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'Motorsport is marketing' - how BMW uses Formula E to sell electric cars

'Motorsport is marketing' - how BMW uses Formula E to sell electric cars

After Rome, Paris and Monaco, it was Berlin's turn. More precisely the former Tempelhof airport site, as Formula E continued its European tour. In addition to the race between drivers such as Felipe Massa, Jean-Eric Vergne and Luca Di Grassi, the FIA Formula E Championship (the equivalent of Formula 1 but with electric cars) aims to promote electric mobility.

Motorsport is expensive, that's not exactly a secret. This is true for those who practice it but also for sponsors. So when a car manufacturer decides to invest in it, the decision is not made lightly. At a time when the competition is more fierce than ever and the industry is undergoing great change, it is important not to make mistakes. The links between the world of motor racing and the automobile industry for the general public must, therefore, be very strong, as must the image that will result from the venture.

For many manufacturers, Formula E represents a new and interesting challenge to look at. Jens Marquardt, the director of BMW Motorsport, with whom we were able to talk to before the race, reminded us why many car manufacturers have decided to invest in the sport. "Motorsport must be seen as a marketing tool and part of an overall strategy. It is important to be able to tell stories and Formula E allows you to do so."

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Jens Marquardt is the top man in motorsport at BMW. / © AndroidPIT

Making the electric car credible and practical

"We are doing everything we can in Formula E to help the electric car," explains Jens Marquardt. This is why the choice of holding races within cities themselves, and not on traditional circuits on the outskirts of towns, is essential. "We have to stay in the city," said Marquardt with a firm tone. Car manufacturers want to be in the heart of urban areas to promote electric mobility, which is essential to fight pollution.

But electric motorsport also makes it possible to advance the technology offered by production cars and contribute to making the electric vehicle more credible. For example, "the same engineers who are advancing electrification for BMW i also work in Formula E," says Marquardt, thus ensuring that the Bavarian manufacturer is also synonymous with driving pleasure in the field of electric mobility.

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The FIA Formula E Championship has been in existence since 2014. / © AndroidPIT

For the boss of BMW motorsport, there are three main obstacles that explain the reluctance of consumers to go for an electric car: price, range and charging infrastructure. Marquardt believes that Formula E must be used to ease these concerns, convincing drivers by showcasing solutions to these three problems. It has already fulfilled part of its mission, at least at the German manufacturer, by pooling costs and demystifying the problems of battery life. Indeed, the adoption of new batteries in electric single-seater racing cars now makes it possible to complete an entire E-Prix without changing cars (which they used to do), while ensuring exceptional performance with a top speed of 280 km/h.

Demonstrating access to recharging infrastructure is a more complicated task for Formula E. However, the objective of the FIA Formula E Championship is to push the limits of what is possible in the field of electrification. It would, therefore, not be surprising if solutions were to be proposed in the future.

The future of driving

In the end, BMW, with Formula E, wants to mirror what driving will become in the coming years, by making the link between the real world and the virtual world: "In 10 years, I can easily imagine a race where 10 cars are driven virtually by a driver from a simulator, 10 cars are driven autonomously by AI and 10 cars are driven by professional drivers. This would give us the three possible ways of driving that will be present in the future," imagines Jens Marquardt. It's a pleasant future in which e-sport mixes with sport and makes you envious.

Have you ever attended an E-Prix race? Do you think that motorsport can help popularize the electric car?

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