Ferdinand Piëch, the scion of an automaking dynasty who dominated Volkswagen
for two decades, is trying to sell his substantial indirect stake
in the company to members of his extended family, which could create uncertainty in the aftermath of the carmaker’s diesel deception.
Piëch, a former chief executive and supervisory board chairman at Volkswagen, was often a source of discord among the quarrelsome Piëch and Porsche clans, which own more than 50 per cent of Volkswagen’s voting shares. His exit might make it easier for them to push through changes needed for Volkswagen
to recover from an emissions deception that weighs heavily on the company.
The tight control, through Porsche Automobil Holding, has led to criticism that the family has been too slow to make the changes in management and company culture that are needed to move beyond the scandal.
Most of the rest of Volkswagen’s shares are owned by the German state of Lower Saxony and the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, which tend to side with the family.
But implicit in the disclosure on Friday was that Mr. Piëch could sell his roughly 15 stake
in the family holding company, valued at €1.1 billion ($1.2 billion), to an outsider if he could not agree on terms with his relatives. That could weaken the family’s control of Volkswagen
and create uncertainty about the company’s direction. “I expect that the family will not be able to raise the purchase price and that outside investors — for example from China — would come in,” Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, a professor at the University of Duisburg-Essen, said in an email. “The Chinese would not pass up such a chance.”
Wolfgang Porsche, a spokesman for Porsche family members, has told the German news media that the relatives would be willing to buy the stake.
And even if they were unable to, he said in comments confirmed Friday by a spokesman for Porsche Automobil Holding, the family would not have a problem with a new outside shareholder.
Word that Mr. Piëch may sell his stake
comes after a tumultuous week for Volkswagen
that showed how much the emissions scandal
continues to damage the company’s reputation.
On Wednesday, German investigators searched offices of the Audi unit and of the law firm that has been conducting an internal investigation
to determine who is responsible for the scandal.
Jones Day, the law firm, was hired by the Volkswagen
supervisory board, which is dominated by members of the Porsche and Piëch families or their allies.
During his long career at Volkswagen, Piëch, 79, is credited with turning the Audi division into a luxury brand and rescuing Volkswagen
from near bankruptcy in the early 1990s.
A grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, the automotive pioneer who designed the Volkswagen
Beetle, Mr. Piëch was himself a formidable engineer and an iron-willed manager. After becoming chief executive of Volkswagen
in 2003, he improved the quality and design of Volkswagen
vehicles and made the company the largest carmaker in Europe by far.
But he was also often criticized for his authoritarian leadership style and blamed for creating the win-at-all-costs company culture that fostered the emissions cheating.
Piëch became the chairman of Volkswagen’s supervisory board in 2002. He was forced out in 2015, only a few months before American regulators accused the company of manipulating engine software to conceal excess emissions by Volkswagen
Since then, he has kept a low public profile. And despite remaining a major shareholder, he has had no discernible influence over management.
©2017 The New York Times News Service