An Audi car again won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France over the weekend, an impressive 11th win for Audi in the last 13 runnings of the iconic competition — and the historic first victory of a hybrid vehicle at Le Mans. But should an Audi customer really care? They can't buy the R18 e-tron quattro model that won the race, anyway.
The answer is yes, the way Audi executives look at it. And, they say, many customers — even in the United States — actually do. Anecdotally, at least, Audi and its American dealers get plenty of feedback indicating that Audi buyers and luxury-car consumers pay attention even though the race took place across the Atlantic.
"The value" of Audi's dominance of Le Mans, including the weekend win, is "difficult to quantify," said Matt Carpenter, general manager of vehicle sales for Audi of America, to brandchannel. Even so, "the value is very high," he added.
Carpenter said one reason is that Audi buyers "typically are auto and technology enthusiasts who pay attention to stuff like" which automotive brand wins Le Mans. "They're educated on performance technology and follow it," he said.
Plus, to be able to boast of winning the granddaddy of European road races fits right into the Audi brand's portfolio, which includes positioning as "sporty," "progressive" and "sophisticated," Carpenter told brandchannel. That's especially true this year in the U.S. market, where Audi plans to launch a wave of performance-oriented products, including its RS 5 Coupe and S6, S7 and S8 sports-performance models.
Later this year, Audi plans to introduce its first hybrid to the U.S. market in the form of a new version of its Q5. It won't have the highly advanced electrification technology that helped the Audi R18 e-tron win Le Mans over the weekend. But some related e-tron technology already is part of what Audi is relying on to field the new Q5 Hybrid. "Some of that shared technology" from the racers "eventually gets into mass production," Carpenter said. "And that means something to our customers."
Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, head of Audi Motorsport, stated on the brand's winning of the 80th 24-hour Le Mans race:
This is no doubt a historic victory for Audi. We were the first to win Le Mans with a direct-injection turbo gasoline engine and the first to be successful with a diesel engine. It’s a great result that Audi is now the first brand to have achieved victory with a hybrid vehicle – and right on the first run, as before with the two other technologies, and – what’s more – with both R18 e-tron quattro cars on the two top spots. That was an outstanding achievement by the entire squad, naturally with support from Audi’s Technical Development too, as we’re always working very closely together with the people who are developing our cars of tomorrow for the customers.