From racetrack to roads: Carmakers vie for electric supremacy

Not every advance in electric-vehicle technology takes place inside the sterile calm of a research laboratory.

BMW AG, Volkswagen AG’s Audi and a Silicon Valley-based battery maker are helping push the boundaries by racing electric-powered cars through Saudi Arabia, New York, London and Seoul at speeds topping 170 mph.

Breakthroughs made by competitors in Formula E, which began its sixth season this week, are being incorporated into family SUVs and sedans – and even India’s electric rickshaws – as manufacturers seek to improve and extend their electric lineups while nations gradually phase out gas guzzlers. More powerful batteries and better motors, energy-management software and braking systems are all being transferred from the racetrack to the showroom.

“What we are doing in Formula E is highly relevant back on the road,” said Dilbagh Gill, chief executive officer and team principal of India’s Mahindra Racing, the motorsport unit of Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. “We are able to come in and help them immediately in improving the product.”

Formula E, which began in 2014 with an “E-Prix” in Beijing, has 12 teams, almost all of which involve automakers producing or developing battery-powered vehicles for consumers – such as Nissan Motor Co. and Tata Motors Ltd.’s Jaguar brand.

Volkswagen’s Porsche and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz brand are new participants in the 14-race season that opened Friday in Saudi Arabia. The schedule runs through July, concluding with the two-day London E-Prix.

Briton Alexander Sims racing with BMW i Andretti Motorsport won Saturday’s race on the outskirts of the Saudi capital Riyadh, with his German teammate Maximilian Guenther coming in second.

Last season’s champion was DS Techeetah, the Chinese-owned team of PSA Group’s DS Automobiles. Its DS E-Tense FE20 machine can accelerate from zero to 100 kph (62 mph) in 2.8 seconds.

DS Automobiles is taking the powertrain – parts including the motor and inverter – from its Formula E entry and putting it inside a concept car called the DS X E-Tense. It also will use the same operating software across its planned range of electric passenger vehicles.

PSA Group, also home to the Peugeot and Citroen brands, is targeting a fully electrified fleet by 2025.

“The cars that win in Formula E are the most energy-efficient, which is largely driven by software,” Paris-based DS Automobiles said. “Everything we do in Formula E with algorithms and software we try to replicate in series production.”

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  1. This is an outstanding technology if deployed worldwide in automobile production,it would reduced overdependence on fossil fuel.

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