Ferdinand Piëch quits Volkswagen

It’s now seven hours since Wolfgang Porsche’s official statement following the shock resignation of his older cousin, Ferdinand Piëch, as chairman of Volkswagen’s supervisory board. This is what it said:

Stuttgart, 25 April 2015. Dr. Wolfgang Porsche, chairman of the supervisory board of Porsche Automobil Holding SE, Stuttgart, comments [on] today’s developments at Volkswagen AG as follows:

“We have full confidence in the board of management of Volkswagen Group and we deeply regret the developments of the last few days. We thank Ferdinand Piëch for his decades of extraordinary and highly successful service to the Volkswagen Group. Our great loyalty to the Volkswagen Group and its 600,000 employees remains unchanged and we assume our responsibility as a principal shareholder.”

“Professor Dr. Ferdinand K. Piëch has resigned with immediate effect from his position as Chairman of the Supervisory Board and from all his mandates as a Supervisory Board member within the Volkswagen Group,” said the VW statement. “The members of the Executive Committee have unanimously determined that in view of the background of the last weeks the mutual trust necessary ‎for successful cooperation no longer exists.”

Ferdinand Piëch quits Volkswagen

The VW statement seems to suggest that a vote was taken to oust the good Doctor, and that is how most media outlets are playing it, but those in the know say that no vote was held: 78 year-old Ferdinand walked away of his own accord. Piëch’s deputy, union leader Berthold Huber, will run things while a new chairman is elected.

“Ferdinand Piëch has made an enormous contribution to Volkswagen and the entire automobile industry,” said Huber. “The developments of the last two weeks led to a loss of trust between the supervisory board chairman and the other members, which in recent days has proven to be impossible to resolve. The uncertainty had to be ended today. The committee was and is conscious of its responsibility to Volkswagen and its many thousand staff.”

Following decades controlling Audi and VW, no doubt Piëch is also highly conscious of his responsibility to Volkswagen workers and to his own major VW shareholding. His departure clears the way for a seismic shake-up at Volkswagen, which could see current CEO Winterkorn taking the chairman’s job, with Porsche boss Matthias Müller moving up to head the entire VW group. This would throw a spanner in the works at Stuttgart, which has thrived under Müller’s guidance.

Ferdinand Piech with Ferry Porsche

Whatever happens with Volkswagen, Piëch’s move marks the end of an era for Porsche, and the end of an era for Porsche fans. While Ferdinand Piëch is certainly “one of the most important people in the history of German business”, as one supervisory board member put it, he is a pivotal figure in Porsche mythology. Porsche without independence retained some credibility with Piëch at the helm. Porsche without Piëch says something else to enthusiasts of a certain age.

Life without Piëch: The Future

Labelling this as the end of Piëch would be clearly ridiculous. The Porsche-Piëch battle goes back to the start: this is simply the latest installment. Is Ferdinand right about Volkswagen’s problems? The Porsche side of the family doesn’t think so, but then it backed Weideking against Ferdinand Piëch. We all know how that ended up: 10 billion euros of debt, criminal charges and 50 million euros to get rid of Wendelin. And Ferdinand’s Volkswagen bailing them out.

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