Hot off of record-breaking Pikes Peak and Goodwood climbs and a blistering Nürburgring record as well, Volkswagen decided it was time to bring the ID.R’s talents east to Tianmen Mountain in China to demonstrate what its electrified performance cars can do on yet another continent.
Earlier this week, Romain Dumas took the ID.R around the 99 tight corners that coil 10.9 kilometers around Tianmen Mountain on the way to “Heaven’s Gate” in 7:38.585 minutes. The road up Tianmen Mountain, which does not have the same hill-climb tradition surrounding it as Pikes Peak, for example, is slowly gaining prominence with its striking steep cliffs and steep curvy ascent. The prior record holder is actually the Range Rover Sport SVR, which made its way up the same road more than two minutes slower than the VW race car with a time of nine minutes and 51 seconds.
While impressive, this isn’t Pikes Peak, so Volkswagen was keen to get more out of this event than just a new hill climb record. They also wanted to demonstrate the logistical capabilities made possible for the “Silk Road Rail Route” between Europe and China by using this new route to get the ID.R and associated support equipment from Germany to China for the record attempt. According to a report from Automotive Logistics, this new route 10,490 kilometer route, nearly all of which is electrified, is intended to replace expensive and environmentally unfriendly air transport and slow transport by sea between the Far East and Europe by taking an overland route across central Asia.
Crossing Europe and Asia by rail takes a good deal longer than climbing a mountain in a race car, but the emissions saved over the three-week trip are considerable, with the train route cutting more than 85% of CO2 emissions and 93% of sulphur dioxide emissions compared to air transport according to a statement from Volkswagen Motorsport logistics manager Lutz Meyer.
Though the train carrying the car and support materials traversed two breaks of gauge, six countries and seven time zones, the customs regime was actually relatively simple. With the help of light sensors and GPS monitoring to detect tampering, the containers left the EU from Poland sealed and got an entry stamp at the Chinese frontier with Kazakhstan.
Beyond Volkswagen’s interest in the route for uses like this, China is hoping that this new route will take on a growing proportion of trade both two and from Europe as part of the country’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. OZY reports that rail shipment times to and from China using this route could drop from 16 days to ten days in the near future (as opposed to 45 days for an equivalent journey by sea). That improvement could see the number of trains per year between China and Germany to rise to over 10,000 within five years, a drastic increase from the 6,300 trains arriving each year today.
Despite these huge logistical improvements, some in the West are worried that Chinese infrastructure investment will result in heavy development debt for participating countries to China and a resulting shift of influence towards the People’s Republic. Chinese infrastructure projects in developing countries like Sri Lanka have resulted in Chinese control of strategically important infrastructure like ports being subject to 99-year leases. While this has yet to be the case with Chinese-developed rail infrastructure in the West, some remain worried.
The environmental approach to both racing and automotive logistics Volkswagen has chosen to highlight with this hill climb is part of a larger effort to promote the automaker’s new ID.3, which will be launched later this week at the Frankfurt Auto Show. The ID.3 is the company’s first production model based on its MEB electric vehicle architecture as well as the company’s first serious attempt to reclaim its dominance after Dieselgate. If the ID.3, which is golf-sized and a lot more practical than its ID.R sibling, can meet the challenges it faces even half as well as the ID.R tackles the curves and inclines of racetracks the world over, Volkswagen likely has a real winner on their hands.