At the Goodwood Festival of Speed 2018 we had the opportunity to speak with Gérry Hughes, Team Principal of the NIO Formula E Team and Head of Performance Program at NIO. The Chinese manufacturer has produced an SUV (NIO ES8) in production and a handful of the world’s fastest electric car (NIO EP9). With the NIO 004, which is based on the SRT_05e, NIO participates at the Season 5 of the Formula-E.

Interview: Timo Borkowski and Falk Schönberg
Support with the text: Joseph Brady

Timo Borkowski of TOP ZONE and Gérry Hughes of NIO in conversation

Every day in Goodwood was hectic. The racing car NIO EP9 drove several times a day to the Hill Climb to set records, which it finally did. It is the fastest electric car on the Hill Climb in production and has reached fifth place on Hill Climb ever. Gérry told us a lot about the EP9, as well as the 004 and future plans of NIO…


The NIO booth at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

TOP ZONE
First of all: Thank you for your time. It’s a pleasure to meet you.
What exactly do you do at NIO?

Gérry Hughes
I’m head of the performance program at NIO and also the team principal for the NIO Formula E Team. So, in essence we manage everything to do with the Formula E Team – engineering, travel, offer logistics operationally. I’m an engineer by trade but I’ve had to step back from my role as an engineer and take on more of a management role as the team principal and with the EP9 program, which falls under the performance program at NIO. We’ve filled six of these cars initially. They are used in a user experience program in China as they were from promoting the NIO brand in China and we are currently in the process of making another 10 of those cars for some lucky customers.

TOP ZONE
We read that you were founded just four years ago, in China – at the end of 2014. We think that’s pretty quick for building the EP9 or the ES8 in such a short time. For example: Tesla is 11 years older and has a lot of problems. What’s your secret?

Gérry Hughes
I think it’s fair to say we’ve grown very quickly since the company was founded. We have our own attitude in terms of being able to bring projects to the market very quickly – a very aggressive but a very positive can do attitude. The EP9 was conceived, designed, manufactured and developed in a very short timeframe. A lot of that is born out of the mentality and the philosophy that we have in a racing context, where everything is effectively done tomorrow. So I think it’s great, that that ethos and that philosophy runs throughout the company and NIO is renowned for bringing projects to fruition on a very aggressive time scale, which is great to be part of.

NIO EP9

TOP ZONE
The NIO EP9 is on display here at Goodwood, including racing up the iconic Goodwill Hillclimb. What do you think is so special about the NIO EP9?

Gérry Hughes
I think it’s great to bring the EP9 to Goodwood. I think many of my colleagues have been to Goodwood before in other capacities, perhaps with other cars. It’s the first time the EP9 has broken cover. It’s the first time the car has been seen in public. We’ve always broken our records, as you can hear on the screen behind me, in closed circuit type conditions – Circuit of the Americas, Circuit Paul Ricard, Shanghai International Circuit, the Nordschleife in Germany, so we felt that it was about time to bring the EP9 to a festival such as Goodwood and to showcase EV technology effectively to the general public. And what better place to do that than the Goodwood Festival of Speed?

TOP ZONE
The NIO EP9 has four engines. Each wheel has one engine with 250 kW. How did that happen? Do you want to reach exactly 1 MW?

Gérry Hughes
Martin Leach’s vision was to make a statement with the car. To push the boundaries of technology. What a nice round number to a map in terms of a megawatt – it translates to 1360 metric horsepower. When you talk to people and tell them how one megawatt transfers to electric horsepower, I think they’re quite stunned by that. The car has an amazing level of performance, an amazing amount of grip, it produces a lot of downforce – 24 kN to downforce at 240 km/h. So, it’s an allrounder, it’s a great performer. Because as you say, it has four electric motors for single reduction gearboxes which delivers torque vectoring. So, it’s a complex beast. But in terms of making a statement with an EV, the EP9 is a great platform and hopefully there will be many more successes for the EP9 in future.

TOP ZONE
You said it already: You‘ve broken a few records – world records – with the NIO EP9. Do you have a record that you want to break in the future?

Gérry Hughes
There are many events that we would like to take part in. And actually, there were some events that other manufacturers had been taking cars to, particularly this year that we’ve had our eye on. First and foremost, we have to be selective, we also have to be practical in terms of what we can achieve with the car and make sure that we don’t push the car too far outside of the envelope it was originally designed for. But we will attempt other records in the future. So, watch this space for what we’ll do and when and where we’ll be in 2019.

NIO 004

TOP ZONE
If you talk about the limits of the car, we’ve looked at the NIO EP9. We would now like to talk about the new NIO 004, the Formula E car. Were there any limits at the NIO 003?

Gérry Hughes
Yeah – I mean the Formula E car is, as you say, clearly a very different animal compared to the EP9. The NIO 003 from season 3 had certain challenges. It was designed very quickly between myself and my colleague, Mr Paul Flickers, who is the engineering director of the performance program. So, it was designed in a very short time scale with very limited resources, when we joined NIO. The NIO 004, which is the next generation, is a car which has different levels of technology, it’s got different challenges. So, we’re learning all the time. It’s fair to say that. We’ve had a challenging season in season 4. We’ve got two races to go in New York tomorrow and on Sunday I’m flying overnight to New York. So, there is always more to do in terms of race car design. There’s always more you can do in terms of increasing performance levels. Formula E is about improving the levels of efficiency – both mechanical and electrical. We’re quietly confident that we’re heading in the right direction. We’re taking the right steps. We’re effectively still playing catch up a little bit with respect to where the team was in the car they had in season 2. So, we’ve got something to prove. We’ve got everything to play for and of course we’re up against some very stiff competition, with the likes of Audi, Porsche and Mercedes. There are two manufacturers coming along in season 6. So, we need to make sure that we have all of the right elements in place and continue on our development path, but we’re making good progress and we’re quietly confident that we’re moving in the right direction.

TOP ZONE
What do you think is the best new feature on the SRT_05e, which serves as the basis for the NIO 004?

Gérry Hughes
Well, I think, you know, most people who have come to the stand this weekend so far have said “Wow, what a very different looking race car!” So, the car itself is a mandated race car from Spark. So, each manufacturer, each team, has exactly the same base car. We don’t do any aerodynamic de-velopment and the operational envelope for Russell, the design envelope, is: we do the electric motor, we do the gearbox with all the power electronics, we do the wiring looms, we do the ECU, wo do the composite structure, we do the wheel-suspension, we do the drive train. So, there’s still a large amount of engineering, design, development and manufacturing for us to do, not just to test the car but also to manufacture enough bits for the race cars and for the racing season. So it’s very different from other forms of motor sport. We have a lot fewer people. So, there are still tight timelines, but everything is done from an engineering perspective, it’s an engineering-driven team. So, we have our design specifications. First and foremost, we make sure that we meet our design targets and performance targets. We are currently in the middle of our testing period, which in Formula E is over the summer. We have 15 days to go testing. So, you know, we are right in the middle of doing all of our testing for season 5, which kicks off in December in Saudi Arabia. But the first impressions of the car are very different in terms of the visual appearance from the generation 1 car. I think it’s refreshing. Is it the future of motor sport? I think so! We’ll run this car for a period of three years – so seasons 5, 6 and 7. And then we’ll go into a generation 3 car, which we are discussing with the series and with the FIA currently has a manufacturing at Formula E. So exciting times to come.

TOP ZONE
Do you have specific goals that you want to achieve? Maybe on the next Formula E season or with the NIO EP9?

Gérry Hughes
We certainly have performance targets with the car [NIO 003/NIO 004] and we have overall competitive targets that I set with my bosses in China. NIO and the NIO Formula E Team is not in Formula E just to take part. We want to be seen as a progressive, disruptive, but also a competitive EV manufacturer and the same applies to Formula E. So, we want to be out there winning races and effectively winning races, better put, the championship together. So, we have specific targets for this year. As I said, it’s been a difficult season for us and we have very specific targets for next year which, you know, at the moment so it’s a little bit too early to tell, because we haven’t been texting with other manufacturers, but certainly the plan is to go out there and be competitive in the first race of season five.

TOP ZONE
You’ve said in a few interviews that you can learn from Formula E and have built your own cars, for example the EP9, better with this knowledge. What exactly do you mean by that?

Gérry Hughes
I mean, if you look at race tractor road and I’ve been asked this question many times by many different reporters. I think if you look to other forms of motorsport, without mentioning any names, is what is the road relevancy between what they’re doing on the race track and ultimately what do we drive as motorists are in our daily cars on the road and I think in a context of other forms of motorsport that link is a very weak one. I think if you look at the context of Formula E and how does that transfer in terms of technology transfer offer EVs on the road there a very strong links, tangible links, in terms of engineering and what we’re learning on the race track and I think in the context of NIO and the NIO Formula E Team is that we’ve got that wonderful technology transfer between what we’re doing with the Formula E Team on the race tracks and what we’re doing with vehicles like the ES8 in China on the roads and all of that technology is transferred through something like the EP9, which is a great bridge in terms of technology. So, it is a very tangible link within the context of Formula E and I’m happy to say that, you know, both myself and my colleagues in China, we certainly transfer and communicate in terms of our experiences on a day-to-day basis. So those links very tangible between what we are doing on the race track and what we are effectively learning for our vehicles.

TOP ZONE
Sadly we’re running out of time. Just a few more short questions. Do you think you will be launching other cars? Maybe another supercar?

Gérry Hughes
Yeah, I think it’s fair to say, that certainly the EP9 is a supercar seems to taking the world by storm on many different levels. The EP9 was launched in late 2016. So, I suppose in supercar or hypercar terms the car is quite old in that respect, but it’s still setting records around the world. It had its first public viewing at the Goodwood Festival of Speed and at the end of the day: Will it have success? Yes, definitely. When will those successes come along, and when will they be public knowledge? Well, time will tell. But certainly, we very much look forward to the time where we can bring out a successor to the EP9, which will house even more aggressive levels of performance and, you know, we’ll continue to showcase our EV technology.

Timo Borkowski of TOP ZONE and Gérry Hughes of NIO in conversation

TOP ZONE
And one last question: What car do you drive in private?

Gérry Hughes
Gérry laughes. – Well, I would like to say, that I drive an EV, but I don’t. We’ve ordered some ES8s. So that we can have them in the UK. This is our first mass produced car, which is available in China now. That’s a seven-seater SUV. I’ve grown up in 911s and so I have to say that my everyday car of choice is a 911. It is just a great allround supercar or sports car. A bit challenging with growing children, that I have. Yeah, that’s my car of choice. But clearly, you know, EV cars are becoming more popular and certainly the revolution is not far away. So, we know as an EV company that so clearly, we have to drive change in the automotive industry and we’re doing just that. So, it’s great to be part of that revolution, but certainly in the United Kingdom the government is obviously pushing EVs in the marketplace. I think that’s great, but we’ll see embracing changes as a country, but the revolution is coming.

TOP ZONE
I agree with you. So, that’s all from our side. Thank you for your time. We wish you a lot of success with Formula E and with the records of the NIO EP9.

Gérry Hughes
Thanks.