EU Seeks Buzz from Electric Cars

The European Commission has asked Formula One’s governing body to set up a racing championship series for electric cars, as a way of increasing public awareness and excitement about new-technology vehicles.

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Jean Todt, president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, told the Financial Times that the governing body was working with commissioners to create new electric car, go-kart and single-seater racing categories, raising the prospect of an F1-style electric car championship on Grand Prix circuits.

Mr Todt has set up an electric-car commission unit within the FIA, headed by Burkhard Goeschel, a former BMW director.

“We want as soon as possible to have new categories with new energy,” said Mr Todt, who added that a first season for electric car racing could come as early as 2013 and would be as global as the FIA could make it.

“As much as we can do it all over the world, we will do it,” he said.

The idea has been discussed by Mr Todt and Antonio Tajani, the European Union’s industry commissioner, who is pushing EU member countries to increase public adoption of electric cars.

“One of the priorities of my mandate is to give a concrete start to the ultimate conversion of the European car industry,” Mr Tajani, who discussed the idea of an Electric Grand Prix with Mr Todt during a visit to Paris in December said.

Mr Tajani said he hoped the event would use F1’s media muscle to stir consumers’ interest in electric vehicles.

Nissan, General Motors and PSA Peugeot Citroën have launched battery-powered models in the US, Japan and Europe.

More electric and plug-in hybrid cars are on their way from other groups, including Renault, Daimler and BMW but carmakers and policymakers say they will need big consumer subsidies and public investments in recharging infrastructure if they are to gain mass-market acceptance.

Mr Tajani in April published a road map for clean cars that, among a series of measures intended to help speed electric vehicles on to European roads, called for common electric chargers.

The EU has also made loans of more than €6 billion ($9.6 billion) to the industry via the European Investment Bank’s green car initiative.

Mr Tajani has warned about the dangers of losing ground to China, the US and other competitors that are revving up their plans to capture what could be an industry of the future.

The project fits into Mr Todt’s strategy for getting the teams of F1 and other motorsport series to embrace hybrid and electronic technology, and to use the global reach of F1 to foster better public understanding of issues such as green energy and road safety.

But he is meeting resistance from Bernie Ecclestone, F1’s commercial supremo, over his plan to introduce small-capacity turbocharged hybrid engines from the 2013 F1 season.

“The racing community are only interested in how to improve performance because they want to win,” Mr Todt said in a FT interview.

“If you speak to the boards of manufacturers they feel a strong interest to implement the technologies, which are not so obvious for the sporting community because it costs money and research and it doesn’t improve performance, and I understand that.”

Additional reporting by Joshua Chaffin and John Reed