FRANKFURT/HAMBURG -- Just as Porsche and Audi have fought for supremacy on the race track, the Volkswagen Group brands are now locked in a battle to develop and manufacture the next generation of electric cars at a company still embroiled in its diesel-emissions scandal.
VW denies that the kind of internal rivalry that it encouraged at the Le Mans 24-hour race is getting out of hand in the boardroom. Senior executives have told Reuters however that in-house conflict, particularly between VW and its premium brands, is intensifying over which factories will develop next generation cars while the group has to cut costs elsewhere to pay for cleaning up its emissions-cheating scandal.
"There is a cut-throat battle for resources. Every brand with engine-manufacturing capacity now wants a leadership role when it comes to electric motors, battery packs and battery-cell expertise," an executive at one of the VW divisions, who declined to be named, said.
Since returning to top-line racing three years ago, Porsche has beaten Audi to the world championship for sports cars and at Le Mans for the past two seasons. Porsche will again seek to defend the titles in 2017 with its ultra-sophisticated gasoline hybrids. But Audi, whose hybrid racers showcased the group's troubled diesel technology, has pulled out after winning the French race 13 times.
In the broader competition, Porsche also appears in the ascendant as Audi - which since the 1990s has achieved rapid sales growth to rival Mercedes-Benz and BMW - now struggles with the diesel-scandal fallout and a series of negative press leaks.
Jobs are at stake as the group - whose brands also include Skoda, Seat, Bugatti, Bentley and Lamborghini - moves to new technology and faces up to emissions penalties and lawsuits which analysts say could cost as much as 30 billion euros ($32 billion).
Because EVs are far less complex to assemble than traditional combustion engine vehicles, manufacturers may not be able to guarantee the same level of employment in future - a thorny issue in an industry dominated by a workforce with multi-year collective wage agreements.
Volkswagen and its unions agreed to cut 30,000 jobs at the core VW brand in exchange for a commitment to avoid forced redundancies in Germany until 2025.
The executives at Audi, VW and Porsche, who all declined to be named, said conflict between group brands is not new and healthy internal competition can push them to greater technical and commercial achievements.
However, some critics said the scramble has become more intense partly because the company last year lost a powerful central figure, Ferdinand Piech, who controlled the balance of power between the brands, their managers and worker representatives.