. The steering wheel is derived from McLaren’s 720S GT3 racing wheel, a butterfly shape with buttons and rotary switches aplenty. The dash is an electronic display straight out of a race car; six-point belts and proper racing seats complete the aesthetic.

McLaren Senna GTR cockpit

Arriving at the front of the car, the active front wing-flaps are as prominent as ever, while the splitter extends several inches farther out in front of the car and is profiled with a raised area in the center to reduce pitch sensitivity given the car’s much lower dynamic ride-height. In fact, nearly the entire front end of the car has been tweaked; there are additional dive-planes, the forward facing bodywork at the sides of the car have been squared-off and reshaped, and an array of vortex generators have been carved into the outer edge of the wider, bigger splitter surface.

All of these design choices in the front point to the primary area of development from the Senna road-car to the GTR: maximizing its l/d or ratio of lift (in this case the inverse of lift, downforce) to drag.

McLaren pulled two of its F1 aerodynamicists into the GTR project to take the car’s aero to a new level. The upshot: a 20% increase in the car’s total downforce compared to the Senna road car, while increasing aero efficiency — the ratio of downforce to drag — by an incredible 50%. The car is wider, lower and longer than its road-going counterpart, and somehow looks more properly proportioned with its road-legal restrictions stripped away to take full advantage of its design freedom.

McLaren Senna GTR back

This was the car the Senna always wanted to be.

The development process of the GTR was short and to the point. When you have F1 aerodynamicists and a GT3 motorsport program in-house attacking what is already the most high-performing production track car in the industry, it can be. There were areas they could instantly improve by freeing themselves of road-car constraints — the interior of the car could be more spartan; the overall vehicle dimensions and track width could increase; the car would no longer need electronically variable ride heights for different road surfaces so the suspension system could be more purposeful for track use; the car would have larger, slick tires.

All this provided a cohesive mechanical platform upon which to release the aerodynamic assault of guided simulation and CFD.

Senna GTR CFD1 aero side

The GTR benefits from the work of talented humans and amazing computer programs working together with a holistic design approach. What was once a sort of invisible magic, aerodynamics has become a well-understood means of generating performance. But you still have to know what you’re seeking to accomplish; the priorities for a car racing at Pikes Peak are much different than those of a streamliner at Bonneville.

The development team for the GTR sought to maximize the total level of downforce that the tires could sustain, then really kicked their efforts into gear to clean up airflow around the car as much as possible. Many of the aggressive-looking design elements that differentiate the GTR from the Senna are not just for additional downforce but to move air around the car with less turbulence — less turbulent air means less drag. You can’t see it or feel it, but it certainly shows up on the stopwatch, and is often the difference between a car that just looks fast and one that actually is.

I hadn’t asked how fast the car was relative to other GT race cars before I drove it. I think a part of me was fearful that despite its appearance and specs it might be wholly tuned down to be sure it was approachable for an amateur on a track day. And that would make sense, as that’s the likely use-case this car will have. After driving the GTR, I didn’t hesitate for a second to ask, to which they humbly said that it’s seconds faster than their own McLaren 720S GT3 car, and still had some headroom.The Senna GTR is another exercise in exploring the limits of technology, engineering and performance for McLaren, enabled by a market of enthusiasts with the means to support it. And this trend is likely to continue unless motorsports changes the rules to allow hypercars.

McLaren’s next move

The Automobile Club de l’Ouest, organizers of the FIA World Endurance Championship, which includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has been working for years to develop regulations that could include them. While these discussions are gaining momentum, it remains to be seen whether motorsport can provide a legitimate platform for the hypercar in the modern era.

The last time this kind of exercise was embarked on was more than 20 years ago during the incredible but short-lived GT1-era at Le Mans that spanned from 1995 to 1998. It saw McLaren, Porsche, Mercedes and others pull out all the stops to create the original hypercars — in most cases comically unroadworthy homologation specials like the Porsche 911 GT1 Strassenversion (literally “street version”) and Mercedes CLK GTR — for the sole purpose of becoming the underpinnings of a winning race car on the world’s stage.

At that time, the race cars made sense to people; the streetcars were misfits of which only the necessary minimum of 25 units were produced in most cases, and the whole thing collapsed due to loopholes, cost, politics and the lack of any real endgame.

Today, the ACO benefits from a road-going hypercar market that McLaren played a key role in developing. Considering McLaren’s success with hyper-specific specialized vehicles in recent years, I’d bet the automaker could produce a vehicle custom-tailored to a worthy set of hypercar regulations. Even if not, McLaren will continue to develop and sell vehicles under its Ultimate Series banner.

And there’s already evidence that McLaren is doubling down. 

McLaren Elva

McLaren shows off the open cockpit Elva.

McLaren’s Track 25 business plan targets $1.6 billion in investment toward 18 new vehicles between 2018 and 2025. The company’s entire portfolio will use performance-focused hybrid powertrains by 2025.

The paint had barely dried on the Senna GTR before McLaren introduced another new vehicle, the Elva. And more are coming. McLaren is already promising a successor to the mighty P1. I, for one, am looking forward to what else they have in store.