06-12 Formula E Gen2

[Image above] In December 2018, Formula E revealed Gen2, the next generation of electric racing cars. Credit: ABB Formula E, YouTube

Imagine a Formula 1 race in which the engines are silent, top speed is 225 km/h (140 mph), and instead of refueling in the pit, you switch to a completely new car.

Welcome to the world of Formula E.

When Formula E debuted in 2014, many people laughed at the supposed absurdity of the idea—an elite car race conducted only with electric cars. But just over four years later and now in its fifth season, Formula E has proven electric race cars are more than a pipe dream—and could turn into a serious investment.

2019 FWD Sanya E-Prix (Season 5 – Race 6). Credit: ABB Formula E, YouTube

Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag, former Spanish politician-turned-businessman, was at dinner in 2011 with Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) president Jean Todt and then-European Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship Antonio Tajani when they began discussing electrification and future mobility of vehicles.

During their conversation, the three men came up with the idea to create a city-based, single-seater electric car motor racing championship. When Todt proposed the FIA open a tender to organize such a series, Agag offered to coordinate the endeavor based on his prior experience negotiating television rights, sponsorship, and managing a racing team.

The first year of Formula E, net loss far outweighed revenue— €6.80 million to €1.43 million. Though the competition is still operating at a loss, the possibility that Formula E will begin to break even within the next few years is high—2018 net loss-to-revenue stats were €26.40 million to €133.40 million, and series attendance more than doubled in season four.

Though still operating at a loss, Formula E is rapidly gaining fans and sponsors every year. Credit: ABB Formula E, YouTube

This was the state of affairs up to the start of season five in December 2018. And what Formula E revealed for this currently ongoing season holds promise to further increase interest and help pull Formula E out of the red—a second-generation racecar.

As described on the Formula E website, the Gen2 car offers several significant upgrades over Gen1, including

  • Maximum speed of 280 km/h (174 mph) [an increase of 55 km/h (34 mph)],
  • Maximum power of 250 kW (335 bhp) [an increase of 50 kW (67 bhp)], and
  • Double energy storage capacity.

The last point is particularly important—thanks to the new battery’s storage capacity, there is no more need for mid-race car swaps!

If you are curious about what driving an electric race car is like, The Verge senior transportation reporter Sean O’Kane can tell you. He had the chance to drive both the Gen1 and Gen2 on a trip to Spain, and he shares the experience in today’s video.

Sean O’Kane in the Gen2. Credit: The Verge, YouTube

Though electric cars may sound like a new idea, history might surprise you—electric cars have been around in the United States for more than 120 years!

Innovators in Hungary, the Netherlands, and the US began toying with the concept of a battery-powered vehicle in the early 1800s, and by the second half of the century, French and English inventors built some of the first practical electric cars. These early electric cars were so practical that they even beat gas-powered vehicles in the first closed-circuit automobile race of 1896!

Factors including the invention of Henry Ford’s mass-produced Model T and discovery of Texas crude oil resulted in the almost complete disappearance of electric cars by 1935. But as noted in the movie trailer for a new documentary on Formula E, the racing sphere may help provide the innovation and incentive necessary to bring electric cars back to the roads in force.

“Motorsport has always been an incubator for things that end up in road cars. Disc brakes, seat belts—all kinds of technology was pioneered at the race track and has ended up on everybody’s road cars.”

And We Go Green, official movie trailer

Credit: The Verge, YouTube