Audi quits Le Mans to focus on electric car racing

Wed Oct 26, 2016 12:20pm EDT
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By Andreas Cremer

BERLIN (Reuters) - Audi will end its involvement in the prestigious Le Mans sports car race next year after almost two decades to focus on racing electric cars, symbolizing a shift in strategy as parent company Volkswagen battles to recover from an emissions scandal.

Audi, which is seeking to boost the share of zero-emission vehicles to at least a quarter of its global sales by 2025, said it will 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 told workers at Audi's sports car division on Wednesday, according to a statement from the company, citing the biggest transformation in the brand's history.

"As our production cars are becoming increasingly electric, our motorsport cars, as Audi's technological spearheads, have to even more so," the CEO said.

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 (VOWG_p.DE: Quote).

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 300 million euros ($328 million). A source at Audi said the move would save Audi nearly 100 million euros per year.

VW's flagship luxury division has set aside more than half a billion euros to cover costs for 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.   Continued...

File image of Marco Bonanomi of Italy drives his Audi R18 e-tron quattro number 9 during the Le Mans 24 Hours sportscar race in Le Mans, central France June 14, 2015.  REUTERS/Stephane Mahe