There is increasing hype around the electric vehicle market – partly due to the Government’s heralding of a ban on the sale of all petrol and diesel cars by 2040. Although the Government has indicated this ban does not extend to the sale of hybrid cars – such as the Toyota Prius – which have a separate petrol engine and electric motor – the direction of travel seems clear.
Alongside this development, a major international electric car racing series has been growing in popularity. Launched in 2014, the ‘Formula E’ series has already secured the support of major manufacturers such as BMW, Jaguar and Audi, with Mercedes and Porsche set to join for the 2018/19 season.
Formula E is now being used by these manufacturers as a test bed for their new road technologies, while leading drivers are increasingly coming on board; with former Ferrari F1 driver Felipe Massa set to join the Venturi team next year.
Commercial and technological developments
Leading electrotechnical manufacturer ABB became the headline sponsor of Formula E in January 2018, and is committed to a long-term commercial and potentially a technological partnership with the racing series.
To find out more about the ambitions of Formula E, and its synergy with ABB, ECAtoday attended the e-Prix in Rome, Italy earlier this year. As Frank Duggan, ABB’s Europe region president commented: “We believe in electric mobility. Not just cars, but we see it coming in buses, and in ferries for short distances”.
When asked about a potential technology relationship with the racing series, Mr. Duggan added: “I think this is an evolution that we will see happening...from our perspective, absolutely we see it as an opportunity to collaborate and work with other partners and develop new technology”.
Evolution of Formula E
Last season, Formula E drivers had to switch cars mid-race due to lack of capacity in the vehicle battery. However, in a sign of the rapidly evolving industry, the 2018/19 series will have a next generation car featuring batteries that last the entire e-Prix – and which also have more power to boot.
Formula E has also taken the deliberate approach to host races on street circuits – rather than traditional racing tracks – to further emphasise its connection to the road car market. Mr. Duggan says he “really loves the idea of the street racing...it gives a very good sense of openness to the public to experience the whole thing”.
This smart move has also allowed it to hold races in exotic locations such as Marrakesh in Morocco, and Punta del Este in Uruguay, which has been dubbed the ‘Monte Carlo of South America’.
Duggan also emphasises the social benefits of the series, stating: “it would be great for Formula E if there is competition between cities wanting to host. I think that would be a declaration of how important this is to society...It is using pleasure to help the development of technology and most importantly the environment”.
What could the future bring?
Formula E is increasingly being viewed as a green and progressive alternative to Formula One. While F1 has taken steps in recent years to introduce energy recovery systems, which the drivers can then deploy as a power boost, it is still often perceived as a sport primarily for ‘petrol heads’.
Electric vehicle sales in the UK increased by 11% in Q1 this year compared to 2017, and now make up 2% of the overall UK market. While this is clearly a small proportion of sales, the example of Norway (48% of cars registered in Q1 this year were electric), shows the potential of the EV market.
There are of course challenges to increased electric vehicle usage, such charging range anxiety and the impact on the grid from aggregated vehicle charging. Frank Muelhorn, ABB’s MD for vehicle charging infrastructure, told ECAtoday how this scenario could be managed: “if you want to charge at night, you pay a Euro per kilowatt hour...if you charge during the day and it’s windy, we even pay you, as it’s taking stress away from the grid”.
It’s clear that Formula E going from strength-to-strength commercially and technologically, particularly as it offers a formidable test ground for the road car market. The next step is the mass roll out of some of the technology into our day-to-day lives, bringing commercial opportunities for manufacturers and installers alike.