Before the VW diesel emissions scandal became public knowledge, we reported in April 2015 on Ferdinand Piech's surprise ousting from the company and the legacy he left behind. Read the article below:
Nobody could have predicted – or hoped – that Ferdinand Piech’s association with the car maker founded by his grandfather would end in such a dismal manner.
An emergency meeting of Volkswagen’s supervisory board was called on Saturday 25 April; the location a regional airport in northern Germany, not far from VW’s Wolfsburg HQ.
It proved to be the final destination for Piech after nearly half a century at the heart of Porsche (founded by his grandfather Ferdinand Porsche after WW2) and Volkswagen, the brand that grew out of the Beetle, a car originally designed by Ferdinand Porsche.
Piech made his name as the engineer behind the Porsche 917, and the strategic and engineering mind behind the long-term reinvention of Audi as a premium brand. His merciless approach oversaw quattro, pioneering aerodynamic design, the benchmark construction quality of the Mk 4 Golf and the ultimate road car engineering of the Bugatti Veyron.
He was also widely celebrated in Germany for saving VW from potential bankruptcy and mass job losses when he took over the ailing VW brand in 1993.
He built up the VW Group by bringing in new brands – notably Skoda, which has become a significant success – and driving VW, from the back seat for the last 13 years, to become the world’s second largest car maker.
His tenure came to an unexpected end when he was accused by members of the board of trying, for a second time within two weeks, to overthrow his long-time collaborator Winterkorn.
It was the second meeting since Piech, chairman of the supervisory board, had attempted to destabilise Winterkorn.
At the beginning of April, Piech had been quoted in the German press as saying he was "no longer aligned" with Winterkorn. Based on Piech’s previous record of expelling senior figures he felt had failed, this kind of understated comment was widely understood to mean Piech wanted to see Winterkorn replaced, and quickly.
The result was to throw VW into an immediate management crisis (German companies pride themselves on consensual management) which saw the supervisory board meeting confirm that Winterkorn was safe as the VW Group boss. The statement even described Winterkorn as "the best of VW".
Piech had, for once, failed to get his own way, being forced to sign up to the supervisory board’s statement of support.
A few days later, however, rumours within VW began swirling that Piech had refused to accept defeat and was lobbying to get Matthias Mueller to replace Winterkorn.
At the Braunschweig airport meeting it seems the supervisory board finally turned as one on Piech, and he and his wife - who was also a board member – resigned.
Although it will probably never become public knowledge, there is probably more to Piech’s ousting than meets the eye. For a start, the VW Group is not in the best shape, despite being the world’s second biggest car maker.