Exclusive Interview with CEO of the all-electric Formula E racing series Alejandro Agag
September 7, 2016 | Donington Park
IMAGE: Formula E
One of the first things you notice when meeting Alejandro Agag is that he’s one heck of a cool guy to talk to. Despite his high standing in the privileged world of motorsport, there are no airs and graces about him, and neither is there any doubt in his mind about man-made climate change. As he explains in fascinating detail the relationship between carbon emissions and melting ice-caps, you really can’t help wishing that every CEO was a bit more like him. Here’s a transcript of an interview with a man who doesn’t just talk the talk, but clearly knows how to walk the walk, too.
SE: Watching the cars up close on this final day of testing, it’s hard to imagine that this time four years ago Formula E was nothing more than an idea on paper. If we may ask, where do you see Formula E four years from now?
AA: Well, it’s very difficult to know because I definitely didn’t see Formula E coming this far four years back. So we’re far beyond our expectations. So I think this is going faster than what we thought at the beginning. I will say that we want to have a real effect on the transformation towards electrification of the car industry in general. We want more electric cars on the streets. So that’s the main purpose of Formula E.
I think Formula E in four years will be like a mainstream sport and I think I want to have Formula E halfway between a race and a videogame, so that it is a completely digital experience, for the kids especially, and new generations to enjoy. So it’s a different kind of broadcasting sport totally and having the fans enjoy in a different way the sport, through mobile devices, digital, with virtual reality, with robots and with all these kind of new, really groundbreaking things... So that’s where I see it. But you know, we really are making the way as we go, so we improvise a lot because, you know, we have a lot more momentum than we thought we were going to have.
SE: On that note, can you please tell us just a little bit more about some of the new sustainability initiatives Formula E will be adopting for the 2016/17 season?
AA: Well, we have different things in terms of sustainability, so of course for us it is very important the emissions the Championship has. Which is inevitable. I always say one thing: we will need to use a lot of dirty energy to transform everything over to clean energy. Those solar panels that we need are not going to be made out of air. You’re going to need energy from coal to make solar panels; to use a very obvious example. To produce Formula E we obviously use energy that causes some emissions like the aeroplanes that go around the world, from the assembly of the tracks. So now we’re going to monitor very closely and reduce the carbon footprint of the championship, that’s one thing. Second, we’re very active on the awareness side, so for example we just came back from the Arctic. We took a car to the Arctic to really show the connection between global warming and electric cars as a potential part of the solution towards global warming. And those things of course are big investments that are very important for us but I think they really will help raise the awareness of what’s going on with global warming and would also tell people that electric cars are a solution. So really the promotion of electric cars is a good sustainability action in itself, because if every car were electric we’d have a lot less emissions. So the awareness side is a really important part of it. So first the action on reducing the carbon emissions of the championship, producing the energy for the cars also in a clean way like we do with Aquafuel is very important, and then awareness through the different actions that we do to promote the vision of electric cars.
SE: We’re staunch proponents of zero emission mobility. Which is why we believe that Formula 1, even taking into consideration the adoption of hybrid technology, has no place in the world of tomorrow. Others though, aren’t so convinced. Bernie Ecclestone, Chief of the Formula One Group has famously said he doesn’t consider Formula E to be a serious competitor to F1, and even doubts that the future of cars will be all electric. What are you personal views about the future of mobility?
AA: So... first, the future of racing, and then the future of mobility. So I do think there is a future for combustion racing. You know, we still have horse races, but nobody goes with a horse to the office. At one point the combustion race will be almost like a historical car race, like a classic car race. So I think the only combustion cars in the world will be probably racing cars, because every other car in the world will be electric. Normal cars... will all be electric. So that’s in terms of competition. In terms of mobility I think it’s a certainty that all cars in the world will be electric one day. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. And what we do at Formula E is to try to accelerate that movement, try and make it happen faster. But for me it’s a certainty. There will be electric, many of them will be driverless, and they will all be connected intensively with many other devices, on the road, in your home, in the sky... everywhere.
SE: Last month, the Netherlands set a date for parliament to discuss measures that could see the sale of petrol and diesel cars banned by 2025. Norway, Denmark and Sweden are also making similar noises. What role can Formula E play in becoming a bellwether for European behaviour in terms of the adoption of all electric vehicle technology?
AA: We can play a role, but I think the role of Governments is very important. We need Governments to make decisions about banning combustion, especially in cities. And if they ban in the whole country, even better. Formula E can be kind of a way to support that movement, publicise that movement; make clear that electric cars are a much better solution. And also we can help improve the technology of those electric cars so that it’s even better for the people who buy the electric cars. But I definitely want to highlight that the governments; local governments, city governments, national governments, have a really important role to play and they should play.
SE: Let’s talk business now. How important is the concept of sustainability for corporate success in today’s world?
AA: I think it is essential. I think it is key. I think all big corporations understand that and they’re all going in that direction. And I think whoever doesn’t understand that is wrong. I think the old ways of doing business are over. I think now an essential part of business is sustainability and every company needs to have a very high standard of sustainable processes and mechanisms and ways of doing business in order to have a future.
SE: And finally, you’re well known as a highly successful businessman, but you’ve also enjoyed huge success in both Spanish and Italian politics, even becoming an MEP and the elected Secretary General of the European People’s Party, before deciding to retire from political life in 2001. We have to ask; what are the chances that we might be seeing the return of Alejandro Agag the European politician?
AA: (Laughs) The chances are close to zero. I mean going back to the European Parliament is kind of a nice idea for me because I had such a great time there and I really enjoyed living in Brussels and in Strasbourg. You know I think it’s a place which is a lot more useful than what many people think. But apart from that, apart from the personal appetite to go there... I don’t see myself in politics at all. I think politics is over for me. I’m more now into sustainability and business.
SE: Two great things to be into.
AA: I think so.
SE: Thank you very much for your time, Alejandro.
AA: You’re welcome.
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