Formula E: The ‘laboratory’ for tomorrow’s urban transport

01:25 - Source: CNN
Formula E: Mahindra boss explains electric vision

Story highlights

Formula E spotlights hi-tech electric cars

India-based Mahindra one of 10 teams

Third season starts in Hong Kong on Oct 9

CNN —  

The cars maybe slower than Formula One, and the sound they make is more of a squeal than a roar, but Formula E has plenty to shout about as it prepares for its third season.

With the first race set to run along Hong Kong’s spectacular harborfront on October 9, and ePrix slated to run on the streets of Paris, New York and Marrakesh, the all-electric race series boasts glamorous destinations and a host of ex-F1 drivers – including Nick Heidfeld and reigning world champion Sebastien Buemi.

The 200 kilowatt battery-powered cars also carry with them an important message about future city transport, say organizers, showcasing the latest technology that should eventually find its way into all electric road cars.

For India’s Mahindra Racing team – one of 10 constructors contesting the 2016-17 world championship – Formula E isn’t just a competition, it’s a high-tech workshop.

“First of all, it’s fun – this is an exciting place to be,” says Anand Mahindra, chairman and managing director of the Mumbai-based Mahindra Group.

“But frankly this is not about vanity, this is not about personal fun, it’s really about technology. We are a manufacturer of electric cars and we believe the future is going to be electric,” he adds. “Formula E is really the laboratory for tomorrow’s technology – that’s why it’s a serious business as well as being fun.”

‘Uber’ important

Mahindra hopes that gains made on street circuits will filter down to cars like its city runaround the “e2o,” helping drive demand for electric cars while improving affordability.

The current starting price of £13,000 ($17,500) in the UK may be considerably cheaper than the bestselling Nissan “Leaf” — a basic model costs nearly $30,000 – but the e2o has a rather meager range of 79 miles compared to the Leaf’s 155.

Mahindra is undeterred though, citing the experience of another growing energy market: Solar power.

“We’ve seen what’s happened to the price of solar energy as the price of photovoltaic (solar) cells has come down, and we think the same thing is going to happen with batteries,” Mahindra says.

“As the sticker price of small electric cars goes down, you cannot beat them on operating cost,” he argues.

“For mobility companies all over the world – like (taxi service) Uber – these companies are going to find electric vehicles unbeatable for their drivers in terms of economics. Essentially the e2o is our preparation for the future.”

Royal approval

Mahindra’s technology attracted the attention of royalty last April when heir to the British throne, Prince William and wife Catherine toured India.

William, a keen sports fan and president of the English Football Association, hopped into the team’s Formula E simulator to drive a lap of India’s Buddh International Circuit.

“He wanted to see technology,” Mahindra explains. “His handlers thought it would be a neat idea to see electric cars from an Indian company. He was a good sport and he did very well.”

For now, Mahindra is focusing on the season ahead, looking to improve on a fifth place finish in last year’s Constructors’ Championship.

Likewise, Mahindra driver Nick Heidfeld will be hoping for a better showing in 2016-17. The German finished 10th in the drivers’ standings, one place ahead of teammate Bruno Senna. Both were well off the pace set by champion Buemi in his Renault eDams car.

Senna, the nephew of F1 legend Ayrton, has stepped down from Formula E duties this year, his seat taken by reigning European Formula Three champion, Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden.

Fourteen races are scheduled for the new season, which is set to reach its climax next July in the shadow of the Manhattan skyline with two ePrix in New York.

MORE: Richard Branson envisions all electric future

The globetrotting race series hasn’t visited the Indian subcontinent as of yet, but Mahindra is confident that a home ePrix isn’t far away.

“We are working on that,” he says, “I don’t think it will be too long.

“I’m from Mumbai. It’s a rather frenetic city; it’s got a lot of energy. So if we can find the right place Mumbai would be great fun, but Delhi is majestic – the Mughal-era structures would provide a tremendous backdrop.”