New York City E-Race Grand Prix shows potential of electric vehicles


BMW’s Maximilian Günther and Jaguar’s Sam Bird captured the checkered flags at the thrilling New York City E-Prix racing doubleheader in Brooklyn over the weekend. But the real winners, race organizers hope, are electric vehicles themselves.

Why it matters: ABB FIA Formula E’s all-electric street racing series, held in some of the world’s most iconic cities, is meant to showcase EV technology in the very places electric cars are likely to have the biggest impact.

  • For auto manufacturers, it’s also a test bed for innovation in sustainable mobility.
  • “If we win and we are successful, we can show the world we are a step ahead on technology,” Pascal Zurlinden, director of factory racing for Porsche AG, tells Axios.

Driving the news: New York is the only U.S. stop on this year’s Formula E tour, now in its seventh season. As EV technology has advanced, the racing series has evolved too.

  • Batteries in the first generation of race cars lasted only 25 minutes, so teams had to swap cars midway through the race.
  • The current generation of cars has a lightweight 250-kilowatt battery and a top speed of 174 mph, eliminating the need for pit stops during the 45-minute race.
  • The entire 24-car field uses the same battery pack, which was designed and manufactured by Lucid Motors through its Atieva technology division.

Details: Each team designs the rest of the car’s powertrain — things like the electric motor, inverter and gearbox — but the design can’t change after the season begins.

  • The only permitted changes are software updates to optimize thermal management.
  • To win, racers need to strike the right balance between power and efficiency — the same riddle that engineers designing standard EVs are trying to solve.
  • Like race car drivers, EV owners can continually improve their vehicles through software updates too.

Context: Motorsports has long been a laboratory for future automotive technology.

  • Jaguar, for example, pioneered disc brakes at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1953. Today, they are widely available on all vehicles.
  • The British carmaker is already implementing lessons learned from Formula E racing, says James Barclay, team director of Jaguar Racing. A software update added 12 miles of extra range to the 2021 Jaguar iPace electric SUV, for instance.

The big picture: Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and a massive source worldwide.

  • Automakers are rushing to replace their gasoline-powered vehicles with electric models as governments tighten tailpipe emissions rules and companies face pressure to act on climate.

What’s next: Formula E is growing, adding three new cities next year — Vancouver, Canada, Cape Town, South Africa, and Seoul, South Korea — as it expands to a record 16 races across four continents.

  • The technology continues to evolve, too. Batteries in the next generation of race cars, coming in about 18 months for Season 9, will pack 350 kW of energy into a smaller, lighter package, meaning even better performance.

The bottom line: Formula E is an exciting sport with sustainability built into its mission.



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