Over the weekend Ferdinand Piech, the chairman of VW AG, the second largest automaker in the world and the biggest in Europe, made the unexpected move and presented his resignation, after more than two decades of undisputed rule.
Piech’s decision to hand over his papers – a last attempt to save appearances as he was asked to do so by the senior board members to avoid the public shame of being voted out – also reveals a power issue at the top of the reigning Porsche-Piech family that has been controlling the automaker. The billionaire clan has been controlling the carmaker for decades and the rift might reveal unknown weaknesses and complicate the finding of a worthy successor. While Piech started a leadership crisis around two weeks ago when he tried to set aside chief executive officer Martin Winterkorn, the former’s cousin, Wolfgang Porsche, 71, the chairman of the family’s holding arm decided to against his wishes and deny his support. Now he, alongside Winterkorn could potentially step up to fill Piech’s place at the top of the carmaker.
For now, the temporary chairman is IG Metall union official Berthold Huber. But finding the successor might be a complicated affair: it would need to be a person that would be supported by the divided Porsche-Piech family, labor leaders, the automaker’s home state and shareholder Lower Saxony as well as other smaller factions. And the clan has a 50.7 percent holding of VW common stock – worth around 13.7 billion euros ($14.9 billion) – which means the internal power struggle could actually play out in Piech’s favor, lending him some off-curtain decisional power.