The Nissan Leaf is the bestselling electric car in history, and Nissan is no stranger to motor sports. But so far, the Japanese automaker has been conspicuously absent from Formula E, the only major racing series for electric cars. That’s about to change.
Nissan will join Formula E for the series’ fifth season, which begins in late 2018 and runs through the middle of 2019. While Formula E already features a number of European automakers, India’s Mahindra, and Chinese startup NextEV, Nissan will be the series’ first Japanese manufacturer.
The reason for Nissan’s absence in Formula E so far is that its partner Renault already fields a team. The French automaker will leave the series to make room for its Japanese partner. In a press release announcing Nissan’s participation, Formula E said the Japanese automaker will “replace one of the existing validated manufacturer registrations for the 2018-19 season,” keeping the number of manufacturers at nine. Renault separately confirmed that it will exit Formula E at the end of the 2016-17 season, giving its spot to Nissan.
Since Nissan and Renault are part of the same conglomerate, it doesn’t make much sense for them to compete against each other in Formula E. If nothing else, that would mean committing twice the amount of money to racing. While the Volkswagen Group’s Audi and Porsche competed against each other briefly in the FIA World Endurance Championship, it’s unusual for a company to have two of its brands race in the same series.
Renault has had a pretty good run in Formula E, winning the team championship in every season so far. Sebastien Buemi also took the drivers’ championship in a Renault in Formula E’s second season, and narrowly missed out to Audi Abt Schaeffler driver Lucas di Grassi in the recently completed third season. Renault was one of the first major automakers to get involved in Formula E, and helped develop the standardized race car chassis used by all teams.
Automakers are flocking to Formula E. In addition to Nissan, Audi and BMW will step up their involvement in the series in the coming years. Mercedes-Benz and Porsche will pull out of more traditional race series to join Formula E.