Pushing the limits of electric cars: How Extreme E is leading the transportation revolution

The fate of combustion engines is sealed. They are on the verge of extinction, as governments around the world have imposed that gasoline and diesel cars can no longer be produced.

Most of the bans will come into effect within the next five to ten years (depending on the country).

The obvious successor to our gasoline and diesel cars are electric vehicles. They already exist in various forms, continue to drop in price and gain in popularity. At the end of last year, there were over 10 million plug-in electric vehicles on the road.

Hydrogen-powered vehicles are also an option, but there are currently only two models on the market, with just over 31,000 drives by the end of 2020. So, for now at least, electric cars are on the rise. the primary option for most drivers.

But despite legislation in place to phase out petrol and diesel cars – which were to be the last nail in the combustion engine coffin – in 2020, more than three-quarters of new cars sold in the EU were still petrol ( 47.5%) and diesel (28 percent).

There are financial incentives to get customers to buy electric vehicles, along with overwhelming evidence of the damage our cars do to the planet – but most people still choose the polluting option.

Consumers have reservations about electric cars. An Autolist survey found that nearly half of those surveyed would not buy an electric vehicle due to its range on a single charge, despite the fact that many models now offer 400 to 480 km on a full battery.

“There are more electric vehicles available today than ever before, but it hasn’t changed consumers’ perceptions about them much,” says Chase Disher, analyst at Autolist.

“The misconceptions that electricity faced at the start of this decade are still a major obstacle to their success at this time. “

That’s where Extreme E. The all-terrain cousin of Formula E, Extreme E is an all-electric off-road racing championship that helps change the narrative around electric vehicles.

“It makes electric cars cool”

The series of races has already organized three stages, in Saudi Arabia, Senegal, and more recently in Greenland. Nine teams are competing this year – its inaugural season – with a male and female driver in each.

Unlike Formula 1, each team drives the same vehicle: the Spark Odyssey 21 SUV, manufactured by Spark Racing Technology with a battery from Williams Advanced Engineering.

Huge names from the motorsport world (and beyond) are involved, including Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg – who all have a team – and driving legends like Sebastian Loeb and Carlos Sainz who are in fact behind the wheel.

It was the impressive number of participants that convinced Loeb, the most successful driver in World Rally Championship history with nine world titles to his name, to join Lewis Hamilton’s X44 team.

“When I saw all these names like my boss, Lewis [Hamilton]; [Nico] Rosberg; Carlos [Sainz] when I entered this discipline, I said to myself ‘maybe this is the right way to go!’ », He laughs.

“I was interested in discovering this new discipline and now I’m here and enjoying driving.

But at first, Loeb wasn’t sure about electric cars. He felt hesitant, as someone who built a long career with combustion engines, he was used to reacting to car noise, to traction, to grip.

“I was a little afraid that I would have absolutely no feeling with the car,” he says, “but I don’t, we have a very good feeling in our car. The feeling between the driver and the engine is something really natural.

“You still have the sound of the electric, which gives you information on the speed of the wheels, on the grip of the traction that you have.

“It’s really nice to drive an electric car, you have a lot of torque,” he adds, “it wasn’t always the case in the past.”

Timmy Hansen, Loeb’s former rallycross teammate, agrees that Extreme E is helping to change the perception of electric vehicles.

“It makes electric cars cool,” he told Euronews Green, “we can race electric cars and that is the most important! “

Hansen, along with her Andretti United teammate Catie Munnings, won the last Extreme E X-Prix, held in Greenland.

Despite some technical issues in the qualifying round, the final race of the Arctic X-Prix was undeniably impressive, featuring electric cars in truly extreme capacity.

“It’s great to watch, it’s really cool,” said Molly Taylor of Nico Rosberg’s racing team.

“It is an important element, the perception of the market and the demand for electric cars. We want something that is cool and shows that you don’t have to compromise on other factors.

Innovate for the future

Although Extreme E clearly demonstrates that perceptions on electric cars are largely outdated, the series still faces its own set of technical issues.

From a day-to-day perspective, the championship clearly shows that electric vehicles are capable of handling difficult terrain, reaching impressive speeds and being driven by the best drivers in the world.

But there are still frustrations when it comes to capacity. In the second qualifying race in Greenland, three cars did not finish due to different performance issues. There were similar issues the next day during the Crazy Race, where teams were hampered by battery malfunctions.

The course was eventually shortened in an attempt to counter those obstacles, resulting in a dramatic finale – but frustration with the cars’ capacity was a hot topic on the spot.

The Extreme E team doesn’t try to hide it though. Founder Alejandro Agag, who is also the founder and CEO of Formula E, is completely transparent about the limits of its vehicles.

“[It’s] hit a weak spot for me because I’m not at all happy with our batteries, ”Agag says,“ and that says a lot because these batteries are probably the best batteries in the world for what they do.

For Agag, batteries are the component that most slows down the transport revolution. He likens it to Moore’s Law – the principle that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years, making computers faster, while the cost is halved.

“The dream for me will be that there was some kind of Moore’s Law for batteries … My phone today is more powerful than a supercomputer that was bigger than this part – and it happened very quick !

Batteries, on the other hand, have not developed at the same rate. Agag says that instead of doubling the capacity every 18 to 24 months like microchips, they only improve by two or three percent over the same period.

“This is the big obstacle to the mass adoption of electric transport and electric technology,” Agag continues. “Maybe someone will fix this problem. May be.”

But Extreme E (and its more traditional cousin, Formula E) are at the forefront of advancing this technology. Agag sees these championships as “a platform to test” batteries, thus leading the development of electric vehicles.

“The race provides the ultimate R&D [research and development] and the ability to build those things to a higher level, ”he says.

“I think we’re pushing the movement forward to a very fast level compared to a manufacturer… it elevates everything a lot faster.”

About Robert Pierson

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