Mr. Porsche, what does Schuettgut mean to you?
Schuettgut is my home. I was actually born in Stuttgart, but we moved shortly after my birth. I spent part of my childhood here, playing hide-and-seek with my brothers and cousins in the meadows and by the stream. It was wonderful. When my father was dying, he arranged everything — except what to do with the house. There were strange proposals from the family to turn Schuettgut into a guest house for the family or a similar facility. I couldn’t bear to think about that. I finally took it over so it could be maintained as a family compound. I also knew how much my father loved Schuettgut.
When was the first time that you were consciously aware that Porsches are special automobiles?
You won’t believe this. At first, I couldn’t tolerate riding in a car. As a kid in the back seat, I would get sick when we drove on the winding mountain roads around Zell am See. That may be why I got behind the wheel quite early. When we moved back to Stuttgart, I had permission to pull our Porsche 356 in and out of the parking space in front of the garage on our property on Feuerbacher Weg. Even though I could barely see over the steering wheel, I really enjoyed my first efforts at driving.
People frequently talk about the Porsche legend. How would you define it?
Ah, that is a very complicated mosaic. Porsches were always exclusive, even though they were suited to everyday use. This expressed a down-to-earth quality that our customers appreciate along with their other characteristics. They don’t merely want to go from A to B. They don’t just love these sports cars. They live and breathe them. Even Porsche employees are proud to work for this company. This may have something to do with the fact that, as a family, we stand for a certain humility and mutual considerateness within the company. Along with motorsport successes, all this evidently gives the brand a special charisma.
How do people react when you mention your name on one of your many trips?
Quite normally, as a rule. I can only remember one funny episode. It occurred at the Hotel Imperial in Vienna. It was a while ago. When I told her my name, the lady at the front desk said: “I don’t need to know what kind of car you drive. I want to know what your name is.”
Would you ever have thought Porsche AG would do so well after its failed takeover of VW in 2009?
Let me interrupt on that point. At 52.2 percent, Porsche SE today holds the majority of Volkswagen AG’s common stocks. Since 2012, Porsche AG has been part of the Volkswagen Group and has continued to develop positively under its umbrella. Porsche benefits from synergies with the group’s other brands. In hindsight, Wendelin Wiedeking’s idea of taking a stake in Volkswagen was absolutely correct, even if a number of things could’ve been done differently. His remark that there could be no sacred cows in Wolfsburg and that everything had to be continually questioned was certainly not helpful.
What is left of the structures that Wiedeking denounced at Volkswagen?
The Volkswagen Group and especially the Volkswagen brand have basically changed a great deal in recent years. Mr. Mueller and the entire Volkswagen board of management moved in the right direction in many areas. The group figures that were just presented for 2017 speak for themselves. I have repeatedly pointed out that I fundamentally have no problem with employee co-determination in German companies. But I’m stating very clearly that the management board is mainly responsible for a company’s decisions. Otherwise, the tail is wagging the dog. Only financially healthy companies are good, reliable employers.
Wolfgang Porsche opens the door to the one-time stable not far from the main building. It has the subtle scent of a car workshop, even though everything is squeaky-clean. Three red Porsche tractors stand at the right, with a dark green Porsche 356 Carrera 2, manufactured in 1963, out in front. He regularly uses the car to complete the Ennstal-Classic through the Austrian Alps. The 356 is one of Wolfgang Porsche’s favorite cars. Pennants and plaques from Porsche clubs around the world sit in a display case. Advertising posters for the 911 hang on the wall. The pieces could be used to open a museum. But Wolfgang Porsche thinks it important for most of the vehicles to be driven regularly. Aside from rarities like a Kuebelwagen, the collection includes new models like a Panamera plug-in hybrid, two 918 Spyders and a 911 Turbo S from the Exclusive Series limited edition.
How can the VW Group regain the trust that was lost in the diesel crisis?
Our customers are the most important part, which is why we have to do everything we can to regain their trust. I am mainly arguing for greater humility as well. Size alone has no intrinsic value.
Last year, former VW Group CEO Matthias Mueller earned more than 10 million euros. Is that being humble?
The debate over executive salaries is very German. You hardly see it in other countries. If you are successful here, people look askance at you. We have reformed salaries on the supervisory board. We are now oriented to the future and not the past. We have geared the compensation system to other industries and now are in midrange on management board salaries.
You are defending Mueller. Why did he have to leave early?
Matthias Mueller took over as chief executive at a very difficult time for Volkswagen. With the group strategy “Together 2025,” he successfully advanced the company’s strategic orientation. The quite good financial results for 2017 are proof that he adopted the right measures. He deserves our thanks for that.
What does Herbert Diess have to do better at the head of the company?
It is not a matter of better or worse but rather a faster pace and a greater use of synergies. Mr. Diess has presented a comprehensive restructuring of the VW Group to do this. Now he must carry it out.
Can you understand the annoyance of drivers of diesel cars who now have to worry about driving bans?
Of course. That’s why we’ve done everything we can to prevent large-scale driving bans. There are smarter options for improving the air in our inner cities. Politicians and manufacturers should pull together. Sometimes I ask myself whether people realize how many German jobs depend on the auto industry.
Are you still in contact with Martin Winterkorn?
We talk on the phone from time to time. I write to him on his birthday and at Christmas. I think that’s important. I will never understand how my cousin could drop someone like that, someone who served him loyally for 35 years, without speaking with him candidly.