FRANKFURT (Reuters) -- Ferdinand Piech's iron-fisted rule over Volkswagen helped him build an empire spanning fuel-efficient city cars to 40-ton trucks, but in the end he overplayed his hand and was forced out before reaching his goal of making VW the world's biggest carmaker.
A grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, the founder of the sports-car maker who developed the Beetle under a 1934 contract with the Nazis, Piech devoted his life and a 51-year career in the auto industry to making Volkswagen No. 1.
On Saturday, Volkswagen announced the resignation of the 78-year-old patriarch. The announcement ended two weeks of crisis that began when Piech said he had "distanced" himself from Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn.
The comment was seen as an attempt to squelch any chance Winterkorn had of succeeding him as chairman when his contract runs out in 2017. Piech's allies turned against him, leaving him unexpectedly isolated.
In nine years as CEO and 13 years as supervisory board chairman, the Austrian led VW's expansion to include 12 brands, 118 plants in 31 countries and 600,000 employees.
He became the oldest-ever chairman of a listed German company and last year was Germany's best paid supervisory board chief, with total compensation from VW of 1.47 million euros ($1.6 million).
Piech took the reins at VW's Audi in 1988 before he joined the parent company and eventually became the CEO.
At Audi, he developed the brand's pioneering Quattro all-wheel drive technology which helped Audi overcome its image as a maker of bland vehicles like the Fox coupe and 100 sedan, paving the way for the Ingolstadt-based manufacturer to rival BMW and Mercedes-Benz for the world's luxury-market crown.
When he was CEO of Volkswagen, the group bought ultra-luxury nameplates Bugatti, Bentley and Lamborghini and integrated the mass-market Seat and Skoda brands as well as pushing through the launch of the New Beetle, a re-creation of the car his grandfather developed.
But Piech also made disputed decisions such as the development of a flagship sedan, the Phaeton, at a cost of more than 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) to take the VW brand upscale.
The Phaeton's lavish plant in Dresden, Germany, operated below capacity for years and the model was withdrawn from the United States in 2006 after failing to meet sales targets.