Should Volkswagen management miss its self-prescribed and audacious target of becoming the world’s largest automaker by 2018, as of today it would have someone else to blame than itself: Bernd Osterloh, chief of Volkswagen’s works council and therefore vice chairman of Volkswagen’s supervisory board, is against further acquisitions in the foreseeable future. “We are twelve brands now, and we need to stabilize the group first,” Osterloh told Germany’s Handelsblatt in an interview. Osterloh is especially against buying Proton (and with it Lotus): “As important as distribution and production in South-East Asia may be: Labor does not support an acquisition of Proton in Malaysia.”
Why Osterloh is against the Asian acquisition is anybody’s guess. South-East Asia has been identified as the next growth market, especially Volkswagen’s über-antagonist Toyota owns outsized chunks of market share in the tropical islands and peninsulas. Forget the pat answer that labor always opposes foreign expansion for fear of jobs at home. Osterloh is no dummy, and he knows that without a big international footprint, Volkswagen would share the fate of Opel and Fiat. And anyway: Proton already assembles Volkswagen cars, why not buy Proton while it is cheap and DRB Hicom wants it off its hands?
Osterloh does not keep us guessing for long. Further into the interview, he shows his hand. Osterloh is not against a more international Volkswagen, quite the opposite. “We want the supervisory board to become more international,” says Osterloh. A Swedish union representative of Scania should get a seat on the board, says Osterloh. Newly subsumed MAN will send its works council chief Jürgen Dorn to the board. Osterloh also wants to have more women to liven up Volkswagen’s controlling committee. When he talks about stabilizing the group, he means stabilizing labor’s power base. With this done, Osterlohn will no longer oppose Volkswagen’s march towards world domination.