Peugeot‘s withdrawal from the Le Mans 24 hours, and the World Endurance Championship on 18 January 2012, took everyone by surprise. With the launch of the World Endurance Championship and the encouragement of Hybrid technology in new regulations that could be used in production car applications, Peugeot’s programme, while short of Audi‘s money, appeared to be relatively safe.
The company has developed its 2012 challenger, the 908 HYbrid4 and recently completed a 33-hour test in France. With the ACO’s regulations apparently written in favour of Hybrid technology this year, the battle between Peugeot, with its electric Hybrid system, Audi, which is thought to be developing a mechanical flywheel system, and Toyota, with a petrol engine and an expected Hybrid system on the front axle, was set to be an extraordinary step in the profile of performance Hybrid technology.
With the launch of the World Endurance Championship and the encouragement of Hybrid technology in new regulations that could be used in production car applications, Peugeot’s programme appeared to be relatively safe.
However, in a press release, Peugeot said that it preferred to concentrate its budget on upcoming car launches. “This decision has been taken against the backdrop of the challenging economic environment in Europe coupled with a particularly busy year for the Brand in terms of new vehicle launches,” read the statement.
The 908 HYbrid4 was clearly related to the forthcoming 3008 and 508 HYbrid4 production cars. Senior management figures have publicly stated in the past that the sports car programme needed Hybrid technology to justify its existence, but clearly it came too late to save the programme.
With the 2014 regulations still to be announced, and Porsche and Audi both claiming that any further delay will result in their introduction pushed back to 2015, the scene is not yet stable enough to commit to an estimated €100m (US$130m) programme.
The timing of Peugeot’s announcement was significant, coming on the day entries for the WEC closed, and presumably Peugeot saved itself nearly half a million Euros in entry fees to the FIA.
The PSA Group immediately affirmed its commitment to the World Rally Championship with Citroen, a considerably cheaper, and successful programme.
With new regulations coming for Le Mans and for Formula One in 2014, it is critical that the rule writers strike the right balance between encouraging technical innovation and maintaining cost control.
The 908 HYbrid4 was clearly related to the forthcoming 3008 and 508 HYbrid4 production cars.
“The ACO and the FIA are really aware and are anxious that they are going a step too far, and I think they are not going far enough,” said Audi’s motorsport head of engine development Ulrich Baretzky. “It is a lot of money, and if the result is bad, they are destroying an opportunity.”
If the balance is wrong, the ACO risks losing its existing manufacturers, and will not attract interest from new competitors. In Formula One, BMW, Toyota and Honda abruptly brought the curtain down on their programmes.
Formula One will introduce a more relevant engine formula in 2014, and the ACO will develop its new energy regulations for introduction in the same year. Both must offer manufacturers incentives to promote their technology, and their brand. For both, return on investment must be enough to satisfy board members and privateers seeking sponsorship alike.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.
Andrew Cotton has covered international endurance racing for more than 15 years and currently is editor of Racecar Engineering.
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