Jordan French: This is Jordan French with Jean Todt, President of Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, known as the FIA. He is also the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety.
Jean Todt, welcome. Thank you for spending some time with us. I have a few questions for you today. It is very exciting being here at Formula E. I wanted to discuss some of the technology at work here at today’s Formula E race in Zurich and some of your work in Road Safety.
Jean Todt: Incidentally, I don’t know if you’re aware but – at FIA I made a high level panel for Road Safety and we had the former founder of Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, on that high-level panel. Did you know about that?
JF: That’s right.
I know that you are very passionate about Road Safety and the marketing possibilities that can come with Formula E, to showcase and show people what is possible with technology. Tell us what you are trying to do with the Formula E brand?
JT: We are trying to make make electric cars more user friendly in order to encourage more people to buy electric cars, especially in cities. You know, one problem that we have with electric cars at the moment is limited autonomy. Recharging times is another as it takes quite long. On top of that, each recharge is only good for a relatively short distance. That is why we strive to give a fresh perception or feeling to consumers. When you think about mobility, climate change, and the environment, the electric car is obviously better suited. We also need to address pollution. The electric car is a way to reduce pollution in cities. Another aspect that is not directly linked with what we do now but also high on our list of priorities is traffic congestion because citizens living incities really feel the traffic and congestion everyday. In a way, they get used to that but it is time consuming, it is expensive, and again it causes pollution.
JF: How do electric cars help reduce congestion?
JT: Congestion is another subject at the top of our list. The electric car has nothing to do with congestion but it is among the priorities that we are addressing.
JF: It’s at the top of your mind? Ok, very good.
A suggestion that you’ve had in the past for people is to consider buying an electric car. For those who are not up to speed on some of the current capacities of electric cars, what can you tell them–the general public–about why they should buy an electric car in lieu of a combustion-engine automobile?
JT: You know, you need to get used to it. I must say, it is absolutely fascinating to see how motoring is progressing over the decades. So it is very important that we assess the situation at the present time so that we see what could be the vision in the next ten or twenty years. Clearly the electric car is part of that.
JF: Some of the advancements that have come in the technology are as a direct result of some of the FIA’s work and Formula E. Just give a quick example for the audience.
JT: The capacity of the battery for instance. We started the championship four years ago and until the end of this year’s championship, you’d need to use two cars to complete about 50 minutes worth of racing. From the start of next season in Saudi Arabia–and again something very new–where, for the first time woman would be allowed to drive, it’s going to be only one car. So same distance will be covered but one car will be used instead of two.
JF: It’s a huge improvement.
JT: Huge improvement but you know for me it is very important that motor racing is on one side, a show, a spectacle and entertaining but on the other side also, a laboratory for innovation.
JF: In some of the ways that you view Formula E, is to show people what’s possible with the technology so that they can realize themselves in the vehicles themselves. Is that right?
JT: That’s right.
JF: So one of the other technological improvements is with the tires, isn’t that right? Was there a tire weight reduction over time?
JT: I wouldn’t really label that improvement so much but an opportunity that we do have, is to demonstrate that in motor racing, you can use one set of tires regardless of the track conditions, weather and even rain. Incidentally, it has never rained during a race so far in four years. We are hoping that ,maybe during this week or today, it would. So the whole idea, is to have only one type of tire for everybody which can be used, whatever the track conditions.
JF: Right. That’s very different.
JT: Of course, when it comes to lap times, these tires aren’t as competitively designed as as those slick tires you would normally use.
JF: To showcase the performance in rain, perhaps we have to propose a race in Seattle or Ireland where it’s almost always raining?
JT: Why not? We’ll leave that to you (laughs). Maybe you can promote one?
JF: We’ll tell Arianna (Huffington). So I’ve read a bunch about your work with the United Nations. For those in the audience that doesn’t know about your work in that area, tell us what you are doing?
JT: I’ve been appointed by the UN Secretary General as his Special Envoy for Safety. For the first time, a UN Road Safety Fund was voted into existence by the General Assembly in New York last April because there is not enough funding to address road safety contrary to other pandemics like HIV/AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis.
My job, is to speak to all governments, mainly in developing countries, to address road safety and place it on top of their lists. Every year 1.3 million people die on the road and fifty million people are injured. It is a terrible thing for those countries and 90% of those figures are coming from developing countries.
JF: Are there any changes that need to happen to the roadways infrastructure, the highways themselves to adapt to more electric cars?
JT: Like I said earlier, the biggest problem with electric car is autonomy. At the moment it’s very difficult to drive more than 200 kilometers. When you recharge, it’s not like refuelling, you know. Recharging with electricity takes a few hours. Of course that doesn’t make for a very comfortable trip – going from one place to another – if that trip is more than 200 or 300 kilometers.
JF: Do you own an electric car?
JT: I have one!
JF: Very Good. And Michelle Yeoh–your wife and a UN Development Programme Ambassador–does she have one, too?
JT: She doesn’t drive. She promotes safe driving but she doesn’t drive.
JF: She lets you do the driving then? She can be the passenger.
JT: Well she is a United Nations Global Road Safety Ambassador and among the things that she promotes is safe driving.
JF: That’s great! And you seem very happy together.
Regarding the race itself today. Do you have any predictions that you can share, seeing what you saw in qualifying rounds so far?
JT: Yeah, it’s been a very exciting qualifier. You know it’s amazing to be able to host a Formula E race in the heart of Zurich, next to the lake. You know–motor racing was banned in Switzerland in 1955 due to the terrible crash at Le Mans that year where more than 60 people died. Since then the policy of the government has been to ban any kind of motor racing. The change–I mean being able to promote a race with electric cars in the middle of the city–I’m happy to part of that.
JF: Definitely. And that’s all the time we have.
This is Jordan French. I’m with Jean Todt, President of Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, FIA. I appreciate your time Jean. It has been lovely talking to you.
Thank you, until next time.