new auckland

Plan to race EVs on Auckland’s waterfront

A group of Auckland entrepreneurs want to get Kiwis thinking about smarter transport solutions and sustainability by racing electric cars around the city’s waterfront. Its plan to bring Formula E to Auckland has business backing but as Mark Jennings reports, it needs the Government to flick the on switch.

Formula E is cool. Its street races, or E-prix, are held in the world’s coolest cities – Berlin, New York, Paris, Bern, Mexico City, Hong Kong and Marrakesh.

It is high tech and disruptive – Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Citroen use it to showcase their latest technology.

It’s sustainable – if a city doesn’t have renewable energy, Formula E makes it from special glycerine-fuelled generators. The race tyres are all recycled after the last race of the day.

It’s exciting – the cars race at high speed and families are entertained in an E-village where Formula E’s own unique electronic music is played by an EJ.

Putting aside the hype, Formula E is making serious inroads as a motorsport. Major car brands like Porsche, Mercedes and BMW are moving their focus from other forms of racing, including Formula One, to the environmentally friendly, all electric category.

So far, Formula E races have been held mainly in the Northern Hemisphere, but Chile and Hong Kong now host races and the organisers are keen to add Auckland.

So keen, that according to the CEO of NZ Innovation Council, Craig Cotton: “They are offering us a fantastic deal, they have discounted their fee by several million dollars. It is a once-only opportunity for New Zealand and we should take it.”

Cotton is leading a group, including scientist Michelle Dickinson (Nanogirl), looking to secure a Formula E race in 2019.

“We have been successful in engaging Formula E Holdings to host the opening race of the 2019/20 season. They love New Zealand’s aspiration and vision in achieving our 2035 and 2050 goals [on carbon reduction] and Formula E’s global partners would certainly help encourage EV adoption, smarter transport alternatives, and renewable energy alternatives which ultimately leads to lowering carbon emissions.”

The focus that Formula E brings to electric cars has seen Cotton’s group get support from Auckland lines company Vector, which wants to accelerate the uptake of EVs in this country.

“Vector’s on a mission to create a new energy future for New Zealand – a future where Electric Vehicles are the norm, not the exception …. Formula E is an example of how far EV technology has developed and represents an opportunity for New Zealand to take faster steps towards achieving zero carbon – while showcasing an annual event that is vibrant, sustainable, and demonstrates what is possible with new energy technologies,” says Vector’s chief executive Simon Mackenzie.

While sales of electric vehicles are soaring worldwide, New Zealand, a country with more renewable energy than most, is dawdling along.  

Just 1 percent of new car sales are electric vehicles compared to 51 percent in Norway and 31 percent in California.

New Zealand has just over 10,000 EVs in total.

In the United States, 44,589 new electric cars were sold in September - double the same month last year. 

China, which still produces 75 percent of its electricity from coal is moving rapidly away from carbon producing vehicles. 

Three point six percent of car and light truck sales are now EVs and the trend is accelerating as the local auto industry ramps up production.

The reasons most often given for New Zealand’s tardiness are the high cost relative to petrol or diesel cars, range anxiety and a lack of charging infrastructure.  

The first two issues are being solved by the big car manufacturers as they try to outmuscle Tesla with innovation and scale.  

The number of charging points throughout New Zealand is growing steadily but Kiwis remain reluctant to let go of their gas guzzlers. 

Giltrap Motors, one of the country’s biggest car dealers, helped fund a feasibility study on bringing a Formula E race to Auckland. 

The group has also received support from Auckland University of Technology, Drive Electric and SkyCity.

Cotton says an economic impact study commissioned by the group has estimated the benefit to Auckland would be about $160 million. 

The report by international consulting firm SMG Insight predicts that 4500 overseas visitors would come to Auckland and spend approximately $20 million while they are here.

Media coverage of the Auckland E-Prix was valued at $30 million.  

Newsroom understands that the group wants Auckland Council to put $3 million into the event.

ATEED, Auckland Council’s tourism, events and economic development agency, says the proposition is worth exploring further as it has the potential to generate visitor nights and exposure for the  region.

Steve Armitage, General Manager Destination, says ATEED has had initial discussions with the group.

“Earlier this week we received additional information from the consortium in advance of them making a formal application for funding.”

ATEED will assess a Formula E race against its major events strategy which was overhauled this year.

Going in the group’s favour is ATEED’s preference for events that fall outside the peak summer holiday season when accommodation is under the most pressure.

Newsroom understands the Formula E race would be held in November.

Securing the required $10 million in central Government funding might be a tougher task.

James Shaw, Environment Minister and Greens co-leader, is supportive of the event but chose not to comment when asked what it would take to get the coalition Government to commit.

Even if Government money is forthcoming, the race promoters will still face the challenge of securing a suitable racetrack. 

The favoured spot is along the waterfront in Auckland’s CBD where it’s predicted a crowd of 35,000 spectators would watch the race.

Ports of Auckland boss Tony Gibson supports the idea - it fits in with his company’s push to be emissions-free by 2040.

The race track would take in the areas of Bledisloe and Captain Cook wharves and a stretch of Quay street.

Given there would be no high pitched screams from Formula One engines or throaty roars from V8 supercars, noise wouldn’t be an issue. 

But the port’s roll-on-roll-off terminal that handles imported cars would need to be closed for two to three weeks.

In a statement released late last-week, Ports of Auckland said: “This would create significant disruption for the vehicle supply chain, affecting shipping companies, trucking companies, compliance centres, car dealers and others. The event could possibly impact on other cargo types and even the cruise industry.

“For this reason, Ports of Auckland will not make this decision alone, it will be made in partnership and consultation with industry stakeholders.”

Securing the best track for this futuristic car race will probably depend on how happy the sellers of second-hand Japanese cars are to put up with some short-term disruption. 

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