VW coup

Industry giant Ferdinand Piech falls after turning Volkswagen into a global superpower

BEN OLIVER

1963

Piech (26) joins Porsche and is heavily involved in the development of the first flat-six engine for the now legendary 911 sports car

1968

Wins board approval to develop a 5.0-litre V8 for a lightweight racing chassis.

The Porsche 917 goes on to win Le Mans in ’70 and ’71

1972

Becomes engineering chief at Audi, where he pushes Quattro, aerodynamic body design (’83 Audi 100) and aluminium bodies (’94 A8)

1993

Becomes VW chairman and CEO. Introduces platform sharing, the W8 Passat – which flopped – and the innovative Lupo city car

FERDINAND Piech’s plot to remove Martin Winterkorn as CEO of Volkswagen has backfired, resulting in his replacement as VW Group chairman by the very man he tried to oust.

In a stunning turn of events that quickly came to a head in April, Piech, the man whose drive and ambition propelled Volkswagen Group from a small European player to a global force second only to Toyota in less than two decades, has fallen victim to his own machinations.

The former VW Group board chairman secretly plotted to replace Winterkorn with Porsche boss – and reported Piech ally – Matthias Mueller. However, the VW Group board instead threw its support behind Winterkorn, leaving Piech no choice but to resign, effective immediately.

Piech’s reign may be over, but his legacy should not be underestimated. The grandson of Beetle creator Ferdinand Porsche, the Austrian was automotive royalty and one of the industry’s most feared executives. He was the man behind the Porsche 917, turned Audi into a genuine rival to Mercedes-Benz and BMW, and delivered the Bugatti Veyron. He was a talented engineer and an even better powerbroker.

A comment from Piech could – and did – end careers, as both Wendelin Wiedeking, ousted as Porsche boss in 2009, and Franz- Josef Paefgen, removed as Audi CEO in 2001, would know.

Piech, 78, wanted to wield that power yet again in April, declaring he was “at a distance” from VW CEO Martin Winterkorn. He may as well have declared war.

Piech’s exit opens the door for Audi to enter F1

Piech had legitimate beefs with 68-year-old Winterkorn, even though group sales have surged from six to 10 million since the latter became CEO in 2007.

However, VW’s US operations have faltered, it lacks a low-cost brand, and Piech thinks Winterkorn hasn’t done enough to counter Tesla, Google and Apple. The VW brand itself isn’t profitable enough and, in an early sign of Piech’s disfavour, Winterkorn was relieved of direct responsibility for it in December.

Yet this time Piech’s remarks didn’t spell Winterkorn’s end.

Instead, VW Group’s most senior committee turned on its ageing chairman, and after a row with its other members – three trade unionists, the Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, and his own cousin Wolfgang Porsche – the board backed Winterkorn as the “best possible” CEO. The stoush between the former friends was as short as it was bitter.

Piech’s departure opens the door for the world’s secondbiggest carmaker to enter Formula One via Audi, which has already hired ex-Ferrari F1 chief Stefano Domenicali.

And Winterkorn is now more likely pay closer attention to criticisms. So expect a new VW low-cost brand, stronger focus on radical drive tech and a renewed assault on the US with better products that may make it here.

2002

The VW Phaeton proves one of Piech’s biggest failures. Retires as VW CEO after showing the 1-litre forerunner to the VW XL1

2007

Martin Winterkorn is appointed VW Group CEO and creates Strategy 2018: the company’s aim to become the world’s biggest carmaker

2009

Piech defeats Porsche’s VW takeover attempt, removes Porsche boss Wiedeking and absorbs the brand into the VW Group

2015

Resigns from VW board after a spat with VW CEO Martin Winterkorn. Wife Ursula also resigns from her post on the board