Spreading The Electric Vehicle Gospel With Hardcore EV Races

Louis Palmer has been organizing zero emission races around the world for years. His mission: to show people that electric cars aren’t the putt-putting vehicles that people think they are. They can really burn some rubber.

Spreading The Electric Vehicle Gospel With Hardcore EV Races
Lisa S./Shutterstock

In 2007 and 2008, Louis Palmer drove 33,213 miles across 40 countries in a three-wheel “solar taxi,” lugging a big trailer and thousands of followers behind him. In 2010, he organized an 80-day Jules Verne-style “Zero Race” for four national teams driving zero-emissions vehicles, completing 150 stopover events in the process.


And last year, he put on two more zero-emission races, known as World Advanced Vehicle Expeditions: one in Europe, the other in India.

He’s been to a lot of out-the-way places, been sick as a dog a few times, and dealt with several dangerous incidents, including the time in Australia when he almost crashed into an enormous kangaroo. But, while mostly fun, all this driving about does have a serious purpose. Palmer is trying to persuade as many people as he can that EVs aren’t inferior or unreliable.

“Most people are still quite hesitant when it comes to electric vehicles,” he says. “They believe they are slow and do not have enough muscles, and that they are complicated to drive, and ugly to look at. They quickly change their mind once they have seen a car racing, or definitely once they have driven a car themselves. That’s why it is so important to show the performance of these cars.”

The electric cars and bikes win the competitions not by going the fastest, but by winning competitions in different cities. Judges assess reliability, range, safety, and other criteria, while locals give their verdict on the best designs.

Palmer says his favorite vehicles “don’t look like ordinary” vehicles, and are light, aerodynamic, and super-efficient. He mentions the Swiss-built Smile, the very fast Zerotracer (see above), and the Twike 4.

He says he’s planning two more races for 2012. The first is for electric bikes, and will go from Berlin to Hanover in April. The second will travel from Italy to somewhere in Northern Europe (the route has yet to be finalized) in September. Participants need to pay a fee, and meet eligibility criteria, including being able to go a certain distance every day. Start your engines.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.