The Formula E effect: how Vancouver’s upcoming EV sporting event could accelerate adoption
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Nov 2, 2021
Emma Jarratt

Formula E’s arrival in Vancouver next year is an opportunity to catapult zero-emission driving into the mainstream

The Formula E event comes to Vancouver, it may provide the media coverage needed to bring EV adoption into the mainstream. Photo: ABB

Formula E’s arrival in Vancouver next year is an opportunity to catapult zero-emission driving into the mainstream

In the world of racing speed trumps all, so it’s no surprise that the first major sporting event to revolve around EVs is a faster, quieter and zero-emission twist on a legacy racetrack event: Formula E.

With 0-100 acceleration in under three seconds, speeds of up to 280 km/h and a race that’s designed around who is the most skilled driver rather than which team has the deepest pockets, Formula E is showcasing the very best in electric vehicle driving. And soon the performance will be coming to Canada after FIA partnered with ABB Ltd to bring the race to Vancouver in 2022.

“These are the technologies that are being developed for tomorrow’s car that people will be driving on the street,” says Eric Deschênes, country managing director and head of electrification business, ABB Canada.

“The technology inside the Formula E car will be almost identical to what all electric cars will have in the future. People can see the technologies they will be driving or using in the near term, whether it’s a year or three years.”

From racetrack to real life

It’s that attainability element of the Formula E cars that Deschênes believes could be a significant influence on public willingness to transition not only because it amplifies the “cool factor” of electric vehicles, but the race will showcase how their performance is superior.

So just how much of an impact does Formula E anticipate having on public psychology in terms of normalizing and feeling included in an electric transition?

Eric Deschênes, managing director and head of electrification at ABB in Canada.
Eric Deschênes, country managing director and head of electrification business, ABB Canada.

Well, it remains to be seen, of course, but in addition to demonstrating the performance of a new vehicle type, over the course of three days the Formula E Vancouver July 2022 race will be reaching its long arms into public education, gender inclusivity initiatives and equitable access to electric vehicles.

“What we’re doing is creating this E-village in the immediate surrounding of the racetrack for people to see touch and feel the vehicles and talk to experts,” explains Deschênes. “It is much more a family event rather than just watching an ABB Formula E race car.”

Deschênes estimates about 25 per cent of the spectators of the Formula E races are, what he calls “doubting Thomases,” but he notices that the way the race is structured often leads to constructive and educational conversations about the e-mobility movement.

“I had a sport news analysts, a former Indy fan, who said, ‘Why should I like these cars?’ And suddenly, rather than talking about the Formula E race, we start talking about, ‘well, I’ve got two daughters. Do you have kids?’

The conversation about children dovetailed seamlessly into making the case for electric vehicles, recalls Deschênes, along with how Formula E is not only entertainment, but is being leveraged overall to fill a gap in public education and awareness.

“You started to realize that the intent with the race is not solely to raise awareness about the no carbon emissions, rather, we want to change the entire planet in terms of reliance on fossil fuels,” says Deschênes.

“I think that there are doubting Thomas, but also there’s also many individuals converting rapidly because people start to believe that’s the right thing to do.”

Formula E(quality)

And in addition to helping to change the narrative about the role and importance of e-mobility, Formula E is also committed to opening up the world of top-level car racing to women. Unlike the all-male-driver Formula One, the electric race is actively recruiting and training women to drive with an eye to creating a competition that showcases the most skilled drivers, regardless of sex.

“The goal is to create that pool of younger women to become drivers, to have male and female drivers competing on the same racetrack. That’s amazing,” says Deschênes. “The challenge is not the lack of willingness to get female drivers, it is there’s a lack of female drivers. So what we’re starting to do is the young FIA ABB e-mobility women’s race for the 12- to 15-year-olds.”

That circuit is part of Formula E’s Girls on Track program, co-founded by Susie Wolff, who was a professional British racing driver and is now the team principal of Venturi Racing in Formula E. The program’s goal is to “seeks to push forward the FIA’s goal of gender equality and increased participation in motorsport” according to ABB FIA Formula E’s website.

Says Wolff of the program: “We want to inspire the next generation of young girls who want to create opportunity within the sport and make sure that they’re supported through role models and mentoring.”

Giving back

A core way Formula E differentiates itself from other races is that it makes an obligation to host cities to help support community zero-emission efforts.

“One thing is we want to have an impact into our community,” says Deschênes. “So, whenever we’re engaging with food banks, Red Cross or anything like that, we need to do fundraising. The other part is, how do we help our communities to change their infrastructure to electric?”

In Vancouver’s case, that means $50,000 will be donated to the city by FIA and ABB every year there is a race there. The money will be put towards public chargers and is enough to cover three or four units, based on what the city determines its needs are — more expensive DC fast chargers versus cheaper Level 2.

“We’re very pleased to hopefully accelerate the transition into the Vancouver metro areas with additional chargers,” says Deschênes. “We have key partners with the City of Vancouver, helping us changing the planet one step at a time.”

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