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The impact of electric vehicles on the future direction of the automotive industry is going to be huge. According to new statistics, 291,000 Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) and Plug-in Hybrids (PHEV) were sold in Europe in Q3-2018, 35 percent higher than the same period in 2017. These include passenger cars and light commercial vehicles. And what’s more, the plug-in share of the European light vehicle market reached 2.7 percent in September, the highest ever for a single month.

Innovation from the track to the road

Electric vehicles have already found a place in motorsport, which historically bodes well for the automotive industry in general. Formula E is the pinnacle of electric car competition. Since the first World Championship kicked-off in Beijing in September 2014, Formula E has gone from strength to strength and now attracts some of the world’s top drivers. This has made Formula E a key focus for some of the biggest automotive manufacturers.

And why not? To run a team of two Formula E cars costs the same as running six cars in DTM – the globally renowned German touring car championship. Jens Marquardt, BMW Motorsport Director has confirmed that BMW has made significant investments in the new E series. There is a constant exchange between the technology used on the racing track and the technology used on road cars.

Unlike Formula 1, where unique technology very rarely makes it onto the road, Marquardt sees significant customer value in Formula E technology. For example, BMW’s latest racing car has 100 percent more power than the BMW i3 road car it’s based on, with 40% less volume and a 50% weight saving. Already a quarter of all electric engineers involved in BMW’s i cars were drafted over to the Formula E project — and are now back on road projects.

The race for innovation behind the scenes

All Formula E teams are still singing their praises on cost-saving unit parts—including carbon chassis, the tires and the 320-kilogram lithium-ion battery. But behind each driver is a huge team of technical race engineers to replace mechanical parts with electronics. Take the example of Team Abt Schaeffler using a three-speed gearbox and Jaguar currently using two gears. The shifting costs precious fractions of a second. Drivers can save more energy using brake recuperation than manual upshifts. The prerequisite is the fast switching frequencies of silicon carbide semiconductors. However, road cars will have to wait – the super chips will not be able to convert the direct current from the battery to the alternating current for the electric motor until the next decade.

These sorts of developments mean the days of the specialized independent teams in Formula E are numbered. As in Formula 1, new cooling concepts for the extremely thermally stressed components are being developed on high-performance computers. But without material scientists and professional simulation tools from the industry, independent teams without factory support will hardly have a chance in the future. BMW already supports the Andretti team with engineers and know-how. Next season it will become a BMW factory team.

Even Mercedes is indirectly active as a development partner of the Monaco-based Venturi team. “We have 800 people working for Mercedes-AMG’s High-Performance Powertrains (HPP), and we’re working on Formula 1, on production cars like the Mercedes AMG Project One and now on the Formula E project, “says Andy Cowell, the head of Mercedes-AMG-HPP, who also heads the global competence center of the Daimler Group for high-performance hybrid technology.

Pure electric supercars will follow soon, and so will business implications

High-speed electric motors are a specialty of the UK automotive sector: “Our engineers have been working on this for over a decade, for example, with the Kers Formula 1 system,” reports Cowell proudly. “The energy recovery and boost system, which today is called MGU-K, runs at 50,000 revolutions per minute, allowing the drivers to retrieve 120 kilowatts for 30 seconds use, and from 2021 the power boost is expected to rise to 150 kilowatts. ”

The facts make it clear that Formula E innovation will soon spread to road-going electric cards. The Mercedes-AMG Project One will bring a hybrid high-speed concept to the road. Soon all-electric supercars from Audi, BMW and Mercedes will follow.

As the pace of change in automotive manufacturing intensifies, those who react fastest will differentiate themselves from the competition and tap into new revenue opportunities. Automotive customers turn to IFS Applications because of the unprecedented range of manufacturing and business control strategies it supports. Having the right software platform in place to manage industry change becomes a vital tool in the new automotive world.

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One Response to “Formula E – a test bed for automotive innovation from track to road”

  1. Day One Automotive

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