News came yesterday of the sad but inevitable departure of Wolfgang Hatz from Porsche and the Volkswagen Group. The talented engineer – Head of R&D at Porsche since 2011 – has tendered his resignation, which the Supervisory Board has accepted.
Volkswagen’s Head of Engines and Transmissions Development had weathered the storm surrounding the VW diesel emissions scandal since the story broke by taking temporary leave from the company in September last year. There is no doubt in my mind that the former Porsche and now VW CEO, Matthias Müller, was standing by Hatz, intending to bring back his right hand man once the investigation into the emissions fraud had proved Hatz’ innocence.
Müller’s loyalty is spot on, but a return was always going to be difficult. No evidence of any wrongdoing on Hatz’ part has been found, but the political situation at Volkswagen continues to frustrate the CEO’s preferred course. Currently embroiled in horribly complex negotiations with the powerful unions who sit on Volkswagen’s management board regarding the future of Volkswagen production in Germany, power plays at board level have blocked Hatz’s return.
Looking at how reappointment would be perceived in the media, and how that would then affect VWs public image while the emissions issue rolls on without a confirmed fix, that is probably sensible. Seen from an engineering point of view, it is not the best news. No doubt Hatz is a valuable asset and a much respected colleague, but the arguments against Hatz – presumably led by the unions – have apparently won the day.
Wolfgang Hatz at Volkswagen & Porsche
Wolfgang Hatz worked as an engineer and project leader in engine development for BMW AG and BMW Motorsport from 1983 until 1989. Joining Porsche at the end of the 1980s, Hatz worked on the Porsche F1 engine amongst his projects before leaving Stuttgart and heading for Opel, becoming Technical Director of Motorsport there, before moving to Fiat in 1997 as Head of Engines and Transmissions Development.
Hatz served four years with Fiat, before joining the Volkswagen Group in 2001 to oversee Engines and Transmissions Development at Audi. He assumed overall charge of VW Engines and Transmissions in February 2007. Business analysts had pondered whether Wolfgang could ever return to his position in VW management, given the scale of the issue facing Volkswagen. Now this has been answered, big question number two is, where will we see him next?
What next for Wolfgang?
Hatz is respected and admired, and this VW story is fading news inside the engineering community. With so much happening around powertrains in the wake of dieselgate and future opportunities offered by increased connectivity, a man with so much experience is bound to have many options, so we have not seen the last of Wolfgang’s talents in vehicle production and motorsport. VW can’t be any fun at the minute, so escaping the unions and dieselgate drudgery is a good thing: he should write a book about his adventures in racing while he has a bit of time.
Succeeding Hatz is Dr Michael Steiner, who takes the reins of Porsche R&D with immediate effect. A Weissach man for almost fifteen years, Steiner has most recently been busy overseeing Complete Vehicle Engineering/Quality Management. Before this, he was head of Panamera development and came to Porsche following seven years at Mercedes.
Filling Hatz’ shoes is a hell of a challenge: time will tell whether Steiner is up to it. His predecessor headed development on some of the greatest Porsche cars ever manufactured, including the 918 Spyder, the 919 LMP1 Hybrid and the Mission E concept car which enters production at the end of 2020.
Hatz welcomed the new broom, saying: “I look back fondly on my time at Porsche AG and am very happy that Michael Steiner is taking over as my successor.” Meanwhile, the rest of us (including his good friend, Matthias Müller) watch another another talented engineer signing out of Stuttgart for the very last time. No doubt Weissach has many more talented engineers to call upon, but every time one of the old guard heads off to pastures new, the badge moves closer to complete assimilation.