Anyone who has the slightest interest in motor cars and motor sports should be aware of the dramatic and significant events which took place in the boardroom at VW just a few months ago.
Ferdinand Piech (and his wife) resigned from the Volkswagen Supervisory Board in a dispute which sees the departure of arguably “the” smartest motor industry executive of the last 50 years.
The argument was apparently that the brilliant 78 year old believed his current Volkswagen boss, Martin Winterkorn, was underperforming.
His view was that a disproportionate amount of the VW groups profits were generating from Porsche and Audi. Hard to argue with this you might believe as Porsche makes more money producing 200,000 cars a year than VW does producing over 2 million!
That VW were burdened with historic massive overheads, heavy unionisation and over staffing were undoubtedly big issues, but the argument to remove Winterkorn pitched Piech against other Porsche family members and he failed to gain their support in ousting Winterkorn, so forcing him ultimately to fall on his sword.
You must look back at the phenomenal achievements of this man to appreciate what VW have discarded and then wonder if there are any similar gifted personalities around to take over his mantle.
This is the man who studied Formula 1 engine design at university; was the engineering driving force at Porsche when they established themselves as not just the world’s leading sports car manufacturer, but also the dominant force in sports car racing worldwide for many decades.
He was on the original development team for the first 911 (901):
As head of the development team at Porsche he was responsible for the glorious Porsche 917 – the car which changed sports car racing for ever;
the “ultra-lightweight” 906, the 907, 908, the Bergspyder hill climb racer, the 914 collaboration with VW – a massive best seller for Porsche, etc. etc.
As the brilliant Head of Engineering at Porsche he ruffled many feathers including those of his Porsche family cousins. So much so that in 1972 a policy decision was introduced which stopped any Porsche “family ” member from working in management at Porsche!
From then on family members could only sit on the Supervisory Board.
A short time after this announcement Piech left Porsche, started his own consultancy, but then quite quickly moved to “Audi NSU Auto Union” as head of technical development in their “special projects” department.
Within a couple of years he was on the Audi main board and we all know how dramatic the progress of Audi has been over the past number of decades.
The story was that until quite recently, he had to drive any new Audi product before it went into production – just to make sure it reached his exacting standards. If it did, he would then sign it off for production. The revolutionary Audi Quattro was one of his projects, as was the all-aluminium A8 saloon.
As CEO of the VW group from 1993 he bought Bentley, Lamborghini, and Bugatti, and was famed for his short fuse with managers who didn’t perform.
Nobody survived “who made the same mistake twice”, insiders said.
When Porsche attempted their audacious takeover of VW it was Piech who ruthlessly led the charge against Weideking, the then Porsche CEO, and it Piech who ultimately won as Porsche was to became part of the VW group and Weideking lost his job in the process.
So as a result of this latest family “argument” Piech has resigned from the Supervisory Board.
Does it really matter?
Can the views of a 78-year-old have any influence in such a fast-moving industry any more?
Will VW struggle without him?
I don’t know. I’m not qualified to answer.
However, what I do know is that VW have lost the biggest brain the motor industry has seen in the past 50 years, and only time will tell if any of his innovation and genius been left in the design rooms and engineering offices.
Good luck to VW. They make terrific cars with an enviable build quality.
The end of an era or on to greater things?