Formula E: The hum of electric race cars signals the arrival of the EV era

Get a weekly pulse on news and trends in impact investing with our free newsletter.

*I agree to receive marketing emails from ImpactAlpha, its affiliates, and accept our terms of use and privacy policy.
ImpactAlpha Editor

Amy Cortese

ImpactAlpha, July 21 – There was no deafening roar of engines as 22 race cars careened along the Brooklyn waterfront last weekend. This was, after all, the Formula E – as in electric. 

“Electric” also sums up the mood at the race, which drew more than 20,000 fans. The electric hotrods announced their arrival as they lapped the 1.4-mile track with a high-pitched whistle that evoked whizzy fireworks, the whine of an airplane engine, or air raid sirens. 

As fans cheered from the stands, Portuguese driver Antonio Felix da Costa edged out Mercedes’ Stoffel Vandoornewon in an hour-long race to win round 12 of the New York City E-Prix. It was the latest event in the global Formula E series, the sustainable sister of the better known Formula One. 

The high-torque performance of the race cars augurs the arrival of the EV era. 

Electric-only vehicles have surpassed 5% of new car sales in the U.S., in what is considered a tipping point for mass market adoption (based on other nations that have already hit that milestone – thank you, Norway). At that pace, a quarter of new cars sold in the U.S. could be electric by 2025. Adding force to the shift are new electric-powered versions of some of the country’s most iconic cars. 

Electric icons

Volkswagen is readying an electric version of its beloved VW bus, in what The New Yorker calls perhaps “the most anticipated vehicle in automotive history” (at least among a generation of hippies, free spirits and activists). The first models of the ID.Buzz, as it is called (ID stands for “intelligent design”), will be sold in Europe, with the sorbet-colored minivans hitting U.S. shores in 2024. 

The counterculture touchstone may be eclipsed in demand by the more meat-and-potatoes F-150 Lightning, an e-version of Ford’s best selling F-series pickup truck that began shipping this spring. Ford is working through 200,000 pre-orders for the model amid supply shortages. In addition to its workhorse features, the F-150 Lightning can power a house during a blackout, provide a source of energy for power tools at remote job sites, and send energy back to the grid. 

GM, meanwhile, is planning some 30 electric models aimed at the mainstream market as it shifts to all-electric offerings by 2035. “To really get to 30, 40, 50% EVs being sold, you have to appeal to people that are in that $30,000 to $35,000 price range,” GM chief Mary Barra told the AP in a recent interview. 

Trickle down 

Formula E teams are sponsored by automakers such as Jaguar, Porsche, Stellantis and China’s Nio, which see it as a real-world testbed for EV technology. 

“We are pioneering technologies, pioneering materials, pioneering designs and solutions, all of which are relevant for our future passenger vehicles,” Jaguar’s James Barclay told Yahoo Finance. That could lead to major efficiency improvements in coming years. 

The technology already has progressed dramatically. The first-generation of Formula E cars had to stop for a battery swap, while current models can complete the hour-long race without a pitstop. A “Gen 3” model debuting next year will hit speeds of 200 mph. 

All that’s missing is Team Tesla