BRIXWORTH, England -- Mercedes-Benz has engaged its Formula One team in the engineering process to build vastly more efficient mass-market electric vehicles, slashing development times by a quarter or more as it jump starts efforts to keep pace with Tesla.
F1 technology has always eventually bled over into mass-market vehicles. But Mercedes' F1 collaboration to build more efficient EVs faster is unprecedented because it embeds that racing mindset and technological expertise directly in product development.
After decades of leadership in combustion-engine technology, legacy automakers such as Mercedes have lagged Tesla in EVs. Mercedes' F1 team can help it get back in the race, said Steven Merkt, head of transportation solutions at TE Connectivity, a major supplier.
"Nobody feels the pressure more than Mercedes to be innovation leaders here," Merkt said. "They have got to push it out or they are no longer Mercedes."
Last year, Mercedes unveiled its EQXX concept car, a super-efficient EV capable of a range of more than 1,200 km (745 miles), which was jointly developed with the automaker's F1 team in England.
The EQXX took just 18 months to develop, leaning on the F1 team's experience of working rapidly to squeeze efficiency from engines and electric motors, aerodynamics and rolling resistance, the company said.
"We have an edge here with Formula One that others do not have," Mercedes Chief Technology Officer Markus Schaefer said. "Tesla does not have it. Other teams do not have it."
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
Speed is ever more important because newer entrants, above all Tesla, can develop or tweak models far more quickly than legacy automakers. Fast-moving Chinese EV makers have cut development time to an average of 2.5 years and are launching innovative, cheaper models in Europe.
The need for speed is coupled with a push among automakers to make EVs more efficient and thereby reduce costs - by lowering weight, improving range, and using less battery materials already in short supply.
Suppliers say efficiency is now baked into some EV contracts as automakers seek to make their vehicles more affordable.
"Efficiency is a key enabler to accelerate adoption of EVs globally," Schaefer said.
Parts of what Mercedes learned from the EQXX will feature in a new EV platform that will go into production in 2024, including aerodynamic features, parts of the powertrain and the vehicle's software system.
Schaefer said applying its F1 approach, Mercedes has cut new vehicle development time from an average of 58 months to go from the drawing board to mass production to "the low 40s."
For derivative models - similar models built using the same platform - the target is "the low 30s."
The F1 engine team at Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains (HPP) in Brixworth in central England is now working on at least half a dozen new projects developing parts for mass-market Mercedes models - batteries, inverters and new generations of motors, Schaefer said.