On the surface it might not seem like Formula-E and trucking have much in common.
However, in the world of electric vehicles, trucks have more in common with race cars than regular cars.
Electric trucks and electric race cars are both purpose built for duty cycles and both share the same big concerns around battery range, battery life, and safety – all things that Formula-E racing has been working to address.
During the first four seasons of Formula-E (2014– 2018) race cars had to be swapped out mid-way through a race. After the launch of Generation 2 Formula-E cars last year, batteries now have double the energy storage capacity.
This allows each car to complete a race without a swap, and means that electric race cars meet all distance, safety, power, and reliability requirements. Similarly, electric trucks are now entering production in high volume – this after much focus was placed on their battery capacity and vehicle range.
A recent industry report highlighted some of the advancements being made in Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs), “Battery capabilities and weight have evolved to the point that production BEVs are now available and capable of many medium-duty urban delivery services.”
When it comes to monitoring batteries, incredible advancements have been made here too. Sylvain Filippi, managing director and CTO at Envision Virgin Racing explains, “Batteries in the race cars are sophisticated enough to know that a cell has failed, the battery management system can then bypass it entirely so to not bring down the performance of the battery.”
Smarter Energy Management, Smarter Racing
Now that there is no ‘car swapping’, winning a Formula-E race has become about energy management. “Racing has switched to a format where energy management and time, rather than a specific lap distance, is key,” according to Julius Baer Group. It is critical for drivers of commercial BEVs to manage their energy use, as they’re currently limited to a number of charging stations.
The Alternative Fuels Data Center recently shared that as of January 2019, the US has more than 67,000 electric charging stations. However, these stations are not spread evenly across the country – making battery preservation an ever important factor when planning a journey.
The North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) is confident that charging infrastructure will evolve as demand for CBEVs grows, ''Charging will roll out in stages, first at a fleets’ base depot and eventually, remote public charging is expected to emerge on high density freight corridors."
An emerging area of concern when it comes to electric vehicles is around the possibility of electric shock during maintenance and repair, and the risk of fire in the event of an accident. Again, Formula-E racing protocols are leading the way in this area. Rick Mihelic, NACFE’s director of future technologies, observed first hand the safety precautions taken by the Virgin race team technicians at the Formula-E race in Mexico City. “The technician who was actually touching the car put on large orange rubber gloves and wore a full helmet with a face shield. His partner had an umbrella shaped pull bar, which he could use if something went awry as the first technician reaches over the car to disconnect the lines,” Mihelic said. So while there is some concern about batteries catching fire, Formula-E batteries have a robust history of not having an issue.
The Future of Electric Mobility
Formula-E racing is about much more than electric cars racing on street circuits in major cities, but rather, it's about forging the future of electric mobility. Formula-E’s evolution shows what progress is possible in electric vehicles with focused engineering and resources. Their real-world experiences provide a factual basis to help advance the dialogue on the development of commercial battery electric trucks.
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