Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd. signage is displayed on a Mahindra Racing Formula E Team race car during the FIA Formula E 2014 Beijing ePrix at the Beijing Olympic Green Circuit in Beijing, China. (Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg)

Formula E Race Showcases Electric Batteries of the Future

(Bloomberg) -- The FIA Formula E racing series, pitting electricity-powered cars against each other, will end its season in Brooklyn this weekend. The race will also serve as a retirement party for the initial generation of E-racing vehicles.

Starting next season, drivers will use sleek open-cockpit cars powered by much stronger batteries. The new vehicles, which bear a mild resemblance to the Batmobile, are capable of delivering a maximum power of 250 kilowatts (equivalent to roughly 335 HP) and reaching speeds of 174 miles per hour (280 km/h). The improved battery means drivers will no longer have to swap cars midrace.

“That’s a big, big step,” Nico Rosberg, a retired Formula 1 driver who’s now an investor in Formula E, said in an interview. “Battery performance is finally at a necessary level.”

Automakers have long used racing to nurture new consumer technology, and the Formula E series is no different. While battery-powered vehicles account for just 1.2 percent of auto sales worldwide, Bloomberg NEF predicts sales will jump almost tenfold by 2025 to about 11 million vehicles. To fuel that growth, manufacturers are going to have to convince consumers that battery-powered vehicles are just as reliable as the gasoline-powered cars they’d be replacing. 

Formula E Race Showcases Electric Batteries of the Future

Many consumers remain concerned that EVs will run out of juice, even though some models have ranges greater than 600 miles. “For an average EV customer, range is still the biggest criterion for deciding between traditional [cars] versus EVs,” Ravi Manghani, an analyst at GTM Research, said in an email. GTM is Wood Mackenzie’s advisory firm on the global electricity industry.

The growing reach—and visibility—of Formula E may quell some of those concerns. Unlike other motor-sports events, races are held on the streets of major cities, bringing the cars much closer to spectators. This weekend’s 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) races in Red Hook will take place against a backdrop of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty.

“It's a showcase for how the technology is evolving,” James Barclay, team director for Jaguar’s Formula E program, said in an interview. “We're seeing a huge change in the automotive industry: We will see more change in the next five years than over the prior 20 years.”

Nine automotive brands, including BMW, Jaguar and Renault, are certified for next season, the series’ fifth. Two more will be joining in season six.

“Formula E research and development is still in its very early days,” Manghani said. “I can’t overemphasize enough the awareness that Formula E has generated for EVs broadly, and demonstrated that electric vehicles can be fun to drive.”

Rosberg agrees. “It’s technology. It’s the future,” he said. “It’s cool.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.