Why VW patriarch Piech's parting will be bitter

Piech mocked his family for years. Now it seems they have had enough.
Christiaan Hetzner is Automotive News Europe's Germany correspondent.
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Ferdinand Piech's plan to burn all bridges to his life’s work and sell his indirect stake in Volkswagen Group shows a bitter man, family members believe.

Piech's relatives believe he has become increasingly embittered since resigning from the Volkswagen Group board in April 2015, a source close to the Porsche and Piech families told me.

The final trigger that opened the door for Piech to be removed from Porsche Automobil Holding SE, the company that is VW Group's biggest shareholder, likely was an agreement in February with union representatives on Porsche SE’s board.

The labor bloc believes that they no longer require a seat at the table to protect workers' rights at an investment vehicle with a staff of only 30 people and no operating business of which to speak. As a result the board will shrink to six members from 12 when the six labor representatives depart. An entire new board will have to be reelected at the company's May 30 annual meeting.

Earlier this month Germany's Bild am Sonntag reported that Piech would not be nominated after he accused key VW supervisory board members including his cousin Wolfgang Porsche of inaction over  the automaker's diesel-emissions cheating. While Wolfgang Porsche and Piech's brother Hans Michel Piech are on the list of candidates, Ferdinand Piech is not, Bild am Sonntag reported, citing a person close to the matter.

VW and the Porsche-Piech family vehemently denied the allegations, which they consider a breach of trust. For years the family put up with Piech's mocking and belittling them for lacking the iron will needed to succeed in the tough auto industry. This time, however, it seems most of them have had enough. Whether Hans Michel Piech still supports his older brother’s continued presence on Porsche SE's board is not clear, but the Piechs are in a slight minority to their Porsche relatives.

Porsche SE CEO Hans Dieter Poetsch, who also is VW Group chairman, rejected suspicions that Piech, 79, might be in poor health. At Porsche SE's annual press conference on Tuesday, Poetsch said Piech was "fit and lively" at the most recent, March 10 board meeting.

Piech has attended every Porsche SE board meeting since he resigned from all offices at the VW Group, indicating he still had an interest in the family business and VW. That was at least until last week when Porsche SE confirmed talks to buy Piech's 14.7 percent voting stake in the family holding company.

It's possible that by selling his stake Piech wants to leave the family without a veteran car manager during VW Group's worst ever business crisis, although it seems inconceivable to outsiders that one of the greatest automotive minds since Carl Benz invented the modern car in 1886 would possibly want to sell out his birthright.

Piech, a grandson of VW Beetle inventor Ferdinand Porsche, always placed VW's well-being ahead of his own family. VW would not have overtaken Toyota as the world’s largest automaker last year without his leadership.

Perhaps on his 80th birthday on April 17, for which preparations are already in motion, the enigmatic billionaire might finally put an end to the rumors and set the record straight once and for all.

You can reach Christiaan Hetzner at

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