Nissan is joining Formula E, the first global racing series made up of all-electric racecars. The Japanese car manufacturer announced today at the Tokyo Motor Show that it will enter the series late next year at the start of Formula E’s fifth season. It will be the first manufacturer from Japan to compete in the young racing series, joining other carmakers from Germany (Audi, BMW, and — soon — Porsche and Mercedes-Benz), China (NIO), France (DS), the United Kingdom (Jaguar), and others.
The move will likely come at the expense of Renault, according to a recent report from Motorsport.com, as Nissan has decades-old strategic partnership with the French automaker. Representatives for Nissan declined to comment on Renault’s plans, and a representative for Renault’s racing division did not reply in time for publication.
Nissan “will work with its partner Renault to leverage expertise and development already available, in keeping with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi automotive partnership’s focus on collaboration and maximizing synergies to boost competitiveness,” the company wrote in a statement. Further details will be announced closer to the start of season five. (The beginning of season four is just over one month away, and the teams and manufacturers are already locked in.)
It would be a seismic shift if Nissan’s entry pushes Renault out of the sport, as the French automaker has won both team championships since Formula E began allowing manufacturers to compete in 2016. And e.Dams — the team that runs Renault’s race operations in Formula E — won the championship in the first season. It’s expected that e.Dams would remain with Nissan, according to Motorsport.com, putting the Japanese manufacturer in an excellent position as it enters Formula E.
It was only started in 2014, but major manufacturers have been flocking to Formula E, and for a number of reasons. It’s a relatively low financial commitment as far as motorsports go, and so involvement Formula E is seen as a low-risk way to promote a company’s EV efforts to a new, younger audience. Companies like Audi and Porsche, which have both been implicated in diesel emissions scandals, even quit or reduced their presence in more expensive (and more traditional) motorsports series in order to make the switch.
Formula E is also a place for these companies to test certain parts of their electric drivetrain technologies. The series only allows the manufacturers to develop a limited amount of the tech that powers the cars, but the series plans to expand what carmakers can tinker with as the seasons go by, increasing the technological relevance to their road cars. Nissan already competes in a variety of motorsports via its performance arm, Nismo, though its flirtations with hybrid electric racecars have produced unflattering results.
But, considering Nissan’s history with EVs, the fact that it’s about to start heavily promoting the new 2018 Leaf, and its ambitious electric plans for the future, Formula E seems like the right place to be.