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Durheimer in Limbo as Audi Shakes up Management

Audi tech chief pushed aside, likely to leave VW Group.

by on Jun.21, 2013

Audi's tech chief Womfgang Durheimer falls victim to palace intrigue.

To those who casually glance over the press release Volkswagen AG sent out this morning it might seem like an everyday occurrence, the routine corporate rotation of jobs. But something much more significant has apparently roiled through the management ranks of the Volkswagen AG empire, with Wolfgang Durheimer at its epicenter.

What the VWAG release did do was confirm a report that first surfaced in the German newsmagazine, Der Spiegel suggesting that the highly respected Durheimer had been ousted from the job he had been given only last September as the head of R&D for Audi.  Considering the role Volkswagen’s luxury brand plays in the German maker’s empire, it was a towering position with influence over much of the rest of the corporation.

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According to VW, Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, the 63-year-old board member who had responsible for technical development for VW will now assume Durheimer’s post while also maintaining some of his duties at the parent Volkswagen Group.  Dr. Heinz-Jakob Neusser, 53, will now slip into Hackenberg’s old office.

And Durheimer?


24 Hours of Le Mans Becomes Alternative Power Showcase

Audi Hybrid takes checkered flag, Delta Wing makes strong initial showing.

by on Jun.18, 2012

The unique Nissan Delta Wing made it through nearly seven hours before being driven off the track, ironically, by a Toyota hybrid.

It has been described as the most demanding and unforgiving road race in the world, one that only the hardiest men and machine can hope to survive, never mind win.  So, even a good showing during the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a significant achievement.

And this year’s ultimate endurance race suggests that alternative power and automotive design is ready to challenge the mainstream.  With Audi’s latest high-tech entry claiming victory and the striking Delta Wing making an impressive – if short-lived – debut, even more alternative entries appear to be on the horizon, including one from Japan’s Mazda.

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Already a dominant force with its diesel-powered racers, Audi took an even bolder step this year with the addition of the R18 etron Quattro – which took the checkered flag to become the first hybrid vehicle ever to win the 24-hour event.  Audi snatched a compelling 1-2-3 win during the 80th running of the annual Le Mans endurance race with two R18 etrons first across the finish line followed by a more conventionally diesel-powered R18 ultra.


Audi Will Offer e-tron Option on New A3

First plug-in will debut in 2014; other models to follow.

by on Mar.02, 2012

The Audi A3 will offer an e-tron plug-in hybrid option starting in 2014.

Even as the automaker prepares to launch its first U.S. fleet-test of a plug-in hybrid, Audi CEO Rupert Stadler is confirming expansive new plans for a range of battery-based vehicles from some of its smallest to its sportiest offerings.

That electric assault will begin in 2014, Stadler announced at Audi’s annual news conference, when it begins offering a plug-in “e-tron” option for the new A3 subcompact.  The battery-based A3 will begin field testing in four U.S. markets this month, as reported earlier this week. (Click Here for more on the fleet test.)

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Among other models that will get plug-in and other advanced hybrid options are the

Meanwhile, the maker will tap into its Le Mans racing program, where it has long dominated with its Quattro all-wheel-drive and diesel technologies, and where it has introduced a new flywheel-based hybrid system on the R18 race car.  That technology – which stores energy in a fast-spinning wheel, rather than a battery – is expected to show up on a version of the maker’s A4, dubbed the B9, in the next several years, according to Britain’s Autocar.


No to NASCAR – for now – but VW Group Has Big Plans for U.S. Motorsports

Indy, American Le Mans and other series under study.

by on Sep.29, 2011

Audi's R19 diesel-powered race car at the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Countering rumors that the Volkswagen Group might test its mettle in NASCAR, the head of the maker’s motorsports operation said there are no plans — “at the moment” – to go stock car racing, but the German maker does plan to sharply increase its involvement in U.S. racing in the coming years.

A wide range of programs are under study, according to Wolfgang Durheimer, the former Porsche R&D chief who now serves double-duty as the CEO of Bentley and the head of motorsports for the entire VW Group.

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“In my strategy role I am evaluating all motorsports activities,” said the executive following a preview of the new Bentley Convertible GTC convertible in Croatia, noting that, “The U.S. offers a variety of interesting race series.”

One that he has turned thumbs down on is NASCAR, though Durheimer didn’t seem to be shutting the door entirely.  But the high cost of that series would take cash that could be better focused on other racing ventures, he said.  There’s VW’s new involvement in WRC, a widely-popular rally championship.


BMW Confirms Diesel-M, High-Performance Engine to Find Numerous Other Applications

Will other makers follow with muscle diesels?

by on Aug.17, 2011

BMW's new M5 will soon get a diesel-powered companion, this one using a triple-turbo diesel, the first oil-burner to bear the vaunted "M" badge.

Editor’s note: The following story has been revised to make clear that BMW M Manager Brian Watts did not himself confirm the diesel program has been approved but is only under consideration.  However, ranking BMW sources have repeated their confirmation that what is tentatively being called the BMW 550dXM will be publicly revealed in spring 2012.

BMW will introduce a new high-performance diesel-powered 5-Series model next spring that will expand the German maker’s vaunted M division, has confirmed, with the triple-turbo V-8 oil-burner set to also be used in a variety of other BMW products, likely including its X-series sport-activity vehicles.

Rumors of the diesel M have been circulating for several weeks, but has confirmed details with a variety of BMW sources who say the maker wants to prove out the potential of the high-mileage technology – taking advantage of a variety of new technologies, including the unusual triple-turbocharging system meant to eliminate even the most minor turbo lag.

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The new model is likely to get the unusual designation of either BMW 550dM or 550dXM, the latter referring to its all-wheel-drive system.  With rare exception, most models produced by the Bavarian maker’s performance sub-brand flash the vaunted “M” first and foremost.  But the alternative nomenclature would reflect the unusual powertrain under the hood of the 5-Series BMW.


Germans Invade France: Victory at Le Mans

Disaster turns into victory.

by on Jun.15, 2011

Germany's secret weapon: the Audi R18.

It started back in 2000 when the first Audi prototype showed up at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  At a race where sports car manufacturer Porsche has won 16 times and Ferrari nine times, the upstarts from Ingolstadt came with a serious race car, the turbocharged gasoline-engined R8, and took first, second and third the first time out.

In the years since, the Audi R8, R10, the R15 diesel and now the new R18 diesel have won the race nine more times.  They took a year off in 2003 when, at the suggestion of management, the Audi race car was reconfigured into a Bentley coupe, and the Bentley took first and second using Audi engines.

In 2004, the R8 returned and took first, second, third and fifth.  The following year, the updated and heavily restricted R8 won again, with Danish driver Tom Kristensen winning his seventh Le Mans in a row.

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The world of sports car racing changed forever in 2006 when Audi showed up with its new R10 race cars, powered by 5.5-liter turbocharged diesel engines.  Diesels?  At Le Mans?  Yes.  Using specially distilled diesel race fuel, the Audis qualified first and second and beat the closest gasoline-powered car by four LAPS, owing to the diesel’s reliability, huge torque off the corners, and far fewer stops for fuel.  The winning Audi diesel covered 3164 miles in 24 hours, at an average speed of 131 mph.


Audi, Chevrolet, BMW and Even Ford Enhance Their Reputations at Le Mans

Despite two crashes, Audi overwhelms field with new R18 turbodiesel.

by on Jun.13, 2011

Though two of its three cars crashed, Audi's #2 R18 turbodiesel went on to win.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans, the greatest auto race on Earth, tests engineering skill, driving skill, mechanical skill and everyone’s patience.  This year’s race, the 79th running, showed once again what great racing companies like Audi, Chevrolet, Nissan, and BMW can do.

Audi brought three brand new, brutish-looking diesel-powered R18s to race in the top LMP1 class, with new V-6 turbodiesel engines replacing the older, heavier and less efficient V-10 turbodiesels.

Before 15 laps were done, their #3 car had crashed heavily, sending Scottish driver Allan McNish to the infield hospital.  Around 11:45 PM, the #1 car tangled with a Ferrari and lost, taking out a huge section of guardrail and sending German driver Mike Rockenfeller to the hospital, as well.

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It took more than two hours to fix the guardrail while the field of 56 cars idled around in the dark under a yellow flag.  But the remaining #2 car, with drivers Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer, and Andre Lotterer, soldiered on and won the race, a close finish, with five diesel Peugeots trailing it home.  It was Audi’s tenth overall victory at Le Mans, now more than Ferrari.