- Shell is using its sponsorship of the Nissan Formula E team to market its diversification into electric vehicle charging and other ‘new energy’ products
- Formula E’s electric car concept, story-telling opportunities, and city-centre race locations were particular attractions for the brand
- SportBusiness spoke to senior Shell marketing executives at the unveiling of Nissan Formula E’s new livery last week in Yokohama, Japan
Shell, one of the oil and gas ‘supermajors’ and among the world’s largest firms by revenue, is diversifying into electric vehicle charging, green energy supply to homes, and other business areas beyond its historic focus on fossil fuels. It’s a remarkable transition, and one that requires a considerable marketing effort to communicate.
One of the main planks of that marketing effort is its partnership with the Nissan e.dams Formula E team, which began in the 2018-19 season and has been renewed for 2019-20. Shell is the Official Team Partner with Nissan and gets marketing benefits including branding and talent access and also ongoing collaboration to explore opportunities to provide greater performance (for example, e-fluid development) on the track and beyond.
The partnership serves two roles for Shell, the company’s head of strategic partnerships Jeanine Bakx, told SportBusiness at the launch of Nissan’s 2019-20 Formula E car in Yokohama last week. One is communicating the company’s transition into green energy, and the second is a more traditional motorsports sponsorship role in helping the company develop and sell products for cars.
“It is a platform for us to communicate about the transition Shell is making from an oil company to an energy solutions provider, so partly branding,” she said. “But as well it is the ‘track to the road’ story. So, for example, e-fluids for electric cars, battery technologies…these are things we will learn more about and we will use for road cars.”
Shell is investing heavily in its expansion into greener energy products, seeking new opportunities for growth and as a hedge against the mooted decline of the oil business. The company is aiming by the end of next year to have 200 service stations with fast-charging facilities – that allow electric vehicles to be charged in 10 to 30 minutes – in the Netherlands, and the same number in the UK.
In January this year, it acquired Greenlots, a business providing electric vehicle charging services in the US and Singapore. It has started providing power to homes in the UK and Japan, taking on established utilities, and has a million customers in the space.
It is also investing in wind and solar power generation, hydrogen and biofuels as alternatives to oil-based fuels, and even “nature-based solutions” to the climate change threat, including protecting and planting forests.
Joerg Weinke, the company’s vice-president of global retail marketing, explains more: “We have, globally, a retail service station network of 45,000 service stations covering 80 countries. The energy transition is moving at different speeds in different countries. It’s led by Norway and Scandinavian countries in Europe. In the US, we see California and places on the East coast are developing…We have 30 million customers a day. Some are making the change into electric vehicles, and they want to stay with us as a supplier.
“We always want to invest a little bit ahead of customers. We want to help them make the right choices…We know that one of the friction points for customers is that they are worried about running out of juice, so we need to help them by setting up the infrastructure.”
On the more traditional, ‘track-to-road’ side of the sponsorship, where Shell uses the Nissan Formula E team as a laboratory and proof point for new products, a big focus is its range of ‘efluids’ – fluids and lubricants required by electric vehicles. The product line was launched and the Formula E race in Berlin this year.
Weinke says: “[Electric] is still a relatively new way of energising cars, so people don’t know about ‘efluids’. It’s a bit of education. People are already there and they want to focus on this…It creates a great platform for us to talk about what we are doing, what our role is in charging, in efluids, and in the energy business.”
The green energy transition is not happening overnight, however. Reflecting the market for its products, Shell will retain a strong position in traditional, internal combustion engine-powered motorsport. Its portfolio includes an Innovation Partnership with the Ferrari team in Formula One; partnerships with Ducati in MotoGP; BMW in Germany’s DTM series; and Hyundai in World Rally Championship.
Bakx says: “What we have is reflecting the real world out there, and most of our portfolio is reflecting internal combustion.”
Weinke adds: “The strategy is one about choice. We want to give our customers choice that, when they move to electric vehicles, we should have an offer for them there. If they choose to stay on internal combustion, we want to have the best products for them there.”
The Nissan Formula E partnership was particularly attractive for Shell because of its ability to be a supplier and the story-telling opportunities around that.
Weinke says: “We try to do sponsorships where we have ‘skin in the game’ – there needs to be somehow a link to what we’re doing. It’s not just about brand exposure on something nice. We need to be in that value chain, and to be able to talk about our role.”
Bakx said the partnership offered some attractive activation opportunities: “If you want to talk about a story and educate people, it’s a great hook to get people interested.
“Developing content in a different way is very important for us. The tone of content is very important…especially with this segment, we are reaching a different segment than before – more millennials and [younger demographics].
“The fact that it’s in a city centre is also an opportunity – you’re close to the consumer. So there are many opportunities that we are looking at to activate this.”