Ferdinand Pich, Saviour of Volkswagen and Bringer of High-end Brands, Dies at 82

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
ferdinand pich saviour of volkswagen and bringer of high end brands dies at 82

The patriarch of the Volkswagen Group family, Ferdinand Karl Piëch, died in a Bavarian hospital on Sunday at the age of 82, Bloomberg reports. German newspaper Bild broke the story.

As CEO of Volkswagen Group from 1993 to 2002, Piëch, grandson of Porsche founder Ferdinand Porsche, led the VW brand back from the brink of bankruptcy and added a host of glitzy brands to the corporate fold.

Piëch took a hands-on approach to his work, a trait stemming from his days as an engineer. His career began at Porsche in 1963, where he worked on the development of several models, among them the 917 that dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the early 1970s. From there, he moved on to Audi in 1973, working on development of the 80 and 100 models. The famed Audi Quattro has Piëch to thank for its existence.

Besides his love for five-cylinder engines, Piëch was also a fan of luxury — a trait fairly well removed from the Volkswagen brand. After coming on board as VW boss, Piëch cranked the opulence and prestige up as far as he could, though that had to wait after he brought the brand back from the edge of bankruptcy. He earned praise for the brand’s swift turnaround, increased build quality, and boosted U.S. market share, after which he went about turning VW Group into a dream garage.

Piëch purchased the Bugatti trademark in 1998 and set about building the world’s fastest, and most expensive luxury car, the Veyron. Critics will accuse him of outgrowing the VW brand’s britches with the Phaeton luxury sedan, but the 1998 acquisition of British luxury marque Bentley and Italian supercar builder Lamborghini remains a solid decision. Even during the height of VW’s diesel scandal, no solid moves were made to sell off any of its automotive brands.

Not one to forget about the mass market, Piëch ensured VW took full control of the lower-end Skoda brand. Meanwhile, he signed off on the return of the VW Beetle, launching it with a “New” attached to the name. Piëch left the CEO’s chair in 2002 but didn’t leave the company’s upper ranks. He continued on as chairman of the automaker’s supervisory board until 2015, maintaining a hand in the company’s direction and guiding the 2011 merger of the Porsche SE and Volkswagen AG car manufacturing operations.

Famously known for getting his way, Piëch resigned his chairman post in 2015 after the board’s leadership committee unexpectedly voted to keep then-CEO Martin Winterkorn on for another term. This was in April of that year; you’ll recall what happened to Winterkorn in the fall. Stung by the move, Piëch stepped aside, though he kept a family presence in the room. His wife, Ursula, joined the board that month.

As reported by German outlet DW, Piëch was dining with his wife at a restaurant when he collapsed.

[Image: Volkswagen]

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  • Steve203 Steve203 on Aug 26, 2019

    I am no fan of halo cars, or empire building, as they both take focus away from a company's core business. I think it was Peter Lynch who used the term "deworsification". Yes, I will give him credit for turning VW around, though, judging by the Mk IV Golf/Jetta reputations, quality did not really improve until Winterkorn took over. Like Iacocca, who went nuts after turning Chrysler around and burned money on Lamborghini and Gulfstream, Piech went on the same empire building binge. Why does VAG have three mass market brands? Yes, Skoda makes a handsome profit, but how much of it is at the expense of the VW brand? Seat is even smaller, and has had loss making years. Bentley has generated red ink lately. Marchionne called Bugatti the largest waste of capital he has ever seen. Results for most of the halo brands are not reported separately, which make me think they are constant loss makers. When the huge losses from the diesel scandal were being added up, I had hopes of VAG divesting the irrelevant stuff, but that didn't happen, in spite of rumors that Ducati was on the block.

  • Dal20402 Dal20402 on Aug 27, 2019

    Mr. Piëch was perhaps the most successful executive in the history of the auto industry at setting money on fire for vanity projects and not getting fired over it. - Phaeton - Touareg V10 TDI (most ridiculous SUV ever built) - A8 push upmarket - Lamborghini one-offs - Bentley Mulsanne - I mean, f&cking Bugatti, come on - The whole Porsche fiasco - VW XL1 - Dazzlingly expensive but completely incoherent strategy for electric Audis I mean, on the one hand, you have to admire the chutzpah. On the other hand, do you really want this guy anywhere near your corporation's cash reserves?

    • See 2 previous
    • Steve203 Steve203 on Aug 27, 2019

      @bufguy >>Differs greatly from GM purchasing EDS and Hughes or Chrysler purchasing Gulfstream

  • SCE to AUX Good summary, Matt.I like EVs, but not bans, subsidies, or carbon credits. Let them find their own level.PM Sunak has done a good thing, but I'm surprised at how sensibly early he made the call. Hopefully they'll ban the ban altogether.
  • SCE to AUX "Having spoken to plenty of suppliers over the years, many have told me they tried to adapt to EV production only to be confronted with inconsistent orders."Lofty sales predictions followed by reality.I once worked (very briefly) for a key supplier to Segway, back when "Ginger" was going to change the world. Many suppliers like us tooled up to support sales in the millions, only to sell thousands - and then went bankrupt.
  • SCE to AUX "all-electric vehicles, resulting in a scenario where automakers need fewer traditional suppliers"Is that really true? Fewer traditional suppliers, but they'll be replaced with other suppliers. You won't have the myriad of parts for an internal combustion engine and its accessories (exhaust, sensors), but you still have gear reducers (sometimes two or three), electric motors with lots of internal components, motor mounts, cooling systems, and switchgear.Battery packs aren't so simple, either, and the fire recalls show that quality control is paramount.The rest of the vehicle is pretty much the same - suspension, brakes, body, etc.
  • Theflyersfan As crazy as the NE/Mid-Atlantic I-95 corridor drivers can be, for the most part they pay attention and there aren't too many stupid games. I think at times it's just too crowded for that stuff. I've lived all over the US and the worst drivers are in parts of the Midwest. As I've mentioned before, Ohio drivers have ZERO lane discipline when it comes to cruising, merging, and exiting. And I've just seen it in this area (Louisville) where many drivers have literally no idea how to merge. I've never seen an area where drivers have no problems merging onto an interstate at 30 mph right in front of you. There are some gruesome wrecks at these merge points because it looks like drivers are just too timid to merge and speed up correctly. And the weaving and merging at cloverleaf exits (which in this day and age need to all go away) borders on comical in that no one has a bloody clue of let car merge in, you merge right to exit, and then someone repeats behind you. That way traffic moves. Not a chance here.And for all of the ragging LA drivers get, I found them just fine. It's actually kind of funny watching them rearrange themselves like after a NASCAR caution flag once traffic eases up and they line up, speed up to 80 mph for a few miles, only to come to a dead halt again. I think they are just so used to the mess of freeways and drivers that it's kind of a "we'll get there when we get there..." kind of attitude.
  • Analoggrotto I refuse to comment until Tassos comments.