You may have already seen the news, but Nissan is entering electric race series Formula E for the 2018-2019 season.
The Japanese automaker is one of many manufacturers that have committed to entering Formula E in the future. German arch-rivals Mercedes-Benz and BMW, along with Porsche, are also slated to enter the pure electric, open-wheel race series for the 2019-2020 season. That’s in addition to the strong manufacturer support the series already has, which includes Audi, Jaguar, Citroen DS, Mahindra and China’s Nio. So why are all these manufacturers, Nissan included, joining Formula E?
Well, for starters, Formula E cars have some of the strongest correlation to road-going vehicles of any race cars today. Sure, next year’s wild-looking Formula E car looks nothing like anything you’ll ever see on the road, but it’s what’s underneath all that aggressive bodywork that counts. Being competitive in Formula E means having a powerful and reliable electric motor, a good inverter and the ideal transmission setup – be it multiple gears or a fixed ratio. Gaining a better understanding of electric motors, inverters and other EV components is important to today’s car manufacturers, and there’s no faster way to learn than going racing (pun very much intended). Additionally, automakers are attracted to the positive optics of racing electric cars versus those with an internal combustion engine.
All that’s true for Nissan, but there’s one other important reason the company wants in on the Formula E circus: it thinks it can win. With over 320,000 Leafs sold globally, the automaker is the world’s largest purveyor of electric vehicles. That’s given them a strong understanding of electric motors and battery systems and what makes them tick. This intel should ensure that Nissan hits the ground running in its inaugural Formula E season, according to Nissan’s head of EV marketing and sales strategy, Brian Maragno.
“The main reason (Nissan is entering the series) is that Formula E exists and given our history with electric vehicles – not just designing them, developing them and bringing them to market, but selling them, servicing them and all the things we’ve learned having them on the road all these years, I mean think about it 320,000 cars globally is quite a bit, so we’ve learned a ton,” said Maragno.
“So when we talk about the competitive edge that gives us, and there’s a competitive drive as well, we have a lot to bring to the table. So it’s an exciting type of venture for us to get into because we think we can do really, really well with it. And of course it helps round out our EV ecosystem for us. It’s another piece of the puzzle and represents what we’ve been doing for a long time.”
But while the Leaf has given Nissan a better understanding of EV powertrains and how to sell them and service them, it doesn’t think racing in the series will help them sell more examples of the electric hatchback. That’d be a nice positive, Maragno says, but the main reason they are there is to compete and win. In short, they just like to race, and the existence of Formula E gives them a great excuse to do so.
“You know what? It’s good old fashioned competition I think,” he said. “I don’t think we necessarily think it’s going to sell more Leafs. There could be some benefits there, that’d be fantastic, but it’s certainly not the primary reason.”
In our opinion, Nissan would be smart to release a performance-focused, fully electric product that coincides with the start of its Formula E program. Luckily for them, they already have such a product – the Nissan Leaf Nismo. Maragno told us it has no plans to bring the model to the United States (it’s currently sold in Japan only), but we think eco-conscious fans of performance cars would be all over it. It would also give them something extra relevant to display at Formula E races all over the world.
Nissan will take on Jaguar, Mahindra, Nio, Audi and others when the 2019 Formula E season kicks off in mid-December with the Riyadh ePrix. We wish you luck Nissan – but we still want to see that Leaf Nismo in US dealers.