This weekend, Central Hong Kong’s air quality will be cleaner than usual with the arrival of the city’s inaugural FIA Formula E ePrix.
Eight teams including two-year reigning champion Renault, Audi, DS Virgin, Panasonic Jaguar, China’s Techeetha and Venturi (backed by actor-turned-environmental-activist Leonardo DiCaprio), will battle out a quieter-than-usual but nonetheless electrifying race around the iconic harbour front and the International Financial Centre.
It will be the biggest motorsport event ever held in Hong Kong, weaving its way through an urban circuit approximately 2km in length, attracting an expected 30,000-strong audience. The first FIA Formula E season in 2014 saw races on the streets of 10 cities, from China to North America and Europe, before concluding in June this year in London’s Battersea Park, where Nelson Piquet Junior, son of the former three-time Formula One (F1) World Champion, clinched the title. In its first season alone, the race attracted 190 million television viewers, around half as many who tune into F1.
Formula E races last 50 minutes and include a mandatory pit stop, in which drivers switch to a second car, adding another element to the exciting competition. Drivers face unique challenges in Formula E as they have to manage battery consumption and regeneration of the battery to maintain charge throughout the race.
The arrival of the race in Hong Kong is expected to help glamourise electric cars and encourage take-up by the consumer market, reckons James Barclay, team director of Panasonic Jaguar Racing. “The championship shows consumers that they can be incredibly performance-focused while driving an electric vehicle. You can race for 50 minutes flat-out and...you have the ability to put energy back in while you are driving. The cars of our future will be electric so this is a great platform to educate consumers.”
A change in attitude couldn’t come too soon. Hong Kong has a serious pollution problem and motor vehicles contributed about 14 percent of the city’s greenhouses gases in 2013, and about 14 percent of local respirable suspended particulates and 20 percent of volatile organic compounds in 2014, according to the environment bureau.
The electric car revolution in Hong Kong has already begun. There were 6,167 electric vehicles in Hong Kong as of August this year, the vast majority of them private cars, more than ten times as many as in 2013. This growth in the sector is partly due to new state measures to promote electric cars, including waiving registration tax until March 2017, while firms that purchase eco-friendly vehicles are allowed 100 percent profit tax deduction for capital expenditure in the car’s first year.
The lack of charging stations is frequently cited as a roadblock in the take-up of electric cars. There are currently just 1,400 public charging points for a city with more than 500,000 private cars on the road. The government is trying to help, giving developers who build electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the car parks of new buildings concessions on gross floor area, but critics say it is slow progress.
According to Albert Lam, the chairman and CEO of Detroit Electric Group, a US-based electric car manufacturer, it is not a concern as it will be an organic process. "As Electric Vehicles gain more acceptance throughout the world as a real alternative, more investment will be deployed to install infrastructure. It is not a real concern, rather, we need to focus on creating better products," he said, at the launch of his prototype electric racer the SP:01, a lightweight two-seat sports car which achieved the fastest lap time on the Formula E support race.
The championship may be exactly what the city needs to draw more electric converts. British racing driver Adam Carroll, who is on the Panasonic Jaguar Racing team, commented: "We have a big opportunity to inspire fans around the world, and reach the next generation of EV drivers." Even if the infrastructure is lacking, the advent of Formula E in Hong Kong will almost certainly accelerate demand.
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