Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn has no chance of succeeding Ferdinand Piech as the automaker's chairman, German magazine Der Spiegel reported today, citing sources.
The relationship between Piech and Winterkorn is unsettled, the magazine reported. It quoted Piech as saying: "I have distanced myself from Winterkorn."
Winterkorn's contract as CEO runs out in December 2016. Piech's term as chairman will expire in April 2017.
Piech told the magazine that his successor will not be a member of the Porsche-Piech clan, which owns 53.1 percent of VW's shares. He also ruled out his wife, Ursula Piech, who is a supervisory board member.
The decision on his successor will be made shortly before he steps down in 2017, Piech told the magazine. The right candidates for the chairman and CEO posts are already working for the company. Both posts must go to engineers, he said.
Winterkorn, 67, was expected to succeed Piech, 77, as the two men have had a close working relationship dating back to Winterkorn's time as Piech's assistant at Audi in 1981, but company executives have noticed recently that the relationship between the pair is disturbed, Spiegel reported.
Winterkorn is encountering growing opposition from supervisory board members due to unresolved issues including an ill-fated U.S. sales strategy and lack of progress in developing a low-cost car, the magazine reported.
Piech also is concerned that the core VW brand, which Winterkorn leads in addition to his group CEO role, needs fixing. Analysts have criticized the brand's low profitability.
Winterkorn's appointment as CEO in 2007 accelerated the transformation of VW from a struggling German industrial behemoth squeezed by high labor costs into a global automotive powerhouse with 12 carefully orchestrated brands ranging from Bugatti supercars to Scania heavy trucks.
VW's strong presence in China and the expansion of the Audi and Porsche divisions in the lucrative luxury-car segment are key drivers for the group. The company, Europe's largest automaker, may snatch the global sales crown from Toyota Motor as early as this year after reporting record earnings and sales volume last year.
Piech has spent almost 22 years at the helm of VW, nine of which were as CEO. He has a track record of undermining his own executives. In an interview published by The Wall Street Journal in March 2006, Piech, who was already chairman of the supervisory board at the time, said it was an "open issue" whether the contract of then-CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder would be extended because of opposition from the board's labor representatives.
In November 2006, VW announced that Pischetsrieder had agreed to resign, effective year-end. Pischetsrieder's contract had been due to expire in 2012. VW installed Winterkorn, then the head of VW's Audi division, as group CEO.
Equity researchers Evercore ISI said Piech's statement that VW's next CEO and chairman have to be engineers increased the chances of Porsche chief Matthias Mueller becoming CEO and Audi development boss Ulrich Hackenberg becoming chairman, while ruling out Audi CEO Rupert Stadler, VW sales boss Christoph Klingler and group finance chief Hans Dieter Poetsch.
"If Mueller and Hackenberg do take up the reins, it still leaves VW with a relatively old management team which may be viewed as problematic by some. We also ask whether either Mueller or Hackenberg command the respect and authority across VW's many brands to maintain the successful consolidation of the group and its various parts," ISI said.
VW declined to comment on the Spiegel report.
Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story listed the wrong age for Martin Winterkorn.