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Richard Branson: ‘In 15 years, I suspect every car on the road will be electric’

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Story highlights

Richard Branson backs electric car advance

Formula E "pushing technology forward"

Branson says sport can be bigger than F1

London CNN  — 

A world in which all cars run on electricity is not such a distant reality, Virgin boss Richard Branson believes – thanks to the work done by Formula E.

British entrepreneur Branson has been involved in the motorsport series from an early stage, with his DS Virgin Racing team competing in its first two seasons.

Formula E was introduced in 2014 to help attract a new audience to motorsport and to also help develop electric vehicle technology going forward – an area in which Branson feels clear progress is being made.

“Formula E is pushing the boundaries forward into what will be the future,” Branson told CNN’s Supercharged show at the recent London ePrix in Battersea Park. “Fifteen years from now, I suspect every car on the road will be electric.

branson shields
Virgin boss Richard Branson backs electric car future
01:37 - Source: CNN

“What we’re doing with these race cars is pushing the technology forward so that road cars one day will be able to go hundreds of miles without having to recharge their batteries.”

While great strides are being taken – cumulative sales of Electric Vehicles (EVs) passed one million last year – the number of electric cars around the globe is still low, with the International Energy Agency calculating that they accounted for just 0.1% of the total number of passenger cars on the road worldwide in 2015, which was close to one billion.

The Electric Vehicles Initiative is targeting 20 million electric cars to be on the road by 2020, which would provide a global market share of 1.7%.

While Formula E is doing its bit to help bring about a cleaner future, Branson feels the onus is still on the world’s political leaders.

“If governments set the ground rules – and they sometimes have to be brave and set positive ground rules – and for instance said, ‘more than 50% of cars must be battery-driven in 10 years and 100% in 15 years,’ we could make that happen,” Branson said earlier in the day at an Innovation Summit.

“It will be great fun and really challenging to do. The cars would be much more efficient – they’re not going to keep on breaking down and battery technology will get better and better.”

Branson has experience in the world of Formula One, as well as in Formula E, with his Virgin Group having owned the outfit currently known as Manor between 2010 and 2011.

The 65-year-old raised eyebrows last year when stating that he thought Formula E would become bigger than Formula One by 2020.

Read: Buemi clinches Formula E world title

While he admits to not being so sure about that statement 12 months on, Branson feels introducing Formula E street-racing in major cities such as London will no doubt help its cause.

“Maybe,” he said while laughing, when asked if he still stood by last year’s prediction. “Formula E is going in the right direction – the London Mayor’s office is here talking about racing on the streets of London.

“If we could have these cars driving around Park Lane and around Hyde Park Corner it would be a real spectacle – and a lot easier for people to get to than going out to Silverstone and listening to the noisy (F1) cars.”

Space age

Branson first came to prominence in the business world after opening a chain of record stores, and after a long and varied career has more recently moved into the realm of space tourism.

He is looking at flying tourists into space with his Virgin Galactic company, where, much like with Formula E, cleaner energy dominates his thinking.

“We’re using our 600 engineers who are building our space ships to innovate in a whole lot of other areas,” he said.

“We’re trying to set themselves the challenge of it being 100% clean energy on that plane, with the idea that if they can have these breakthroughs then we can use it with commercial planes as well.”

With the 2015-16 Formula E season finishing last weekend, as Renault eDams driver Sebastien Buemi clinched the world title, Branson will be turning his attention to the next campaign, which gets under way in October.

Branson’s Virgin Racing will be hoping to improve on its third-place finish in the Constructors’ Championship – in which Renault eDams came out on top – having placed fifth in the table the year before.

The new Formula E season, which starts on October 9 in Hong Kong and climaxes in New York on July 30, 2017, includes three other new cities – Marrakech, Brussels and Montreal – on its 14-race calendar.

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