Volkswagen stops racing to focus on electric cars

Volkswagen quietly announced it’s sending its racing division to the automotive dust bin in order to allocate more time, money, and personnel to the development of electric cars. Its decision affects several programs, including the ID.R and customer racing efforts, but it does not mean that its sister companies (like Audi) will stop racing.

“The Volkswagen brand is on its way to becoming the leading provider of sustainable e-mobility. To this end, we are pooling our strengths, and we have decided to terminate the Volkswagen brand’s motorsport activities,” said Frank Welsch, the head of the company’s development efforts, in a statement.

Seeing a wide-bodied Polo crest a hill a foot off the ground is unforgettable, but racing flies directly into the teeth of Volkswagen’s electrification efforts. It’s expensive, so it’s difficult for executives to continue funding it while simultaneously investing approximately $86 billion into the development of electric technologies by 2025. On a secondary but perhaps more lasting level, it’s difficult to hear the incessant “our future is electric” mantra over the sound of a high-octane rally car, like the ones Volkswagen has built for the World Rally Championship (WRC).

Racing is out, then, and electric production cars are in. Even the battery-powered ID.R (pictured above) will whir into the pits for the last time after setting records on Pikes Peak and at the Nürburgring, among other venues.

Volkswagen pledged none of its employees will lose their job due to its decision. 169 people work at its Motorsport division’s headquarters in Hanover, Germany. They will be offered a position at the carmaker’s global headquarters in nearby Wolfsburg in the coming months, according to the firm. Welsch noted the knowledge gained from the ID.R project — including lessons in a battery’s power density — will permeate future road cars.

Enthusiasts will still be able to purchase spare parts for recent factory-built race cars, including the Polo GTI R5 and the Golf GTI TCR. Production of the Polo GTI R5, the firm’s last racing model, will end in the coming weeks.

Volkswagen’s decision is a significant blow to fans around the world, and to event organizers on all levels of the racing hierarchy, but the bright side is that the other companies owned by the Wolfsburg-based group plan to keep competing in the coming years — at least for now. Audi quit DTM and the World Endurance Championship (WEC) to participate in Formula E, but it’s leaving that series after the 2021 season in order to take a shot at the grueling Dakar Rally. Porsche also quit the WEC after dominating it for years, and it currently races in Formula E.

Performance isn’t completely dead within the carmaker, however. The eighth-generation GTI and the next Golf R will both land in American showrooms as 2022 models, and hot-rodded electric cars are in the pipeline as well.

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