Volkswagen chairman Ferdinand Piech resigned from the motor giant on Saturday after more than two decades of presiding over the German giant. Piech, the 78-year-old grandson of the inventor of the Volkswagen Beetle, Ferdinand Porsche, has been involved in a protracted battle with VW’s Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn, ending a long-running era at the company.
Winterkorn has been widely tipped as VW’s next chairman. Piech (above) and the Porsche family control 51% of VW, the biggest car manufacturer in Europe. His wife, Ursula, has also resigned her seat on the board.
Piech had previously seen off other executives who stood up to him, including his own hand-picked successor as CEO, Bernd Pischetsrieder. But he was finally pushed into a corner after being unexpectedly isolated in a five-to-one vote of Volkswagen’s steering committee last week. Behind his downfall were labour representatives, the state of Lower Saxony and even his own cousin Wolfgang Porsche, who chose to support Mr Winterkorn (below).
Berthold Huber, a labor leader who is deputy chairman of the supervisory board, will serve as acting chairman until a new chairman is chosen, Volkswagen said. In Germany, the supervisory board oversees the work of the management board, which is in charge of day-to-day operations.
“Ferdinand Piech has made an enormous contribution to Volkswagen and the entire automobile industry,” Huber said in a statement. “The developments of the last two weeks have, however, 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.”
Piech’s resignation came as a surprise. He had a long history of winning power struggles, and many people assumed he would win this one as well. For example, when Porsche, the sports car maker, tried to take over Volkswagen in 2008, he was eventually able to turn the tables and take over Porsche instead.
Piech has also faced criticism in the past for his obsession with making Volkswagen the largest carmaker in the world rather than the most profitable. Now that he has left, there are sure to be questions about whether it makes sense for one company to be in so many market segments. We have a feeling this isn’t over yet.