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March 29, 2024

How Nissan's Participation In Formula E Is Helping Them Make Better Cars (And Vice-Versa)

When Nissan announced its commitment to race in Formula E until 2030, some thought: why participate in a series that’s considered niche? With Super GT being the only other racing series where Nissan participates as a works team, why not go for broke and go into something like Formula 1, World Rally Championship, or World Endurance Championship? The answer is a simple one, according to two Nissan executives.

Tommaso Volpe, the team principal for Nissan’s Formula E team admits that the carmaker initially entered the sport in Season 5 (2018/19) purely for marketing reasons. However, as the sport switched to Gen 3 cars (Formula E revamps their cars, formally called Gen, every four years or so), the timeline coincided with Nissan’s corporate pivot to electrification under the Nissan Ambition 2030 plan. Quickly, Nissan engineers realized the invaluable two-way technology and information transfer between their production cars and Formula E race cars.

A concrete example of this is how Nissan’s legendary road car, the GT-R, helped improve the performance of their Formula E cars. Ivan Espinosa, Nissan’s Chief Product Officer explains that Nissan has produced a brilliant, but mechanical system called Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All-Terrain or ATTESA. The challenge was to somehow translate that mechanical technology into lines of code that would work in a Formula E race car.

Considering that a vast majority of Gen 3 Formula E racecars have shared components with each other, including the 47-kWh lithium-ion battery and front-mounted Motor Generator Unit (MGU) made by Williams Advanced Engineering, the secret sauce here is in the Nissan designed and made rear power unit (which it shares with the McLaren Formula E team), and how power is distributed between to the two axles. Furthermore, it’s all about managing things like output and energy recovery (40 percent of energy is generated by the brakes)—something very important if a driver would have the pace and the range to cover the entire race distance.

In the current season so far, Nissan may have had a tough start by failing to score in the opening round in Mexico City due to energy management issues. However, Nissan managed to bounce back quickly. By the second round in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, the Nissan-powered McLaren Formula E team showed pace by finishing fourth. Building on that strong showing, by the third round, also in Diriyah, Oliver Rowland and Sacha Fenestraz both finished in the points with Rowland scoring Nissan’s first podium of the season. By Round 4, Sam Bird of the McLaren Formula E team took the top step with Rowland yet again scoring a podium place in third.

Things don’t end with a strong showing on the racetrack. Espinosa says that this all-electric torque vectoring technology helped Nissan finetune its e-4ORCE—an electric drive all-wheel drive system that could be considered as the spiritual successor to ATTESA. In gist, e-4FORCE controls the driving force by precisely controlling the outputs of the front and rear motors, and left and right brakes. This has helped Nissan develop the X-Trail as well as the Ariya and its high-performance variant, the Ariya Nismo.

With Nissan continuing to see electrification as an important brand pillar moving forward, they are set to introduce 34 electrified models by 2030 with 60 percent of that being battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and the remaining being e-Power or Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs). Espinosa isn’t discounting that some of these models will be either be high-performance or at least have a performance-oriented bent and will definitely benefit from e-4ORCE.

Nissan’s involvement in Formula E may have started as a marketing exercise, but thanks to it aligning with the company’s Nissan Ambition 2030 goals, it has transformed into a genuine technical involvement from every aspect of Nissan’s R&D. This has helped them stay ahead of the electrification game whether it be on the road or on the race track.

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