Robbo on Piech

PETER ROBINSON

FERDINAND Piech was not your usual CEO. He was both the most bizarre personality I ever interviewed and the most fascinating.

An engineering genius, egomaniac, despotic executive and, above all, a visionary, Piech was driven by a basic need to match the fame of grandfather Ferdinand Porsche.

His fanatical ambition knew no bounds. It was Piech who, as head of R&D in the mid-1970s, set Audi on a path to match Mercedes-Benz and BMW; it was Piech who insisted VW become the world’s biggest carmaker.

Interviewing the bloke demanded solid homework. He was friendly, answering questions deliberately and precisely. You knew that his answers might be 30 seconds coming after asking a question. The trick was not to interrupt the silence.

He made product mistakes – the W8 Passat and VW Phaeton, ignoring the trend to SUVs, and resurrecting Bugatti – but Piech also had his triumphs: VW’s platform policy, the success of Audi, the leap in VW quality, rejuvenating Bentley and Lamborghini and, as he saw it, ”saving European car manufacturing from the Japanese and Americans”.