Formula E has risen in popularity worldwide ever since the first electric racing cars took to the track in Beijing for the championship’s maiden season in 2014. Over the past four years a host of brands have explored the benefits of getting involved early in this emerging sport including Audi, Virgin Racing, Panasonic and now Nissan.
Last October, the Japanese car manufacturer said it would be setting up its own team for the fifth season of the Formula E championship starting at the end of this year. Nissan unveiled its car at the Geneva Motor Show in March, a vehicle which combines its expertise in e-motors, energy management and engineering built up through the creation of its electric car, Leaf.
Currently in its fourth season, the Formula E championship consists of 10 teams and 20 drivers who race around 10 cities including New York, Paris, São Paulo and Hong Kong. Formula E positions itself as a competitive platform for global car manufacturers to develop new electric technology, thereby refining the design of future electric vehicles for everyday drivers.
We don’t want to position Nissan Formula E as pure racing, we want to position it as the place where we talk about the future.
Roel de Vries, Nissan
With an ambition to become the most transparent brand in Formula E, Nissan sees clear synergies between this emerging sport and its commitment to the future of electric mobility. The Formula E sponsorship, which has been in discussion internally for the past two and a half years, plays into Nissan’s interests in intelligent mobility, autonomous driving and green technology.
Roel de Vries, Nissan global head of marketing, communications and brand strategy, explains that as the company wanted to maintain its presence in racing and promote its overall intelligent mobility strategy, Formula E was the logical next step.
He sees Formula E as an integral part of Nissan’s wider sports sponsorship portfolio, which already includes UEFA Champions League, Sky Sports Premier League coverage, the International Cricket Council, the National Basketball Association China and Netball Australia.
De Vries explains that while from a pure awareness perspective the Champions League is the broadest sponsorship Nissan is involved in, Formula E offers a deeper level of engagement.
“At football we try to talk about the connection between Nissan creating excitement through our technologies and vehicles, and football players creating excitement through the way they play the game, but of course a car is not the same as a football game. With Formula E we can talk far more specifically about our vision for the future when it comes to electrification and autonomous driving,” de Vries explains.
“For me if you look at sponsorship it’s very important to look at a portfolio. If we only do Formula E we would not get to the reach we want as a brand; if you only do something like Champions League I think you don’t build enough of a deep connection with people who know about your cars. I see them on par, but they have different roles to play.”
Finding new fans
As a relatively young sport Formula E has the opportunity to write its own rules, adding a high level of data-driven, interactive fan engagement. Fans are, for example, able to play an active role in influencing the outcome of a race through Fanboost, which offers them the opportunity to give their favourite driver an extra boost of power during the race.
The three drivers with the most Fanboost votes are awarded a burst of power, which they can deploy in a five-second window during the second half of the race.
De Vries has picked up on the differences between the fans of Formula E and fans of more traditional racing. Whereas GTR, Le Mans or Formula 1 attract real die-hard racing fans, Formula E’s city centre location and high level of accessibility means it has opened itself up to a different kind of spectator.
“The people that come to Formula E are not necessarily the die-hard motorsport fans, they are people that like sports. They are younger people who like to socialise together and they are not people who would go 200km outside the city to a racetrack and spend hours getting there and hours getting back,” de Vries explains.
“A lot of these young people are into technology, into new, exciting things and that’s how we want to position ourselves. We don’t want to position Nissan Formula E as pure racing, we want to position it as the place where we talk about the future and show the capabilities of the various technologies we have, beyond the car that’s racing on the track.”
During the races Nissan will have a presence in the E-Village, where its message will be about how Formula E plays into the brand’s wider activity in the electric, autonomous and connected space, particularly regarding innovations around its Leaf model.
De Vries believes this message is easy to take beyond the race given Formula E resonates so closely with the wider Nissan brand.
“When you go to our dealerships and you look inside at our products we want to have a very strong presence of Formula E,” he explains. “We want to take this into the overall marketing strategy of the brand and use the performance on the track as the base, but the real use of the platform will go far beyond that to motor shows, vehicle launches and dealerships.”