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Racing ahead with electric speed

Pakistani engineering students have made significant strides in the creation of electric vehicles

By Nabil Tahir |
Design: Mohsin Alam
PUBLISHED October 03, 2021

Every sector in the world is working on environment-friendly initiatives, and so is the automobile industry. Whether it is the racing vehicles or the urban vehicles, all are putting their efforts to make eco-friendly vehicles in order to reduce the harmful impacts on the environment. In this vein, the students from Pakistan's top engineering universities are not just putting in efforts to help the environment but are also participating internationally and thus, putting Pakistan’s name on the map of environment-friendly vehicles.

In Pakistan, the trend of hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles (EVs) is slowly taking off with many beginning to import hybrid cars. Some local manufacturers such as MG have also launched two EVs. Following which, the gas stations have also installed EV charging stations.

Along with this, the engineering institutions are also playing their part by promoting electric vehicles for the last seven years. Institutes like the National University of Engineering and Technology (NUST) and the Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology (GIKI) University encourage their students to work on eco-friendly vehicles and take part in international competitions.

Taking about the Formula cars, we all have seen one of the world's fastest car racing. But now, a new form of Formula racing has been officially introduced – Formula E. The type of race introduced back in 2014, Formula E gained World Championship status after racing on the streets of the world's most developing cities for six seasons - granted by the motorsport's governing body - FIA in December 2019. The first season 7 2021/22 and beyond will see these Formula E cars racing on the track.

Formula Electric Racing NUST (FERN) – Formula Electric

When Formula E was introduced in 2014, that same year students from Pakistan Navy Engineering College NUST participated in the Solar Car Challenge held in Cyprus, where they won the ‘Best Electric Propulsion’ award. The exposure of this event along with the future trends of electrification led the team to consider introducing an electric vehicle culture in Pakistan. The thought the best possible path may be to compete in the Electric Vehicle category in the Formula Student competition.

The five primary leading members of the core team, alongside 14 other members having a mix of engineering students from NUST, formed 'Formula Electric Racing' in 2015. They are the only team working on building the formula electric cars to advance the adoption of sustainable mobility in the race for a better, cleaner future.

The major members included team lead Abdul Aleem, mechanical lead Ahsan Lakhani, marketing lead Shariq Waqar, electrical lead Imran Mazari and communications lead Taha Rizvi.

"The team was formally initiated in 2015, after which the ambitious members of the team consisting of a handful of Mechanical and Electrical undergraduates started to design and fabricate the chassis at their own expense. It was not until Bank Alfalah was taken on board as a sponsor in 2016 that the team's budget grew enough to allow them to invest in a motor and another expensive electrical component. The car was then completed, unveiled, and taken to the USA to participate in Formula Society of Automotive Engineers 2016 competition," said Cost Lead and senior Mechanical team member Ali Kashif.

The current team comprises 40 members who are divided into several departments. The main departments are Electrical, Mechanical, Operations and Marketing and Communications. “The team has multiple portfolios that help amateur engineers recognise their strengths and the specialised domain they want to pursue a career in. While working in the team for multiple years, the team members get to interact with fellow members in different capacities, starting off as junior members to ultimately leading a sub-department or even the team as a whole,” said the Team Manager Asma Noor.

“This transition-like work enables them to learn necessary skills required in a professional setup. The team dynamics are designed to help individuals identify and groom their teamwork and leadership skills along with handling pressure and delivering on strict deadlines,” he added.

From 2015 till date, the team manufacturing Pakistan's first formula electric vehicle in 2016, has become the only Pakistani team who participated in Formula SAE (FSAE) 2016, Formula Student UK (FSUK) 2018, FSUK Virtual Event 2020 and FSUK Concept Class 2021.

The technical team secured third place in the Engineering Design event of FSUK 2021 out of over 60 participating teams. A similar result was achieved in 2020 when the Business Plan team secured fourth place in the Business Plan Presentation event. Furthermore, in FSAE 2016, the team ranked fourth in the Cost event. They were also awarded the Innovator of The Year award from the Pakistan Innovation Foundation and runner-up in Dice Automotive 2015.

Most recently, the team secured the first-ever podium for Pakistan in any Formula Student Competition by finishing at the second position in individual events, including the Engineering Design Event, Business Plan Presentation and ‘Cost & Manufacturing’ event of Formula Student Russia 2021. The event took place virtually, whereby the footage of the vehicle was shared with the judges.

Kashif explained how the team has improved the design over the year and ended up winning the first podium. “The experiences that the team amassed in designing and fabricating its first and subsequent iterations have led to a significant improvement in the build and design quality of all sub-assemblies of the vehicle resulting in a more reliable and robust vehicle.”

“The designs have been improved to bring about performance gains; the current vehicle is seven kgs lighter than the first one, it has a more powerful battery pack - increasing the energy from 3.2KWh to 4.8KWh - and an improved power to weight ratio.”

The core team leader Aleem said that although they had made the initial team, the legacy is still on its way. “We can act as alumni but main role is played by the undergraduate students who are doing a great job,” he said.

Missing facilities

Although two Formula Student vehicles developed by two different teams may seem very similar from a distant perspective (they share the same sleek design with open wheels and a single seat), but upon closer inspection of lap-times and structures of sub-assemblies, the differences become pretty apparent. These variations are partly due to differences in design, skills and experience.

Kashif, which talking about the difference between their vehicle and the other participating nations, said that this is mainly due to a lack of financial and technical resources. “For comparison, top-notch European teams with five to six times our budget and 20 years of experience usually have vehicles with four electric motors - one at each wheel, a carbon fibre monocoque chassis and a heavy aero setup with front and rear wings, compared to our single motor steel space frame chassis and limited aero,” he explained.

Talking about the Formula facilities in Pakistan, Asma told The Express Tribune that overseas, motorsport companies and manufacturers are heavily invested in FS teams and sponsor them with financial aid and, more crucially, with technical expertise. “In contrast, the Pakistani motorsport landscape is barren and finding sponsorships is a very taxing quandary that the team has had to overcome over and over again. But more recently, individuals within the community have started following F1 and other motorsports due to the rising popularity of TV shows like 'Drive to Survive,' which has brought about a positive change,” she said.

She further shared that as there was no international grade racing track within Pakistan before the construction of the Karachi Omni Track, there was no point in transporting the vehicle to these tracks for testing. “The car is usually tested within university grounds with the help of make-shift tracks using cones. The third iteration, which is being completed now, is intended to be tested on the Omni Track.”

Talking about the team's ultimate goal, Asma said that the team plans on introducing the Formula Student culture within Pakistan, with the ultimate goal being a Formula Student competition in Pakistan. With this, they plan to create a pool of engineers equipped with hands-on experience and technical knowledge to improve the industrial landscape of Pakistan and increase Pakistan's presence in the motorsport industry worldwide.

“The team has organised sessions highlighting the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in Pakistan's youth, especially women, to improve Pakistan's image in the technological front internationally. To further strengthen this concept, the team is in touch with various schools to cultivate and promote STEM education among teenagers who are about to choose a career for themselves,” she said, adding that she strongly believes in the determination of the Pakistani teams, which can do wonders in international competition no matter what the constraints are.

NUST Automotive Group (NUSTAG) – Driverless Urban EV


The EVs are popular in urban areas for a myriad of reasons. The Formula EVs are made to use the energy to finish at the fastest lap time. The urban prototype on the other hand, is set up for endurance, meaning it is designed to travel further in the same amount of energy.

The NUSTAG that started off with a small team in 2008, has made the petroleum car fuel-efficient to moving towards driverless, autonomous vehicles. In these years have worked on an urban concept car in which our priority is to bring better fuel economy, low carbon emission and incorporation of AI to our standard passenger cars. Moreover, it is closed wheels with an aerodynamic cabin encapsulating every safety protocol.

The team manager Ghulam Jillani told The Express Tribune that in Pakistan, the high gasoline prices following the ever-increasing inflation rate that impacts the petroleum sector was the primary objective behind making this car. “We wanted to get the maximum possible mileage (kilometres covered per litres) through best engineering and design practices. Since the carbon emission are minimal, this becomes eco-friendly, which alleviates a major concern of the automobile sector,” he said.

He further added that as the world is moving towards autonomous vehicles, they are considering working on an autonomous car project. “Our autonomous side caters the Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Advance Driver-Aid Systems (ADAS), which are not available in the local automobile industry,” he said.

The team NUSTAG completed their first vehicle in 2009 with the name ‘KAAR 1,’ which they took to the global event Shell Eco-Marathon (SEM) Asia in 2010 for the very first time representing Pakistan at the event. Since then, they have been participating in the SEM Asia in Gasoline Urban Concept, held in different countries every year.

During their journey of 11 years, the team built Pakistan’s First Hybrid car and got Autodesk Technical Innovation Award in 2010. They finished at the sixth spot among 81 teams at SEM Asia 2011, won Communication Award in SEM Asia 2012, and while maintaining Communication Award, got the first position in Shell Design and Build Contest in 2013, along with the SEM Safety Award Asia (2014) and Shell Pakistan Innovation Award (2015).

“NUSTAG takes pride in maintaining the first position all over the sub-continent in the ‘Gasoline Urban Concept’ category at SEM Asia for consecutive two years (2018 and 2019) before Covid-19. So till date, we have held a record achievement all over sub-continent leading Pakistan over the neighbouring country,” informed Jillani.

He further said that the idea of getting into the urban concept was backed by their university advisors. The university provided the initial funding and later made efforts in getting the sponsors and technical guidance.

“Our university supported us to the best we could have imagined. Whereas SEM proved to be the fuel for our project. As we were competing yearly, striving for excellence and doing better than other teams around the globe helped us get better results. By looking at our standings in the competition and taking inspiration from other teams, we layer by layer, kept on making improvements in our car,” he said.

Talking about the lack of facilities and opportunities, Jillani said that Pakistan lacks facilities for research and technical support, but in terms of opportunity, they are actually quite a lot. “Local automobile manufacturers provide limited features with any latest generation car. This gap creates a new market segment that anyone can target with a good solution. More the problems would be the solutions, and each solution will be an opportunity.”

“Still, Pakistan should have dynamic research and testing labs focusing just on automobiles. This will help in the induction of AI and machine learning into our urban mobility,” he said, adding that getting funds has always been an issue in Pakistan, a platform with streamlined processing of ideas for crowdfunding would be great. Like in European countries, he said that student loans should be started for the enthusiasts who are eager to bring their ideas to existence.


Team Hammerhead – The Urban Electric

Another team, Hammerhead of GIKI has created an urban prototype vehicle that they have been working on since 2011. Driven by the team's passion and the need for an efficient and sustainable automobile, they ended up building their first prototype design of the vehicle back in 2011. “Our dedication to this purpose has been greater than ever. It has been an iterative process, and since then, we are trying to make our prototype design better and more innovative,” said the team captain Syed Moiz Hussain to The Express Tribune.

The team started off with a focus on increasing the efficiency of petrol engines but with the development of technology, they shifted their focus to bringing electric vehicle technology to Pakistan. Their passion for sustainable vehicles has led them to create one of the most aerodynamic and lightweight structures - monocoque.

“We have been the first and only team from Pakistan to achieve this. The shell with a weight of just 23kg was short of the world record by only three kg. With this and the entire efforts of the team combined, we hope to make history this year in the SEMA Show 2022,” said Hussain.

The team began with participating in the global competition Shell Eco-Marathon (SEM) in 2011, and since then has consistently participated in the same event for the last decade. Until 2012 Team Hammerhead took part in the urban category of the competition but then moved its interest towards the Battery-Electric Prototype category.

In these 10 years, the team’s most notable achievements include the sixth position in both 2014 and 2017 editions of SEM. They were also awarded the ‘Best Design Award’ in 2015 and won Shell Dream Car Challenge in 2016. Their most recent achievement includes winning PKR 0.65million in the Shell Race for Your Money challenge in 2020, a local idea competition where the winning team secured a sponsorship deal as well.

When the SEM, the only global competition team Hammerhead participated in, provided the team with a platform to showcase their innovation and capabilities, the team manager Huzaifa Rehan believed some areas needed attention. “The SEM gave us the exposure, with other international teams that helped us greatly in understanding the true spirit of this healthy competition and enlightening us with new ideas and determination.”

“The government authorities can also play their part in supporting the emerging talents and provide a platform for them to exhibit their potentials. Multi-nationals in Pakistan can provide financial assistance to these young minds. They should invest and develop core industries like technology, communications, automobile, and others that foster growth and allow Pakistan to compete with the international market in the fastest moving industries today. Not only will it grow the job market locally, but it will also promote foreign investment and boost the economy of Pakistan,” he said.

Talking about the institute, Huzaifa said that GIKI has always had their backs; they have access to any and all the labs inside GIKI. “The admin is fully supportive of our initiative, and our advisor Dr Taqi Cheema has consistently been there to counsel us and give us guidance when needed in all the team matters. GIKI has been the heart and soul of the team, from technical knowledge to guidance and motivation,” he said.

All the teams are doing their best for a cleaner future by helping the country promote electric vehicle use and raise awareness on how it can help Pakistan become a better place for the innovators and these great minds who can compete with the world and make Pakistan proud.