Autos

The Sound of Racing Silence: Get Ready for an Electric Formula One


The Qualcomm launch event in Berlin on Sept. 9

Courtesy FIA Formula E

The Qualcomm launch event in Berlin on Sept. 9

Ladies and gentlemen, start your super-efficient, silent engines.

The group behind Formula One auto racing has unveiled a 10-city series for electric race cars. Dubbed “Formula E,” naturally, the schedule starts Sept. 10, 2014, in Beijing and zips around the globe, making stops in Putrajaya, Malaysia; Hong Kong; Punta Del Este, Uruguay; Buenos Aires; Los Angeles; Miami; Monte Carlo; Berlin; and London. Initially, 10 teams with two drivers apiece are slated to race.

It’s a cool concept and the mental image it evokes is downright surreal: sleek sports cars quietly gliding around a curvy track, with the only sound coming from screeching tires and screaming fans. The silence actually presents a safety issue for tire crews, so the electric race cars will emit a canned “car sound” when pulling into pit lane so nobody gets run over.

If all goes as planned, the events will boost demand for battery-powered vehicles. “Electric cars are still perceived as slow, even as ugly or not cool, something that people don’t want to buy for their day-to-day lives,” Alejandro Agag, chief executive officer of Formula E, told Reuters. Indeed, the cars that will zip around the tracks aren’t your aunt’s Prius. At speeds up to 135 miles per hour, they make even the celebrated Tesla (TSLA) look a bit pedestrian. The races will be conducted in “power-saving” mode, but drivers will be able to get a temporary boost with the push of a button.

Renault Group (RNO:FP), Europe’s largest seller of electric vehicles, has the potential to gain the most if Formula E catches on. The cars that will race are an amalgam of cobbled-together parts from a consortium of companies. Renault, as technical partner, will make sure all the systems work in concert.

The French company’s clean and green cars are already setting a brisk pace off the track. In the first eight months of 2013, the company sold 10,561 electric vehicles, almost six times the number it moved in the year-earlier period.

Kyle-stock-190
Stock is an associate editor for Businessweek.com. Twitter: @kylestock

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