Volkswagen CEO survives challenge from powerful chairman

Fri Apr 17, 2015 12:23pm EDT
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By Andreas Cremer and Jan Schwartz

BERLIN/HAMBURG (Reuters) - Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn has survived a challenge from powerful chairman Ferdinand Piech, but their row remains a distraction for the carmaker as it struggles to boost profits and revamp its ailing U.S. business.

Piech, the 78-year-old patriarch of the family that founded Volkswagen, triggered a showdown with Winterkorn last week by criticizing him in a magazine article.

But at a meeting of senior supervisory board members on Thursday in response to the crisis, Piech was isolated, with all other members on the six-seat panel backing Winterkorn, sources told Reuters.

The committee issued a statement on Friday giving Winterkorn its "full support" and announcing that it would propose extending his contract beyond its December 2016 expiry date at a board meeting early next year.

It looked like an outright defeat for Piech, however analysts said it was too early to write him off or declare an end to the dispute.

Less than a decade ago, Winterkorn's predecessor Bernd Pischetsrieder was pushed out by Piech half a year after his contract was extended.

"No one who has dealt with Piech should rush to say that he has lost," said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, head of the Center of Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen. "Winterkorn has been damaged."

VW shares jumped over 2 percent on the news that Winterkorn was staying, but soon fell back and were trading 1.2 percent lower by late afternoon. They have fallen 5 percent since the row erupted a week ago.   Continued...

Volkswagen's CEO Martin Winterkorn (C) and Ferdinand Piech, chairman of the supervisory board (R) attend a media preview day at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in this September 10, 2013 file picture. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/Files