2018 Volkswagen ID R Pikes Peak race car
The next Pikes Peak International Hill Climb race is eight months away still, so a press release on a carmaker's entry into next June's event comes out of left field.
But for Volkswagen, it's another small step to underscore its major commitment to battery-electric vehicles as its two-year-old diesel emission cheating scandal continues to reverberate.
The German automaker will take a new electric race car to Colorado with an audacious goal: It hopes to set a new record-low time for climbing the twisting peak.
The company's Volkswagen Motorsport unit hasn't been to Pikes Peak since 1987, when it fielded a remarkable VW Golf with two engines.
That car, as the company's release notes, "barely missed finishing."
"It is high time for a rematch," said Sven Smeets, the director of VW Motorsport.
Teaser for Volkswagen’s entry for 2018 Pikes Pike International Hill Climb
The company's target is the electric-prototype class time set last year by Rhys Millen in a custom-built Drive eO PP03 electric single-seat race car.
Millen ascended the 12.4-mile course—which climbs 4,700 feet to a summit almost 14,000 feet above sea level—in 8 minutes, 57.1 seconds.
This year's event will be the 102nd running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, also known as the "Race to the Clouds."
The importance of the project to Volkswagen, however, is that it will offer a brief (if challenging) chance to show off the technologies that will go into the MEB electric-vehicle architecture that underpins more than 20 models to be sold starting in 2020.
Those include the Volkswagen ID compact hatchback, effectively a replacement for today's VW e-Golf; the VW ID Crozz crossover utility vehicle shown this year at the Shanghai auto show; and, later, the Volkswagen ID Buzz all-electric Microbus seven-seat minivan.
"Our electric race car will be equipped with innovative battery and drive technology," said Frank Welsch, the member of the Volkswagen board responsible for development of new vehicles.
Volkswagen ID electric car concept, 2016 Paris auto show
Volkswagen ID Buzz Concept
Volkswagen ID Crozz II concept, 2017 Frankfurt auto show
"The extreme stress test posed by Pikes Peak will give us important feedback that will benefit future development," he continued, "and it will showcase our products and their technologies."
The all-wheel-drive race car will be jointly developed by Volkswagen Motorsport and the group's production-vehicle team at its headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.
As in the FIA Formula E electric race series, the pace of electric-car technology development ensures that race designers work much more closely with production-car engineers than is usual for internal-combustion engine racers.
While VW Group has said it will offer more than 30 all-electric vehicles throughout its brands by 2025, the majority of those are likely to be sold in China.
That country's announcement that it is assessing when to ban sales of new cars with combustion engines solidified the future primacy of electric cars in the world's largest car market.
Now the world's largest automakers—including their racing units—are shifting their focus, like it or not, toward electric vehicles powered by batteries.
That includes cars designed to do nothing but climb a hill in Colorado.