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“Our goal is to put more electric cars on the roads”

DHL and the FIA Formula E Championship recently announced a multiyear global partnership for the world’s first fully-electric car racing series. The collaboration will see DHL become the series’ Official Logistics Partner, providing an extensive range of logistics services which incorporate the most efficient technology and processes available today. In an interview Alejandro Agag, CEO of Championship promoter Formula E Holdings, reflects on the partnership with DHL and talks about the vision for Formula E.

DHL: DHL has been running the logistics for Formula 1 for many years. Are you happy to have the company on board for your Formula E Championship?
Agag: We take a lot of comfort in the fact that DHL has done the logistics for Formula 1 for so long. And the partnership with DHL is particularly important for us for another reason, too: Our weak point, in terms of carbon emissions, is transporting all our all our hardware around the world. To have a logistics partner like DHL, which is an extremely active partner in terms of environmental concerns, helps to counterbalance that effect. So we are really happy with this partnership because it allows us first of all to deliver all our cars around the world on time, which is a major undertaking, and secondly to do it using the Greenest route possible.

Transporting 40 cars and all the associated equipment to ten cities around the world – a big logistics operation like that is bound to leave a footprint.
This is a long-term partnership. We are pioneering – everybody that’s involved in this project is pioneering. I think new technology will be born from within the Championship and that will help improve the whole logistics operation around Formula E. I imagine we’ll see first hybrid trucks, then fully electric trucks. In the future DHL will be able to reduce dramatically the CO2 footprint of our Championship – which is actually going to be quite low from the start.

Are you selecting your partners based on their Green credentials and commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility?
Absolutely. For us to achieve our goals, we need the right partners who share our values. We are looking for companies such as Deutsche Post DHL who have a strong commitment to the environment and to sustainability and are improving the way they do things in their different businesses. Our other partners are expecting that from us. We have to keep the bar very high in terms of sustainability criteria for the whole concept to work.

The electrically powered Formula E race cars look quite similar to the Formula 1 cars motorsports fans are familiar with. How are they different?
The cars are very different on the inside: these are state-of-the-art, zero-emission vehicles, with no combustion engine, no fuel tank; instead we have an electric motor and a battery. But it’s true that the look of the cars is familiar. We decided early on that to catch the public’s eye and get them excited about this new sport, we couldn’t go too far away from traditional racing cars. Slowly but surely that will change. Aerodynamics are the key to maximum efficiency in electric vehicles: in the future the cars are likely to have more of a “batmobile” look, with covered front and back wheels, a cockpit, and so on.

What are the drivers saying so far about handling?
The biggest difference that drivers highlight is the lack of noise. Our test driver, Lucas di Grassi, is astonished by what he can now hear in the car – sounds he had never heard before, such as the suspension, the sound of the tires, the aerodynamic noise of the wind going over the bodywork, and so on. The engine noise in F1 is so overwhelming that a driver doesn’t hear anything else. With Formula E there is a whole new set of sensations for the drivers.

How about the spectators? The series is scheduled to be contested on the downtown streets of some of the world’s major cities. Is the lack of noise an asset or a liability?
The lower noise level is a great asset. The race isn’t silent by any means, but where Formula 1 cars produce 130-140 db, with Formula E we’re in the region of 70-80 db. That’s a level that is acceptable for inner cities – it’s about the same as a normal road car – and allows a championship like ours to take place in the city center.

Will Formula E one day replace Formula 1?
I think not. Formula 1 is based on absolute performance; we are based on absolute technology. We want to showcase that technology, both in the race cars, and also in everything that happens around the race.

Do you see Formula E as an impulse for carmakers to develop this kind of technology?
Certainly. We want Formula E to be the platform from which car companies develop the technology for their electric cars for the street. The focus is mainly on battery technology: if we are able to get companies more interested developing longer-lasting batteries, we will see a very steep curve of performance gains in the Championship – and this is a technology that is immediately very relevant for road cars. So Formula E can become a genuine technological development platform.

It sounds like a two pronged approach: to promote this technology to the viewing public, and to encourage car manufacturers to develop the technology further.

Yes, those are the two directions we need to follow. The problem with electric cars is that people don’t find them fun or sexy or quick or long range. We need to make electric cars cool. That’s element one. Element two is to get partners to make an effort to develop better technologies because then the cars will then become even more appealing to the public. Basically the goal of the Championship is to put more electric cars on the roads.

So are the days of the internal combustion engine numbered?
I remember a very famous quote from Sheikh Yamani, the former Oil Minister of Saudi Arabia. He said that the Stone Age didn’t finish because we ran out of stones, and the Oil Age won’t finish because we run out of oil. It’ll end because new, better technologies will replace it.

So yes, I think the days of the internal combustion engine are numbered. It looks like it will be replaced with an electric motor, which is cleaner, makes less noise, and transforms energy into motion much more efficiently. We don’t know yet how it will be fed – battery, fuel cell, super capacitor…there are different ways to store energy. But I think the internal combustion engine will be replaced in the next 20 to 30 years. The technology is going in that direction.