Ferdinand Piech, the former chairman and CEO of the Volkswagen Group and one of the modern day automotive industry’s most recognizable executives, has died. He was 82.
The grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, Piech was born in Austria in 1937 and brought up in an automotive mindset which would define his life. He studied engineering in Switzerland before his uncle Ferry Porsche gave him a job at the company’s Stuttgart headquarters, where he worked as a manager on projects including the 906 and 917 race cars. In 1972 he moved to Audi, overseeing development of the Audi 80 and Audi 100, as well as five-cylinder engines which would become a brand hallmark.
In 1993 Piech was appointed to CEO at Volkswagen. Through aggressive restructuring, Piech turned the company around from the brink of bankruptcy. Under his tenure, Volkswagen found profitability and improved product quality, accomplished under a Piech-devised vehicle platform strategy. Considered a crowning achievement in his work at Volkswagen was the company’s 2012 acquisition of Porsche, a stupendous turnaround from the Porsche buyout of Volkswagen speculated a few years prior.
In addition, Piech grew and elevated the Volkswagen group by spearheading the purchases of Bentley, Lamborghini, Bugatti, and even Ducati motorcycles. It is due to Piech that we now see such development and parts sharing between Volkswagen’s many brands. Thanks to these efforts, the Volkswagen Group was, at times, the world’s largest automaker.
Aside from his shrewdness as a business leader, Piech embodied a ruthless pursuit of extreme automotive performance. His engineering degree’s thesis revolved around the development of a Formula 1 engine, and at Audi he initiated the development of the legendary Quattro, which dominated rally racing and proved the validity of all-wheel drive. He is often considered the father of the Bugatti Veyron, requiring his engineers to stop at nothing in creating a 1,000-hp car. At the other end of the spectrum, nearly unimaginable fuel efficiency was demonstrated by the Volkswagen XL1. (Pictured above is Piech in the car with his wife, Ursula.) Legendary flops like the Volkswagen Phaeton are also attributed to him.
In 2015, as disagreements regarding leadership structure swirled among Volkswagen’s advisory board, Piech resigned from his duties as chairman. A few months later the Dieselgate scandal would begin to unfold; concrete connections between Piech and the cheats that would cost his former company billions were never established.
Ferdinand Piech leaves behind a legacy which places him among the most iconic names in automotive history. Through successes and foibles, perhaps more than any other contemporary leader, he was responsible for shaping the industry as we know it today.