Ferdinand Piech resigns, ending an era at Volkswagen

Sat Apr 25, 2015 5:06pm EDT
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By Jan Schwartz and Georgina Prodhan

HAMBURG/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Ferdinand Piech, a towering figure at Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE: Quote) for more than two decades, resigned as its chairman on Saturday after losing a showdown he had provoked with Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn, ending an era at the iconic German carmaker.

Piech, the 78-year-old grandson of the inventor of the Volkswagen Beetle Ferdinand Porsche, had previously seen off other executives who crossed him, including his own hand-picked successor as CEO, Bernd Pischetsrieder.

But this time he was unexpectedly isolated in a five-to-one vote of Volkswagen's steering committee last week, as labor representatives, the state of Lower Saxony and even his own cousin Wolfgang Porsche stood firmly behind Winterkorn.

"The members of the steering committee came to a consensus that, in the light of the past weeks, the mutual trust necessary for successful cooperation was no longer there," the six-member panel said in a statement after another meeting on Saturday.

Berthold Huber, the senior trade unionist who will take over until a new chairman is elected, said: "The uncertainty had to be ended today. The steering committee was and is conscious of its responsibility to Volkswagen and its many thousand staff."

Two sources with knowledge of the matter said Piech had resigned without forcing a vote of the committee at its second crisis gathering in 10 days.

Piech resigned with immediate effect from all his roles at Volkswagen including as an ordinary supervisory board member, as did his second wife Ursula, a former nanny who joined the supervisory board in 2012.

"Piech's departure represents a seismic shift in Volkswagen's power structure, and could foretell drastic changes in how one of the world's largest automakers operates," wrote Karl Brauer, senior analyst at analysis firm Kelley Blue Book.   Continued...

Ferdinand Piech, chairman of the board of German carmaker Volkswagen, carries his documents as he arrives at the 51th annual shareholders meeting in Hamburg on May 3, 2011.  REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer