CUPRA learns the lessons from Extreme E

The transition towards EVs has taken time, but many need that in-between feeling to get fully onboard with the electrification train. CUPRA intends to do just that with a new hybrid model.

CUPRA came to Extreme E in a special position as a competing team, formerly known under the name SEAT Sport. This brand goes where other automotive brands simply can’t reach, into the high-performance motorsports arena.

The automotive industry has a responsibility to protect the environment … which means, from production to the car delivery, we are going to compensate all the CO2 emissions we produce…

– Sergio Ripollés, CUPRA Communications

Just as the teams were approaching the Semi Finals during the closing of the Ocean X Prix in Lac Rose, Senegal, we sat down with Sergio Ripollés, CUPRA communications, to get an insight into what makes CUPRA move, and where it is moving towards.

CUPRA: a fresh start

CUPRA is far younger than many Spanish automotive brands – a mere three years old, as Sergio explains to us. “We wanted to come up with a brand that is for the new generation of drivers, a brand for the 21st century that mixes contemporary design with an electrifying performance.

“Our vision is that electrification and performance can work perfectly well and they are actually a perfect match, because they create these emotions that, maybe with a combustion car, were not possible.”

By this, Sergio is referring to the ability for non-combustion models to enjoy a near-instant acceleration from using the boost. Going electric has profound advantages in terms of design. As Sergio explains to us, ICE cars are constrained by design, because the engine is nearly always boxed away under the bonnet at the front of the car. Fuel piping is interlaced throughout the underside of the car, limiting the ways people can reinterpret how they can look.

EVs such as those pioneered by CUPRA have no such constraints. Sergio tells us, “It’s like a blank sheet, you have the battery at the lowest part of the car…you are not conditioned to put the engine in the front part of the car. We are not conditioned by the ordinary considerations of the automotive industries. We want to be fast, we want to explore new territories, we want to be sustainable as well, and that’s what we’re trying to do, and so far, it’s worked very well…”.

What drew CUPRA to Extreme E was clear to even an outside observer: sustainability is at the core of what CUPRA is doing, even when it comes to the sourcing of the materials they use to make their car upholsteries. When you watch back the footage of the races during the Ocean X Prix, it’s hard not to notice the pieces of plastic waste which are strewn across the beach where the racers were speeding along. It’s been estimated that 12 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans each and every year.

With this in mind, CUPRA has a new model coming out shortly, the CUPRA Born, its first all-electric vehicle. The very fabric used to make the seats, including the integrated headrests, as well as the side bolstering, are to be sourced from a material called Seaqual Yarn. Importantly, this material is derived from the waste plastic which is retrieved from oceans, rivers and estuaries by a Spanish business called the Seaqual Initiative, who work closely with fishermen and other marine-based professionals, to keep an eye on the detritus that regularly washes up on shores all over the world and put it to good use.

Plastic waste has a habit of spreading all over the world, but with little steps like this by CUPRA, plastic waste no longer has an excuse to be idle – in fact, it could have an important role to play in the manufacture of a whole new generation of high-speed electric motorsports cars.

Sustainability wherever possible

As Sergio explains to us, CUPRA is looking to make the manufacture of its cars sustainable wherever possible. “The automotive industry has a responsibility to protect the environment and we now have CO2 targets to comply with. That’s why we’re also producing these electric cars and being CO2-neutral, which is another one of the concepts we’re launching with this car [the CUPRA Born], which means, from production to the car delivery, we are going to compensate all the CO2 emissions we produce…while also being able to match design with sustainable materials.”

You may have heard of recycling, but CUPRA’s use of Sequal Yarn is defined by the Seaqual Initiative as a form of upcycling, taking items including plastic bottles, treating them at a specialist plant and reducing them down to threads of synthetic yarn which possess near-identical properties to true polyester. As much as 10 per cent of the plastic that goes into this yarn is sourced directly from ocean plastic waste itself.

With the likes of the CUPRA Born, Sergio tells us CUPRA is specifically targeting markets such as Northern Europe, including countries such as Sweden and Norway, countries which are deemed to have stronger EV charging infrastructure. Southern Europe is somewhat lacking in this capacity, Sergio admits, but later adds, “We’re also looking at extending electrification into other parts of Europe, in the South, especially Italy, Spain and France…Israel is a market we’re also looking at in the Middle East.”

Australia is a target market further afield for CUPRA’s broader business interests, but Sergio adds that demand is high in Mexico. “Mexico, right now, doesn’t have this big charging infrastructure, but who knows? Maybe in the future, we are able launch the CUPRA Born over there as well.”

The CUPRA Born isn’t the only new model on the block for CUPRA, coming soon. The CUPRA Leon is on its way, an e-hybrid sportscar which aims to entice those with a passion for high-octane adventures to go greener, but without limiting how fast they can go. “I think that, now we are in this transition period,” Sergio muses, “but there isn’t enough charging infrastructure everywhere in the world…in some markets like Spain, it’s helping to introduce electrification: you’re able to drive electric across the city…and then when you want to go a bit faster and further, you take the combustion engine and you can go wherever you want.”

Sergio is of the view that this e-hybrid engine model is a useful stepping stone which is likely to remain a popular place to be for drivers in the coming five to ten years at least. “CUPRA is soon going to be a fully electric brand,” Sergio reveals, when looking ahead beyond this e-hybrid phase.

CUPRA & Extreme E

When exploring the role CUPRA has to play as part of the Extreme E line-up, Sergio told us of how CUPRA considers itself to share the same values as Extreme E, especially when it comes to the latter’s core four pillar principles: Electrification, Equality, Environment and Entertainment. CUPRA has previously been a notable presence at Formula E, but Sergio went into detail about what specifically made Extreme E such an attractive opportunity for it.

What really convinced us of coming here is the shared values we have…it’s something we also stand for, having an electric range, but also using sustainable materials. As we are as 21st century brand, we want to be gender balanced, not only in terms of customer target but in terms of team.

Sergio adds the importance of bringing this type of motorsports to a wide audience, to entertain millions and show what EVs can really do. “We also want to contribute to protecting the environment in this part of the world, and that is what motivated us to be the first automotive brand that decided to participate in Extreme E in September last year…It was a perfect match for both of us.”

Not only is CUPRA in partnership with Extreme E, but when you study their official racing team name, the brand ABT is clearly present. ABT and CUPRA have formed a partnership of their own, with Sergio explaining that “We have a long term co-operation; they are a German company. What they do is a higher-powered version of our cars, which are already high-performance, but they even do it a little bit more. They have done higher-powered versions of the CUPRA Formentor, the CUPRA Ateca, the CUPRA Leon, and it’s working so well.”

Both brands come together with ample experience of electrification: ABT has been one of the teams participating in Formula E since its inaugural season in 2014-15. For CUPRA, its experience of electrification stems from developing the first 100-per cent electric touring racing car, the CUPRA e-Racer. “We already had these experiences, we found ourselves in this competition, we thought both of us, that it would be good for us, and here we are, so it’s working.”

CUPRA’s view of the future

At this point, Extreme E has just come close to the denouement of its second leg, the Ocean X Prix, with more twists and turns expected ahead of the racers in Greenland, Brazil and Argentina later in the year. We asked Sergio about his thoughts for what could come of Extreme E, plus what his hopes are for it.

“Maybe it’s too easy to say, because this is the second race, but being here and looking at how well-organised it is, the emotion that comes from every race…I think there’s going to be a good future. We came to this first season without expectations…and we weren’t so lucky so far, but we are taking a lot of knowledge and experience from that.”

CUPRA is actively taking onboard what it has learnt from events in Al-Ula and Lac Rose to directly inform what it intends to release in the coming years. “At the end, we also want to gain experience and learn about the technology of these cars to then apply it to our streetcars…Besides the CUPRA Born, we have another car coming up in 2024, the CUPRA Tavascan.”

The CURA Tavascan will be all-electric, and according to Sergio, it will be similar to the Odyssey 21 SUVs the racers have been getting to grips with during the inaugural season of Extreme E. “It’s a really cool one,” he assures us, “and I’m sure that by participating in these races, being part of a team, we will be able to gain knowledge and apply it to this car, and make it more performant, even if it’s all-electric.”

Future-positivity is something CUPRA has in spades, according to Sergio. “I’m definitely future-positive, both myself and the brand, we are optimistic. Even if we weren’t going through this pandemic in the last year, we stayed positive, we said we were coming to come out of this better.”

Sergio points to signs of disruption in the automotive industry, but CUPRA viewed it as an opportunity, not a challenge. He expands on this further, saying: “This is being future-positive, and now we think that the electrification of the automotive industry opens a lot of opportunities for us; new brands emerging such as CUPRA, so I think we will see a great success from Extreme E and CUPRA as well.”

No matter how CUPRA does in the remaining rounds of Extreme E’s inaugural season and beyond, it has already succeeded in being at the forefront of cutting-edge electric motorsports by being a participating team. It’s safe to say it’s the taking part that counts, opening the way towards new ways of seeing what EVs are capable of. It is highly encouraging to see how even just a few days of racing on the beaches close to Lac Rose could pose new questions, point the way to new methods of designing EVs and ultimately become the start of something new for the likes of CUPRA and other innovators in the automotive space.

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