Former Volkswagen boss Ferdinand Piech, who has been credited with turning the firm into the global powerhouse in the 1990s, has died aged 82.
The grandson of Beetle pioneer Ferdinand Porsche, Piech became Volkswagen chief executive in 1993, transforming it from a medium-sized car maker to an international power.
“My husband … died suddenly and unexpectedly on 25 August,” Ursula Piech said, after a life “marked by a passion for cars and the employees who build them”.
During his nine-year tenure as chief executive, Piech turned a loss of €1bn loss into a €2.6bn profit while spearheading the firm’s expansion into a 12-brand empire.
Volkwagen could not immediately be reached for comment.
Piech turned Volkswagen around by introducing a modular construction technique which allowed Audi, Skoda and Volkwagen brands to share up to 65 per cent common parts, allowing the group greater economies of scale.
The firm also put an emphasis on engineering brilliance ahead of profit under his leadership, expanding into luxury brands such as Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini.
“First and foremost I always saw myself as a product person, and relied on gut instinct for market demand. Business and politics never distracted me from the core of our mission: to develop and make attractive cars,” Piech wrote in his autobiography.
‘An automotive legend’
Piech became known for a dictatorial style of leadership and a winner-takes-all attitude, in which he would not accept excuses for failure.
He retired as chief executive in 2002, before chairing Volkswagen’s supervisory board. He left the firm in 2015 while it was embroiled in the so-called dieselgate scandal, which has seen it charged billions for cheating emissions tests.
It has been suggested in recent years that the scandal was a product of the uncompromising culture instilled by Piech, which saw managers lie about illegal emissions rather than admitting cars did not meet clean air rules.
It has so far cost Volkswagen around €30bn in lawsuits and fines. Piech has never been connected with the scandal, having left the supervisory board in 2015 after a dispute with then chief executive Martin Winterkorn, who was earlier this year charged with fraud for his alleged part in the matter.
Despite this, Piech is considered alongside other giants of the car industry such as Sergio Marchionne, the Fiat-Chrysler boss who died last year.
Bernstein Research analyst Max Warburton described Piech as the architect of VW’s global success.
“His stewardship of VW has been indisputably successful. Piech will go down in history as an automotive legend, in the same class as Gottlieb Daimler, Henry Ford and Kiichiro Toyoda,” Warburton said in a 2012 note.