Audi leaves Le Mans as focus shifts to electric racing cars
Audi is pulling out of the Le Mans sports car race next year after almost two decades to focus on racing electric cars as part of a symbolic shift in strategy.
With parent company Volkswagen still recovering from its emissions scandal, having recently agreed to a $14.7bn deal with the US government, Audi is seeking to boost the share of zero-emission vehicles to at least a quarter of its global sales by 2025.
It will also start competing next year in the Formula E electric-car racing championship.
“We will conduct the race for the future electronically,” chief executive Rupert Stadler said.
“As our production cars are becoming increasingly electric, our motorsport cars, as Audi’s technological spearheads, have to even more so.”
As it grapples with the costs of the emissions scandal, the German carmaker is cutting spending to fund its shift to electric cars and autonomous driving, mirroring plans by parent VW.
Audi denied a report in Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper that savings from pulling out of Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship (WEC) would amount to an annual $328m. A source at Audi said the move would save Audi nearly €100m per year.
VW’s flagship luxury division has set aside more than half a billion euros to cover costs associated with the diesel emissions scandal and possible recalls of cars fitted with Takata Corp airbags. Third-quarter financial results are due on Friday.
Le Mans, one of the greatest tests of endurance for cars and drivers, has been a source of prestige for Audi which has won the race 13 times in 18 years.
The decision to exit the WEC means Audi will be left with no diesel engines in motorsports and also leaves the WEC with just two manufacturers competing for the championship: Audi’s VW stablemate Porsche, which has won for the past two years with hybrid models, and Toyota.
Toyota said in a statement that it noted Audi’s decision “with regret” but it would have no effect on the company’s plans.
“We are preparing for 2017 when we will return with the target of winning the Le Mans 24 Hours and the World Championship,” a spokesman for the Japanese company said.
A Porsche spokesman said it also had no plans to quit.
More than a year after VW admitted to rigging emissions tests, Audi’s move is another setback for diesel, which analysts have said faces higher costs amid tougher standards and testing methods.
But Audi said its exit from top-level sportscar racing does not imply diesel technology will disappear in its road cars.
“If we are serious about achieving carbon dioxide emission targets, then there is no alternative to diesel because they are the most efficient engines,” the spokesman said.
Audi’s decision is also a boost for Formula E, which has attracted interest from other manufacturers including German rivals BMW and Mercedes as well as Renault, Jaguar, Citroen and India’s Mahindra.
“I was as surprised as anyone, probably,” Formula E chief executive Alejandro Agag said. “It is confirmation that Formula E is going in the right direction.”