By on August 26, 2019

Ferdinand Piech, Image: Volkswagen AG

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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17 Comments on “Ferdinand Piëch, Saviour of Volkswagen and Bringer of High-end Brands, Dies at 82...”

  • avatar
    Philippe Pietro

    Sad day in automotive history. Requiescat In Pace, Mr. Piëch.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Now that he is gone, I am wondering how long it will be until the entire diesel emissions scandal is rightfully pinned where it belongs–on Piech.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay


      • 0 avatar

        I don’t feel like pulling the source material but Piëch was know for a policy of, “Do it! Or I will find someone who can.” So even if there isn’t a paper trail leading to Piëch, he’s the source of the VW culture that resulted in the diesel scandal.

        The scandal is also very similar to what happened at Wells Fargo. Hard charging executives demanded the impossible. Since it was impossible their underlings just faked it. The ultimate responsibility of course resting on the executives who knew l, or should have known, that their orders were impossible to fulfill.

      • 0 avatar


        None provided. Just an individual probably upset as though personally offended. Sign of the times.

    • 0 avatar

      May I ask who you believe would be the best skipper to pilot VW back to solid products and reputation?

  • avatar

    So what do we think?


    For his final ride to the great beyond?

  • avatar

    I’ll check out the Daily Kanban tomorrow and see what Bertel has to say.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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?

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, the most ridiculous SUV ever, aside from the Bentley Bentayga, Rolls Royce Cullinan or Lamborghini LM002 is the Audi Q7 V12 TDI. If my finances would have allowed it I would have gladly bought one; used, of course.

    • 0 avatar

      Considering where VW was in the 70’s, a quality manufacturer that was heading to the trash heap with a devotion to rear engine air cooled cars.
      At least Piech was a car guy and all of those products proved it. Ill conceived? Maybe, but VW stands today as the second largest auto company in the world with unarguably the largest and most diverse line of cars on the planet.
      Differs greatly from GM purchasing EDS and Hughes or Chrysler purchasing Gulfstream

      • 0 avatar

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

        Chrysler also bought Lamborghini. GM bought Saab. Ford bought Volvo, Land Rover and Jaguar. Then Tata bought Land Rover and Jaguar. Same drumbeat everywhere: big shots blowing piles of money on prestige products, that lose a pile of money and divert resources from the company's core brand.

        Same thing in now dead companies stretching their resources to build a halo model: Studebaker blew a pile on the Avanti, instead of a new, more competitive, platform for the Lark. Auburn blew a pile on the Cord, instead of updating the Auburn. Auburn could have done the Cord styling using an off the shelf Auburn powertrain and brought the car to market sooner, at lower cost, and the car would have been more reliable, but nooo, management decreed front wheel drive.

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