Audi Boosts Investment in Formula E

Audi Formula E

To touch on a subject not normally covered by CarGurus, Audi has announced its expanded involvement in the all-electric Formula E racing series, furthering its support of Team ABT Schaeffler before fielding a full-works team in 2017. Motor racing is an exceptionally expensive business, and with perhaps the exception of Ferrari’s involvement in Formula 1, no manufacturer can simply dabble in the game—there has to be some sort of return on the investment.

In 1980, Audi brought its now-famous quattro 4-wheel-drive system to the world of rally racing. Although competitors assumed all-wheel systems would prove too heavy and complex to be viable options in rallying, Audi’s investment in the technology ended up bringing home multiple championships, forced its competitors to adopt 4-wheel-drive, and earned the S1 and S2 quattro cars noteworthy fame. Thanks to the quattro rally car, Audi now enjoys Subaru-like marketing as the de facto all-wheel-drive option for the luxury car market. As a bonus, we get to enjoy some world-class commercials.

In endurance racing, Audi enjoyed brief success in 2004; but while the engine may have been stamped with the four rings, the front of the winning car bore Bentley’s name, making the victory not quite sweet enough. In 2005, Audi revealed the R10 TDI in the top-tier prototype class, featuring a twin-turbocharged diesel engine. The switch to diesel helped build a winning formula, and Audi has found itself on the podium nearly every year since.

Today, with diesel technology’s future is more questionable than ever, Audi has announced its expanded involvement in Formula E racing. It’s worth noting that, compared to endurance racing (and even more so, Formula 1), Formula E is easily painted as a less-than-serious counterpart. Racing is limited to a 50-minute session, tire changes are prohibited, and (I’m not making this up) teams can benefit from power increases based on their exposure on social media. Rest assured, however, that the racers, technicians, and financiers of Formula E don’t approach the sport with a casual attitude.

Audi has been supplying cash and other resources to the ABT Schaeffler team since Formula E’s inception in 2014, but what’s noticeable about its latest investment is the technological significance of racing and its impact on research and development. Audi pushed its all-wheel-drive tech forward with rallying, it improved turbodiesel engines at Le Mans, and now it’s spending more money on electrified powertrains.

And that’s kind of Audi’s thing with racing. It’s why Audi has never become involved in Formula 1; to justify the level of expense associated with racing, Audi needs to see real-world production-car returns. Owned by Volkswagen, it’s no surprise Audi is beginning to look at EV technology as the next important step forward. One member of Audi’s board of managers, Dr. Stefan Knirsch, explained: “[B]y 2025, every fourth Audi should be an electric vehicle.” Knowing Audi’s reputation in racing, the only surprise would come if the company did not succeed.

What do you think Audi’s involvement in Formula E means for the company’s production cars?

-Matt Smith

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