HANOVER, Germany (Reuters) - Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) said it would try to find a new chairman quickly and announced a long-planned tie-up of its truck brands, seeking to return the focus to business following the carmaker’s shock ouster of former patriarch Ferdinand Piech.
Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn, who survived the public showdown that triggered Piech’s resignation last month, told shareholders on Tuesday the group would tackle the trouble spots that Piech complained about in provoking the leadership crisis.
“It is good that we have returned to calmer waters and that we have clarity about our future direction,” Winterkorn said at Volkswagen’s (VW) annual shareholder meeting. “We cannot and must not stand still.”
VW, Europe’s biggest carmaker, is cutting costs at its namesake car brand in a bid to improve profitability, while also battling to revive its fortunes in North America and build a trucks business to challenge sector leader Daimler (DAIGn.DE).
Piech, who retains a stake in VW and has clashed with the group about board appointments since his departure, did not attend the shareholder meeting for the first time in more than two decades.
Winterkorn said the supervisory board’s steering committee and board members were working hard to swiftly find a replacement for former IG Metall union chief Berthold Huber, who is acting as interim chairman.
However Stephan Weil, governor of Lower Saxony, VW’s No. 2 stakeholder and Huber told reporters VW would not be over-hasty. Weil declined to say whether the supervisory board had agreed a roadmap for the search at its meeting on Monday.
Ulrich Hocker of Germany’s DSW association of private investors was keen for VW to move on.
“It’s a disaster that’s hurting the company,” he said. While hailing Piech’s accomplishments, he condemned his public criticisms of Winterkorn as “terribly unprofessional.”
VW shares have fallen about 8 percent since the crisis broke. They were down 0.9 percent to 228.6 euros at 1457 GMT (10.57 a.m. EDT).
In a bid to address a long-standing criticism of its set-up, VW announced the creation of a truck holding company to combine its heavy-duty commercial vehicle brands MAN (MANG.DE) and Scania, aiming to boost synergies between them.
The automaker will hold a special meeting next month to discuss further changes to its leadership structure, such as possibly aligning individual brands more closely, a supervisory board member told Reuters.
Winterkorn addressed VW’s business challenges in his speech to shareholders and paid tribute to Piech.
“The group and its people have much to thank Piech for,” he said. “We and I have tremendous respect for his lifetime achievement.”
Piech’s vision of creating an all-encompassing automotive group ranging from motorcycles and small city cars to 40-tonne trucks was in full display at the Hanover exhibition center where almost 3,000 VW shareholders gathered.
Additional reporting by Jan Schwartz; Editing by Georgina Prodhan and Mark Potter