He was responsible for turning VW into a global giant.
Ferdinand Piech, hard-charging executive and grandson to legendary automotive engineer Ferdinand Porsche, died Sunday in a hospital in Bavaria, Germany. He was 82 years old. German newspaper Bild reports he collapsed at a restaurant, and Piech’s wife, Ursula, said he died “suddenly and unexpectedly”.
Piech began his tenure at Volkswagen in 1993, during a troubled time for the company. As Automotive News reports, the company was “mired in losses” due to quality issues and high costs. Volkswagen’s new CEO immediately set to work restructuring the entire management board, cut costs and laid out plans to overhaul the company’s product lineup. Through the time he relinquished the CEO position in 2002, he turned a 1 billion euro ($1.1 billion) loss into a 2.6 billion project. Piech remained as the chairman of Volkswagen’s supervisory board through 2015. His hardline stance on high quality and engineering won him allies in labor unions and among shareholders.
While Piech had plenty of achievements under his belt, including VW’s acquisition of Porsche in 2012, his tenure wasn’t without issue. He also oversaw projects which lost Volkswagen quite a bit of money. From the original Volkswagen Phaeton to the Bugatti Veyron and the Audi A2, VW Group has three of the biggest money-losing cars in modern history.
Piech’s departure from VW
Piech left Volkswagen after the board elected to keep on then-CEO Martin Winterkorn, months before the company’s Dieselgate scandal erupted. There has been no evidence to date to suggest that Piech knew anything about the company’s illegal software to dodge emissions requirements. However, some consider Piech’s stance as the catalyst for Volkswagen’s culture of cutting corners in the company’s pursuit to be the world’s largest automaker.
“If I want to achieve something, I approach the problem and push it through without realizing what’s happening around me,” Piech said in his autobiography. “My desire for harmony is limited.” Volkswagen’s current CEO, Herbert Diess, spoke of Piech as a forceful, but technically brilliant leader, according to an AutoNews report.
Ursula Piech also said of her husband, “The life of Ferdinand Piech was characterized by his passion for the automobile and for the workers that made them. To the last he was an enthusiastic engineer and car lover.”