Ferdinand Piech, the engineer and executive who played a massive role in turning Volkswagen from the home of the Beetle into the empire it is today has passed. The news was reported by his wife, who said he died last Sunday. Piech was 82
Piech was a grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, who designed the Beetle and the Porsche 356. He was born in Vienna, Austria, and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the ETH Zurich in 1926.
His first work was at Porsche. On a project that would become the Porsche 917. The legendary racer that gave Porsche its first overall wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 1972, Piech moved to Audi and was manager of technical engineering from 1975. There he was responsible for the Audi 80 and Audi 100. Cars that helped transform that brand’s fortunes and helped it become the BMW and Mercedes competitor it is today.
In 1993, Piech became chairman of the board of management of the Volkswagen Group. VW was said to be near bankruptcy at the time, and Piech helped transform the company. Piech was reponsible for pushing VW and Audi brands upmarket at the time. He also orchestrated the purchase of Lamborghini for Audi, re-establishing Bugatti, the failed purchase of Rolls-Royce and Bentley that ended with those two companies in split hands, and the recombining of Porsche and Volkswagen under one corporate umbrella.
Cars like the Bugatti Veyron, Volkswagen Phaeton, the one-litre Lupo, and even the VW Group’s W-series engines are all the result of Piech’s direction for the company.
“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.
Piech moved away from the power position with Volkswagen in 2015. After the group’s board voted to keep CEO Martin Winterkorn against Piech’s wishes in the aftermath of the then-growing diesel emissions scandal.
“Ferdinand Piech has written automotive history – as a manager, ingenious engineer, and a visionary entrepreneur. Since the 1960s, he has shaped the development of the automobile like no other, pushing forward the entire industry and above all Volkswagen, transforming the company into a global mobility group. Our company and its people owe Prof. Piech a lot. With deep respect, we bow to his life’s work. We mourn with his relatives. And we will always keep him and his life’s work in honourable memory,” said VW Chairman of the Board Hans-Dieter Potsch.