Interview: Mark Preston, Team Principal, Team Aguri Formula E

Mark Preston
Mark Preston

We are delighted to publish the first of our interviews with prominent figures in the electric vehicle market. Today’s interview is with Mark Preston who is the Team Principal of Team Aguri Formula E, as well as holding a variety of other roles within the industry. We trust that you will find the interview as informative and interesting as we did:

 Question: How long have you been involved in the electric vehicle market?

Mark Preston: My first foray into the market was working on the Oxford YASA Motors spin out from the University of Oxford. I was involved in the business strategy and fund raising and this meant that I had to look deeply into the market forces and really started me looking more carefully at this industry which I suppose is really a rebirth of the one that started at the beginning of the 20th century, with people like Karl Benz (granted a patent for his first automobile in 1886) and Ferdinand Porsche (started Porsche company in Austria in 1931).

I then travelled to San Francisco to look at what the “valley” was doing differently than the big 3 in Detroit (I was born in the Ford city Geelong in Australia and worked for Ford and General Motors Holden in Australia before coming to the UK to do F1 with TWR).

Then I began to see that the solution to electric cars was tied to the full integrated transportation model: when vehicle become autonomous and we use multiple forms of transportation to get anywhere it will not be about range anxiety. A bit like when the mobile phone industry started, it was all about the battery (see Nokia with Gordon Gekko!) and is now about software and design: see iPhone. I think the transport business will go the same way. Apple will deliver a product that is just right for the user in mega-cities of the world. A lot of people in Europe and the USA talk about how how range anxiety is the real problem: I don’t agree. In Formula E we race in the mega-cities of the world: London, Buenos Aires, LA, London, Paris, Moscow. They will define the spending in the future and their requirements are different.

Question: Do you think that electric vehicles will outnumber their gasoline/petrol counterparts in the next 20 years?

Mark Preston: Yes, see above thought process regarding mega-cities. They will define the future and as they get more polluted (see China), governments will be forced to drive the agenda and that will push us towards EV. But this could also mean hydrogen fuel cells and other innovative ideas.

Question: Are governments doing enough to support the electric vehicle market?

Mark Preston: See above, they will when the mega-cities of the world start to define the future. In fact it is highly possible that these “city-states” drive the changes rather than their parent federal governments. The Mayor of Paris has stated that she would like to make the centre of Paris Zero-Emission very soon. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-30381223). It could come from a Chinese city or a progressive city-state like London!

Question: Why has the electric vehicle sector seemingly failed so often in the past?

Mark Preston: All markets are driven by a number of factors. You could look at Michael Porters Five Forces of a market. My MBA showing through! These competitive forces shape strategy.

Suppliers - if suppliers to the industry come up with completely different ways to solve batteries, inductive charging, cheaper systems, then an industry might change more quickly.

Substitutes - there may be a substitute technology that jumps the current status quo, like autonomous vehicles which would charge themselves when needed, pre calculate journeys with accuracy. Maybe we jump straight to public transport only in mega-cities?!

New Entrants - we could also see hydrogen jump the entire battery industry through different system level solutions becoming viable driving towards EV but just with a different power source.

Buyers - Formula E could start to change peoples opinions and drive the desires of Generation (?XY?) who simply want the new high-tech iPad like autonomous pods. See what Google and Apple are doing for reference.

This industry is at a turning point and the solution will not be what everyone is predicting, it will be shaped by forces that will push and pull it in ways that we don’t expect. There are solutions to all the problems of EV, it just requires the right set of factors to push it in a NEW direction.

Question: Is battery charging technology the final piece of the jigsaw?

Mark Preston: Perhaps infrastructure is part of the problem, but you could say that Tesla has already solved a number of the issues. I read yesterday that an OEM was proposing of putting an inductive lane on the M1 between London and Birmingham and focussing on the 95% of journeys that would get everyone from their homes to that lane on the motorway which would solve such a problem! So there are solutions to all problems which is where Formula E comes in: motorsports typically “drives” innovation at a great rate, pushing in all directions to solve problems more quickly and efficiently. It is true innovation that would drive.

Question: What other general comments would you like to make about the electric vehicle market?

Mark Preston: I am on the board of the Mobox Foundation in Oxford which hopes to shape the future of the industry that I grew up with, automotive, in new and exciting ways. We are looking at integrated transportation and will work with the Formula E series to try and shape the future of the new digital landscape that is emerging in the mega-cities that we race in. Roll on the second season.