FRANKFURT (Reuters) -- Volkswagen Group Supervisory Board Chairman Ferdinand Piech unexpectedly resigned on Saturday after losing a showdown he provoked with CEO Martin Winterkorn.
Piech, a dominant figure at VW for more than two decades and the grandson of the inventor of the VW Beetle, also resigned as a member of the supervisory board and any other mandates within the Volkswagen Group with immediate effect, VW said.
A panel of senior supervisory board members at Volkswagen said a loss of trust was to blame for the sudden departure of Piech.
"The members of the steering committee came to a consensus that in light of the past weeks the mutual trust necessary for successful cooperation was no longer there," the six-member panel said in a statement.
The leadership crisis at VW burst into the open this month when German weekly magazine Der Spiegel quoted Piech, the 78-year-old patriarch of the family that owns 51 percent of voting rights in VW, as saying he had "distanced" himself from Winterkorn.
The comment came at a time when VW is slashing costs and revamping operations to boost profitability. It has struggled in the U.S. and posted lower profits at its core autos division.
Tensions between Piech and Winterkorn appeared to have eased a week ago when senior supervisory board members backed the CEO, leaving Piech isolated in a five-to-one vote and forcing him to to agree to a joint statement supporting Winterkorn.
But sources said at the time he would have faced calls for his own resignation had he not backed the CEO.
Deputy Chairman Berthold Huber will temporarily assume leadership of the board until the election of a new chairman, Volkswagen said, adding that Piech's wife, Ursula, had also resigned from her posts at the group.
Huber said VW needed to end the uncertainty among employees caused by the leadership crisis.
Weil, the premier of Lower Saxony, which owns 20 percent of VW, said Piech's resignation was necessary to create clarity about the carmaker's leadership.
Said Weil: "I regret the resignation of Ferdinand Piech, but it was unavoidable in the end."
Piech's cousin, Porsche Automobil Chairman Wolfgang Porsche, who owns 50.7 percent of voting rights in VW Group, in a statement Saturday thanked Piech "for his decades of extraordinary and highly successful service to the Volkswagen Group."
Also in the statement Porsche said: “We deeply regret the developments of the last few days ... Our great loyalty to the Volkswagen Group and its 600,000 employees remains unchanged and we assume our responsibility as a principal shareholder."