ABB, a technology company focused on, among other things, e-mobility has joined forces with Formula E as the title sponsor for the series. The announcement was made today in front of special guests and media at the Saatchi Gallery in London. That’s good news for Formula E and it is the first title sponsor the series has ever had. Series CEO, Alejandor Agag and FIA president Jean Todt said:
Alejandro Agag, Founder & CEO of Formula E, said: “This is a historic day for Formula E and I’m honoured to welcome ABB as the title partner of the series, with its background and expertise in the field of electrification and digital technologies. Our two companies are synonymous with pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Together, as partners, we will showcase break-through technology on a global scale to fans and consumers who follow the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.”
FIA President Jean Todt said: “Formula E continues to grow and in addition to its sporting and technical success, the tremendous level of excitement surrounding this new FIA discipline is tangible. Today’s ABB announcement as the title partner is a strong sign and proof of the attractiveness of this championship, which is still in its infancy. The mobilisation of major economic powers around the pillars of this discipline – new technologies, electric mobility and sustainable development – is a very good sign, and something to be excited about. This contributes to the development and expansion of Formula E.”
At that same event, what I find slightly concerning and was a statement that seems to be a more brash revelation as to the real goal of Formula E, the FIA and eventually Formula 1. The comments were made by Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and one of the members involved in the creation of the 2015 Paris convention on climate change. Unlike Messrs. Todt and Agag, Figueres goes right for the jugular with her vision of all motorsport and the desire to see internal combustion engines disappear.
“We have a lot to thank it (IC engine) for, it got us where we are today,” she said, but noted,”I challenge you to put a date on it (when the IC engine would be history).
“We are now in a race to the future, to decarbonise the world. It is unstoppable, it’s just a question of when.”
According to the terrific James Allen,
“Asked by this site [Jamesallenonf1.com] after the event whether this meant that Formula 1 as the pinnacle of motorsport would have to become electric or become obsolete, she agreed.
The Costa Rican, who has been Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change since 2010, suggested that racing involving internal combustion engines would have a future as an entertainment, a retro series, given that there are many beautiful cars from the last 100 years that people would want to see – and hear – race.”
James goes on the quote Ross Brawn, F1 technical boss, as saying he doesn’t see anything changing for the next 5-10 years but Mr. Allen also added his own comments saying:
“There is an hourglass running on Formula 1’s future as a fossil fuel powered series. As governments increasingly set dates to call time on sales of petrol and diesel engined cars, the waist aperture of that hourglass opens up.
The question, as Figures says, is how long?”
If Figures is simply saying that F1 will simply become a retro series that few people will watch, I think I’ll take that bet and suggest that it may be one of the largest retro, niche racing series in the world with millions of viewers and much more viewers than Formula E. I may be wrong but I’ll put a Sawbuck on it.
Rumors of ICE’s death may be premature
Figures may be calling for the elimination of the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) but the New York Times says that may not be the trajectory. Quoting an MIT professor, the NYT article suggests that by 2050, all-electric vehicles may comprise of 15% of the market while ICE-powered vehicles will own 60% of the market.
Government or EU imposition of a world without ICE is one thing but the reality is much different. I’ve argued this point until I am blue in the face but until an electric vehicle (EV) can perform as well as or out-perform an ICE in power output and distance and torque, it isn’t going to be a viable solution as a replacement.
Governments forcing consumers, by law, to only purchase an EV and banning the sale and manufacturing of an ICE is a tad heavy handed, economically egregious and won’t make EV’s an equal replacement for ICE by simply litigating it. Are they legally trying to modify bad behavior or impose virtuous behavior? I’ll let you decide as it most likely depends on which side of the fence you’re on.
It sometimes seems that people like Figures and Todt are missing the simple calculations and scope of the task at hand as well as the current and future projections for EV development. Certainly, the Tesla and other EV supercars are pushing the limits of speed and even though a freight truck isn’t concerned about going 200mph, the technology developed in a EV supercar could help develope a better EV heavy or light-duty vehicle.
One could argue that governmental force and litigation causing the premature death of ICE technology will mandate a move to EV and perhaps the thinking is that consumers need to be forced instead of asked or even accommodated due to a strong demand for buying or making ICE-powered vehicles. Government imposition will drive consumer demand for a technology that isn’t a direct replacement for what they currently rely on? How does that work?
Suppose, if you will, that smartphones were discovered to cause cancer and use more energy so we ban them to create a demand for a Blackberry or Motorola Startac. How is that realistic? Wouldn’t we simply improve the smartphone so it doesn’t cause cancer and does more with less power? Wouldn’t we just improve the ICE so it doesn’t create as much solution and does more with less petrol?
Take Mazda’s Skyactiv-X engine which is 30% more efficient than its current ICE. If 60% of the vehicles in 2050 are still going to be ICE powered, then wouldn’t it make sense to invest heavily in improving the performance and output of ICE’s while Figures dances on its grave?
Still in single digits?
Last July, according to the NYT, 1.4 million vehicles were sold. Know how many of those were hybrids? Just 44,000. Roughly 3%. Let that sink in and then consider how much media you see positioning the EV as the runaway success including Formula E and even all the car magazine journalists who tacked and became megaphones for the EV narrative handing “best car” awards out like candy to the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius year after year. Needless to say, I let all of my car magazine subs expire due to a lack of journalistic integrity and impartialness toward a product.
As I’ve said many times, I am in the technology industry and I am all for the advancement of mobility, communication and safety but while the EV world is advancing, the Figures position seems premature as the technology isn’t ready for primetime. It’s advancing, it’s very impressive and interesting to watch but it isn’t ready to replace an existing infrastructure where lives are attached and in some cases dependent upon.
We’ve been doing this hybrid thing for a while now and governments that are placing bans on ICE-powered vehicles by 2030 or earlier are assuming the development will have achieved a direct replacement for the ICE-powered world. It would be great if it did but is anyone willing to put a flag in the ground on that date? Dictating a date isn’t going to just make it so even if Toto Wolff says they got in to Formula E because “…our road cars are gonna go electric — that’s a fact.”
If every Formula E event is going to be accompanied by Todt and other EU representatives to denounce other racing series, evangelize their sustainability goals and demand the world demonize ICE-powered cars, then I shant be watching much Formula E and if they are determined to pummel Formula 1 into oblivion, then I say “Oi, get your filthy hands off my desert!”.
In closing? Per Mr. Allen’s article, Ross Brawn told Popular Science Editor Joe Brown:
“For the short term, he [Brawn] added, the new owners’ view is that what F1 needs is that “The show has to be the number-one priority. The racing, the drivers, the history, the noise, the smell, the atmosphere.”
If in short term you mean 30 years, then perhaps in 2050 Formula 1 will be part of that 15% of EV’s on the roads but if they haven’t figured battery waste out and achieved parity in performance, probably best to work on new V8 and V6 ICE power units that can achieve 30 or 40% efficiency. Now that’s road-relevant.