Former VW head, Ferdinand Piech passes away: Here’s how he turned the company from rags to riches

Ferdinand Piech, the man who transformed the Volkswagen Group to its conglomerate status of today has passed away. But here is how he turned the company around from its struggles in the past.

By: | Updated: August 28, 2019 10:45 AM
Image Source: Reuters

Sad news has arrived that the former chairman and chief executive of the Volkswagen Group, Ferdinand Piech has passed away on Sunday in Rosenheim, Germany. Piech played a key role in not only turning around Volkswagen into the massive conglomerate it is known today but also help shape the industry into what it is today. Piech was the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, the man who created the iconic Volkswagen Beetle.

From 1963 to 1971, he worked at Porsche in Stuttgart, after which he moved to work with Audi. At his time with both companies, he played a key role in engineering and in their motorsports ventures with the development of the Porsche 905 which evolved into the LeMans winning 917 later. Piech revolutionised the World Rally Championship with the first-ever four-wheel-drive rally car, the Audi Quattro that dominated the sport at the time. Piech also engineered many powertrains like the inline 5-cylinder petrol and diesel engines. In 1993, Piëch moved to Volkswagen AG and became the Chairman of the group 2002, which was three months from bankruptcy.

Piech turned Volkswagen around with the creating of a modular platform technique that allowed Audi, Skoda and Volkswagen to share a significant chunk of components. This allowed for a vast improvement in economies of scale. With the success from the modular architecture, Piech found the power to acquire luxury auto brands like Bentley and Rolls Royce, Bugatti and Lamborghini within a year. Although, he then conceded the Rolls Royce brand to BMW.

In the nine years of heading VW, Piech turned around a loss equivalent of 1 billion euros into a 2.6 billion euro profit creating a 12 brand empire that now owns Seat, Skoda, Bentley, Bugatti, Audi, Lamborghini, Ducati, in addition to MAN and Scania trucks. So as you would imagine how difficult it would be to summarise all of Piech's achievements in a single article. Piech always gave his engineers what at first seemed unattainable, ludicrous goals and targets to achieve. With cars like the Volkswagen Phaeton powered by a W12 engine that wanted to set a bar, levels higher than the most technologically advanced luxury sedan on sale the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, then you have the Bugatti Veyron with its W16, quad-turbo 1,000hp machine just to prove a point. The Veyron held the record of the fastest production car in the world for over a decade becoming the first series production vehicle to cross the 400km/h barrier back in 2005. Later, models of the Veyron went on to hit the 432km/h mark. Piech with the Quattro four-wheel-drive system allowed Audi to a credible competitor to Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

Piech's contribution to the automobile goes down the history books as one of the greats among the likes of Gottlieb Daimler, Henry Ford and Kiichiro Toyoda. Piech resigned as Volkswagen chairman in April 2015 after falling out with his chief executive Martin Winterkorn. The emissions cheating scandal would erupt only months later.

Volkswagen is currently the largest carmaker in the world. The fourth generation of the Porsche and Piech families are now members of the board with a 52.2% stake in Volkswagen.

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