Dr Ferdinand Piech, the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, has died suddenly aged 82.
The former Volkswagen CEO, who turned the debt-crippled brand’s fortunes around in the 1990s without resorting to large-scale job cuts, passed away suddenly on Sunday, his family said in a statement. The cause is unknown at this time.
Hi began his career in the German automotive sphere in 1963, at Porsche, with his uncle – a certain Ferry Porsche. His first major achievements came on the motorsport side of the business with the 906 racer, and he stayed involved with similar projects all the way to the legendary 917.
After a disagreement with the Porsche family in the early 1970s, Piech moved to Audi, where he was a key figure in the development of quattro all-wheel drive. He finally shifted to Volkswagen as CEO in 1993, at which point spiralling losses and struggling products seemed to spell doom for the People’s Car.
Under Piech’s sometimes ‘dreaded’ management style the business was turned around without major job losses. Within a few years he had won the hearts and minds of everyone with a vested interest in VW’s success.
His time at the wheel of what became Europe’s biggest car maker was dominated by acquisitions and restructuring, the pinnacle of which came with the years-long wrangling between Porsche and Volkswagen; the drawn-out culmination a decades-long enmity between Piech and his cousin, Wolfgang Porsche.
Porsche had lined up to try to buy Volkswagen in 2008 but overstretched itself financially, leaving the door open for Volkswagen to turn the tables and acquire Porsche. That said, the affairs at VAG are still a bit confusing, with Porsche Automobil Holding SE currently owning 53 per cent of Volkswagen but Volkswagen officially being parent company to Porsche. No, we don’t get it either.
Anyhoo, Piech’s wildly successful time with Volkswagen wasn’t without its share of flops. The Phaeton, Bugatti Veyron and Audi A2 formally rank as three of the biggest loss-making cars in history. It’s ironic that all three are now seen as modern classics on the used market.
But the lowest point for Piech came as he was forced out of the company in the wake of the dieselgate scandal. As Piech had always involved himself fully in the engineering side of the cars, it was felt that there was no way he was ignorant of what was happening with the so-called ‘defeat devices’. He himself claimed to have warned senior board members before the scandal erupted about what was going on, but they – including his old nemesis Wolfgang Porsche – strongly denied it.
During his life Piech fathered 12 children with at least four women, according to a Bloomberg report. He died unexpectedly after attending a dinner in Upper Bavaria on 25 August.