Volkswagen aims for Pikes Peak glory with a new electric race car

Volkswagen is developing an electric race car to take on the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, one of the oldest and most legendary races in the United States. The race car will be a high-profile advertisement for VW’s ongoing electrification efforts.

The car was designed from the ground up to take on Pikes Peak, which has been run since 1916 on the eponymous Colorado mountain. The 12.4-mile course climbs 4,700 feet, ending at the summit of Pikes Peak, just over 14,000 feet above sea level. Volkswagen plans to have the car ready for next year’s hill climb, which will be held June 24.

VW won’t divulge much about its new race car yet, but it did say the car has all-wheel drive, and was built to break the overall record for electric cars at Pikes Peak. The current record, set in 2016, is 8 minutes 57.118 seconds.

Electric cars have actually become fairly popular at Pikes Peak over the past few years, because the thin air at altitude makes it hard for internal-combustion engines to develop power. Just like human beings, gasoline and diesel engines need oxygen to work. But that’s not the case with electric powertrains: an electric car won the race in 2015, and cars like a modified Tesla Model S and a prototype of the Faraday Future FF 91 have all had a go at the mountain.

Volkswagen last raced at Pikes Peak in 1987, when it brought a twin-engined Golf hatchback that failed to finish. More recently, VW has curtailed motor sports activities in the wake of the “Dieselgate” emissions scandal, shuttering its successful World Rally Championship program. But the automaker seems to think racing is good way to market its upcoming electric cars.

In addition to Pikes Peak, Volkswagen subsidiaries Audi and Porsche are becoming heavily involved in the Formula E electric racing series. Both brands pulled out of the more prestigious (and more expensive) 24 Hours of Le Mans to focus on racing electric cars.

The racing plans mirror an ambitious effort to electrify the Volkswagen lineup. The Volkswagen brand will have 23 all-electric models by 2025, and VW’s numerous subsidiary brands will get plenty of electric cars as well. By 2030, VW wants to have a hybrid or all-electric version of every vehicle across its many brands, which currently field around 300 distinct models combined.