Big-name carmakers are vying to win the electric-car race, literally.
All Germany’s motorsport icons — Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and BMW — have said they would soon join Formula E, the electric-car equivalent of Formula One.
The global auto industry is accelerating its shift towards electric cars, illustrated by Volvo’s recent decision to abandon conventional engines and go completely electric by 2019. Many see Formula E as a proving ground for vanguard electric vehicle technology.
“You can tell something is changing when the car manufacturers start piling in,” says Zak Brown, executive director of McLaren Technology Group, a Britain-based maker of supercars and Formula One mainstay. “Formula E provides a great technical laboratory.”
So far, carmakers have used electric-car racing to develop powertrains, batteries and energy management systems.
The three-year-old Formula E circuit isn’t quite as popular as its combustion-engine cousin: Its electric racing cars’ top speed of 225km/h pales in comparison with Formula One’s 350km/h. And batteries aren’t powerful enough yet to last a whole race, forcing drivers to switch cars during pit stops.
Practising jumping from one car to the next in the pit before the race in Monaco in May, driver Daniel Abt was frustrated that it took him 23 seconds to complete the switch. “Not good enough,” he said.
The 10 teams on the circuit aren’t allowed yet to use their own batteries, part of an initial effort to level the playing field. Manufacturers are pressing the sport’s organisers for more freedom. After three seasons, contestants can now develop everything but the battery and body, and McLaren has been tasked to design a battery to last a whole race by season 2018-19.