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The electric cars of the future

While electric cars have long been talked about as a possibly rather dull solution to the need to reduce carbon emissions, few people expected the whizzy world of motor racing to provide the thrust for their emergence into everyday life.

However, Formula E, the new racing series being launched by the FIA, motorsport’s governing body, is to begin a 10-race programme in cities including Rome and Rio de Janeiro next year.

Lord Drayson, the former science minister who runs one of the first teams to sign up, expects this to pave the way for all-electric cars to account for 50pc of new car sales by 2020. Britain is now leading the way in much of the technology.

“Electric cars will be another example of where motorsport has introduced a new technology which has gone on to be applied more generally,” he says.

“Motorsport has a very important role in accelerating innovation in these areas and making these new clean technologies cool and exciting, rather than being seen as dull and boring.

“The first times a rear-view mirror and disc brakes were used on a car were in a race, while other technologies we now take for granted, such as four-wheel drive, also started in racing.

“The thing that will be great about Formula E from cities’ point of view will be that it will be a great platform from which to promote the adoption of electric cars.

“The events will attract a lot of new interest and will redefine what people believe that an electric car can do.”

Drayson, 52, is the former chief executive of Powerject Pharmaceuticals, which was sold for £550m in 2003 to America’s Chiron Corporation, now part of Novartis (Berlin: NOT.BE – news) .

A motor racing fanatic who grew up near Brands Hatch and has raced motor cars professionally, his Drayson Racing Technologies firm, based near Oxford, this month became the first team to join the new championship.

The company has sponsorship from US technology group Qualcomm, which will also help develop “dynamic” wireless electric vehicle charging technology, which allows the continuous charging of electric vehicles while they are moving.

“We’ll be wirelessly charging electric race cars first in the pit and then on the track,” says Drayson. “We can see the opportunity to pilot this technology in cities on race tracks.

“Races will take place and then, after the race is finished, you can have electric buses going around the circuit. That will then give cities confidence in this technology, allowing it to roll out.”

Drayson believes 2013 will be a pivotal year for electric cars in the UK, with the launches of the Tesla S and BMW (Xetra: 519000 – news) i-series.

“The usual journey new technology goes through is that when it’s first announced you get huge interest and therefore hype and exaggeration over its potential,” he says.
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