Top 5 Takeaways From the NYC Formula E Race

Skipping the “EV speak” for a broader audience  


Electric Vehicle IndustryWe have a tendency, in the Electric Vehicle (“EV”) industry, to take something fundamentally simple and over “technicalize” it. A well-meaning inquiry about EV ownership often escalates into a dizzying onslaught of engineer-like dialog on kW and kWh’s; or unleashes unexpected, polarizing opinions about which alternative drive train platform - hydrogen fuel cell or plug-in electric vehicles - will ultimately win in the end. A moment of conversational confidence can quickly turn humbling for a newcomer feeling as if they need to be a chemist or a scientist to carry on any further. 

The root of this tendency likely stems from the fact that our current era of the EV industry is still quite young. I can loosely draw a parallel to the high-tech industry, where the 1990’s carried an intense focus on the battery life of laptop computers. Back then we had our own – albeit less consequential - version of “range anxiety”. Long-time business travelers remember the days of packing a second laptop battery on every trip. Remember scouting the walls along every airport corridor looking for an unoccupied electric wall outlet to top off before your connecting flight? Remember tech-loaded discussions of NiCad, NiMH, and solid- state memory vs. spinning hard drives when all we wanted was to stay productive while airborne?

Those anxious business travel days are largely behind us – and so is the associated tech-speak. Modern laptops can make it coast to coast on a single charge, plus now we have the added convenience of open charge ports everywhere.  My recent flights provided in-seat power outlets to charge both my laptop and my phone - in economy class! So, the combination of not needing a charge mid-flight – yet also having easy access to top off for convenience, eliminates the stress of yesteryear. 

Keep a close eye on the EV industry

What has this got to do with Electric Vehicles and business? I was very fortunate to be invited to Brooklyn, NY, for the last ABB FIA Formula E Championship race of the season. Formula E, in its own words, is “all-electric city street racing at its most brutal and best”. Thank you to EnelFE for the genuine hospitality and access. And the pre-race speed lap in a BMW i8 on the rainy race track was an absolute thriller!  

Rather than reviewing the Formula E race experience from a technical or performance standpoint (there are experts who focus on that!) I am highlighting a few “takeaways” for a broader business audience regarding the state of the EV industry – from my perspective:

  1. Electric Vehicles are fast and getting faster. Race worthy. Thrilling. I don’t believe the market will turn their backs on them.

  2. Race track to the roadways: Automakers invest in racing for many reasons. The brutal demands on a race car in full competition accelerates the learning curve outside the labs. Race-inspired learnings often lead to improvement in the brands’ consumer-version vehicles. Now that EVs have a global racing platform, EV advancements will surely accelerate.

  3. Committed companies: Global powerhouses as well as newer names are in the mix. This season included Panasonic Jaguar Racing, Audi Sport, Renault,and others. According to FIA – the motorsport governing body - upcoming seasons will see the new Gen2 vehicle and the additions of Porsche AG, BMW AG, Mercedes-Benz, Penske Autosport and more. This translates to expanded industry investment, more testing, intense competition and electric drive technology advancement. All good signs. 

  4. Committed sponsors: Mass EV adoption will affect electric power grids - period. This phenom will create new business opportunities for many companies – those that we recognize, and many that we do not. Global sponsors, like Enel, wisely use this racing platform to invite customers, prospects and partners to share their capabilities and vision for the future. 

  5. Cities and Communities: The FIA Formula E racing circuit brings high performance racing right into neighborhoods with a message of emission-free driving (racing) that appeals to a growing number of their citizens. All the fun, with a sustainability message. 

As the dominoes continue to fall in favor of Electric Vehicle advancement, we can see from a business standpoint that we should keep a close eye on the EV industry. In the not-too-distant future, we will have more fabulous EVs to choose from. They will have more than enough battery range for our average daily use and we are seeing investments in workplace and public charging ports. I hope, and actually believe, that we will see the time where many will buy EVs simply because they love the vehicle and they have plenty of charging options. At that point, the industry “technical-talk” will be largely behind us and we’ll just enjoy the drive. Much like modern business travelers enjoys their long-life laptops and simply get the job done while traveling. Cheers! 

Ken Sapp

GM, Energy and EV Solutions