Ferdinand Piëch, the man who transformed the Volkswagen Group in his long tenure as chairman, has died at 82, according to German news media. German paper Bild reports that Piëch collapsed in a restaurant on Sunday, and subsequently passed away in the hospital.
Piëch became the CEO and chairman of the VW Group in 1993, and presided over the launch of the New Beetle, which was a huge hit for the Volkswagen brand. He also masterminded the purchases of Lamborghini, Bentley, and Bugatti. With Bugatti in the portfolio, he played a key role in bringing the Veyron to life, various versions of which held the record for world’s fastest production car until 2017. All the while, he grew the VW Group into one of the world’s largest carmakers, and an engineering powerhouse.
Ferdinand Piëch was born in Vienna in 1937 to Anton Piëch, who led Volkswagen during World War II, and Louise Piëch (née Porsche), the daughter of Ferdinand Porsche. Trained as an engineer, Ferdinand Piëch began his career at Porsche in 1963. He left his indelible mark on the company later in the decade as the mastermind of the 917.
Piëch wanted Porsche to challenge Ford and Ferrari for outright victory at Le Mans, and found a loophole in the rules. Porsche could homologate a GT car with an engine of up to 5.0 liters if it could build 25 identical examples. It was a huge risk for the then-tiny company, but Piëch pushed Porsche to do it, leading the engineering on the car. Famously, Porsche managed to build 25 cars and had them all lined up outside the factory when the FIA came to inspect the 917 for homologation.
Terrifyingly difficult to drive, no 917 finished the 1969 24 Hours of Le Mans, but with changes made for 1970, the car brought Porsche its first outright victory. A 917 won again the following year, setting the tone for Porsche’s dominance at the French race for decades to come.
In 1972, Piëch went over to Audi, and as chief engineer, instigated the development of a five-cylinder engine and the brand’s now-famous Quattro all-wheel drive system. Realizing the benefits of these technologies, Piëch led Audi to enter the World Rally Championship. Audi first entered the Sport Quattro in 1981, and won the title the following year, in the process convincing every other constructor to adopt all-wheel drive. Since Audi’s first WRC championship, only one rear-drive car has won the title, the Lancia 037, in 1983.
This focus on engineering and motorsport helped transform Audi from an also-ran to a real competitor for the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
At Volkswagen, he helped usher in the era of “perceived quality,” especially with the Mk4 Golf. With hindsight, we know that this Golf wasn’t a particularly good car, but the quality of its fit and finish was very high. In 2015, Road & Track columnist Bob Lutz recounted a conversation he had with Piëch around the time the Mk4 Golf debuted. Then at Chrysler, Lutz wondered how Piëch was able to lead Volkswagen to achieve such even panel gaps. The VW CEO’s reply was:
“I’ll give you the recipe. I called all the body engineers, stamping people, manufacturing, and executives into my conference room. And I said, ‘I am tired of all these lousy body fits. You have six weeks to achieve world-class body fits. I have all your names. If we do not have good body fits in six weeks, I will replace all of you. Thank you for your time today.’ “
“That’s how you did it?”
“Yes. And it worked.”
Piëch could be notoriously difficult to work with, and extremely demanding. He wanted whatever brand he managed to make the best cars possible, and oftentimes, cost was only a secondary consideration. The prime example of this was the Volkswagen Phaeton of 2004, a competitor to the S-Class that was so good, its platform was used to underpin the Bentley Continental Flying Spur. It was a sales flop, however, because it turned out that luxury car buyers didn’t want something with a VW badge on the hood, even if it was the superior car. It was pulled from the US market after just two model years.
There were other victories, though. He led Volkswagen’s takeover of Porsche (after the sports-car brand tried to take over VW), but in 2015, the supervisory board for the VW Group pushed out Piëch. Apparently he had tried to push out his handpicked VW successor, Martin Winterkorn, but the board sided with Winterkorn. He and his wife, Ursula, resigned in protest.
It’s worth noting that Piëch presided over the VW group during the years when its brands developed software to cheat diesel-emissions testing. When VW’s cheating was first reported to the public, it became one of the biggest scandals in automotive history. Piëch was never charged with any crimes.
Piëch created a legacy that’s among the most storied and complicated in automotive history. Inarguably, the fortunes of VW, Porsche, Audi, Bentley, and Bugatti would not have been the same without his presence.
Source: Read Full Article