Ferdinand Piëch, Saviour of Volkswagen and Bringer of High-end Brands, Dies at 82

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Image: Volkswagen AG

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The patriarch of the Volkswagen Group family, Ferdinand Karl Piëch, died in a Bavarian hospital on Sunday at the age of 82, Bloomberg reports. German newspaper Bild broke the story.

As CEO of Volkswagen Group from 1993 to 2002, Piëch, grandson of Porsche founder Ferdinand Porsche, led the VW brand back from the brink of bankruptcy and added a host of glitzy brands to the corporate fold.

Piëch took a hands-on approach to his work, a trait stemming from his days as an engineer. His career began at Porsche in 1963, where he worked on the development of several models, among them the 917 that dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the early 1970s. From there, he moved on to Audi in 1973, working on development of the 80 and 100 models. The famed Audi Quattro has Piëch to thank for its existence.

Besides his love for five-cylinder engines, Piëch was also a fan of luxury — a trait fairly well removed from the Volkswagen brand. After coming on board as VW boss, Piëch cranked the opulence and prestige up as far as he could, though that had to wait after he brought the brand back from the edge of bankruptcy. He earned praise for the brand’s swift turnaround, increased build quality, and boosted U.S. market share, after which he went about turning VW Group into a dream garage.

Piëch purchased the Bugatti trademark in 1998 and set about building the world’s fastest, and most expensive luxury car, the Veyron. Critics will accuse him of outgrowing the VW brand’s britches with the Phaeton luxury sedan, but the 1998 acquisition of British luxury marque Bentley and Italian supercar builder Lamborghini remains a solid decision. Even during the height of VW’s diesel scandal, no solid moves were made to sell off any of its automotive brands.

Not one to forget about the mass market, Piëch ensured VW took full control of the lower-end Skoda brand. Meanwhile, he signed off on the return of the VW Beetle, launching it with a “New” attached to the name. Piëch left the CEO’s chair in 2002 but didn’t leave the company’s upper ranks. He continued on as chairman of the automaker’s supervisory board until 2015, maintaining a hand in the company’s direction and guiding the 2011 merger of the Porsche SE and Volkswagen AG car manufacturing operations.

Famously known for getting his way, Piëch resigned his chairman post in 2015 after the board’s leadership committee unexpectedly voted to keep then-CEO Martin Winterkorn on for another term. This was in April of that year; you’ll recall what happened to Winterkorn in the fall. Stung by the move, Piëch stepped aside, though he kept a family presence in the room. His wife, Ursula, joined the board that month.

As reported by German outlet DW, Piëch was dining with his wife at a restaurant when he collapsed.

[Image: Volkswagen]