Born in Vienna in 1937, Ferdinand Piëch, an emblematic figure of Porsche and the Volkswagen Group, considered one of the best engineers and managers of the automotive industry of his time, passed away 2 years ago, on August 25, 2019.
Passionate about technology from an early age, a virus passed on by his grandfather Ferdinand Porsche, he already knew that his future was set: he would create engines and cars. With pugnacity and a lot of obstinacy, a true pioneer in this field, he really transformed the automotive world.
First in the family firm and later in the Volkswagen Group, creating a global giant with brands such as Volkswagen, Audi, Bugatti, Seat, Škoda, Porsche, Lamborghini, Bentley, Ducati, Scania and MAN, among others.
Sometimes Ferdinand Piëch ironically said that he was "not born in the right family branch". Not that he had any grievances against his father, but he would have liked to bear the surname "Porsche", which would have made his professional life much easier, according to him.
Nevertheless, he is entirely part of the family, his surname comes from his mother Louise Porsche who had married in 1928 Anton Piëch, an Austrian lawyer. In the Piëch family we are passionate about cars from mother to son. The same passion, the same passion, the same ambition, the same first name as a tribute to his grandfather. A family history with its disputes and discords.
And as in every family, not everything is happy every day. Endowed with a strong character, there was at a certain disagreement with his uncle Ferry Porsche. Things started to go wrong in the 1960s with the ascendancy of his generation.
On the one hand, Ferry's four sons, and on the other, Ferdinand Piëch, Louise's second son, who received a very strict education in a boarding school in Austria. It was probably this strict upbringing that helped him to become the uncompromising engineer, enthusiast and manager throughout his professional years. Only perfection was acceptable.
At the beginning of the 1960s, it was necessary to think about replacing the aging Porsche 356, which was no longer technologically up to standard. At the age of 26, Ferdinand Piëch was in charge of the development of a new two-liter flat six engine that would be used in the new Porsche 911.
His cousin Ferdinand Alexander "Butzi" Porsche (who founded Porsche Design) was in charge of the design of the new model. The design of this engine, based on the Porsche 356, provides an undeniable advantage in terms of the vehicle's dynamic behavior, helping to significantly lower the center of gravity, which improves handling.
With his pugnacity and his obsession for perfection, Piëch will be able to convince by improving at all costs this engine which will make the Porsche 911 so famous and legendary still to this day, particularly the sound of the engine. Mythical!
Ferdinand Piëch, also in charge of the racing division, develops the legendary, monstrous (and dangerous) Porsche 917. From its very first humming sounds, the Porsche 917 was practically impossible to drive because it was too unstable at high speeds due to the lack of sufficient aerodynamic support. The goal of the project was to build a car that could beat the Fords and Ferraris.
The development of this car "behind his uncle's back", swallowing up an enormous amount of the company's money in the process, was a major source of discord that would have radical consequences in 1972.
At the beginning of the 70's, the work atmosphere and power games between the members of the 2nd generation of the Porsche family and Piëch had reached its paroxysm. In order for the company to regain its serenity, Ferry took a radical decision to remove the entire second generation, his 4 nephews (including Ferdinand Piëch) and his own 4 children, in exchange for each receiving 10% of the company’s share.
The remaining 20% is divided between Ferry, who will remain at the head of the company, and his sister Louise.
After being dismissed from Porsche, Piëch joined Audi in 1972. He was responsible for technical development. He introduced new working rules and tested everything himself, even making surprise visits to suppliers.
He gave a new image by redesigning the cars and designing new engines. He was the originator of the famous "Quattro" all-wheel drive system, which was a huge commercial success thanks to its performance in rally races.
The Audi brand is a true school case, no other brand has risen so quickly from the middle class to the premium segment.
Called in to rescue Volkswagen in 1993, which was making huge losses, Piëch succeeded in restoring the company to financial health, at the cost of particular intransigence towards the company's management.
In fact, over a period of 3 years, he dismissed more than 25 members of the management board! The man is feared. Passionate about cars, in 1998, Lamborghini was added to Bentley and Bugatti among his hunting trophies.
Piëch then left the operational management of Volkswagen to become chairman of the board in 2002, from which he was evicted in 2015 after a tug of war with the previous chairman Martin Winterkorn.
Accustomed to outbursts, public unpacking and family disputes due to his strong character, Ferdinand Piëch fell into disgrace with his family and leaders of the Volkswagen group following the publication in the media of a statement in which he accused the former boss of Volkswagen, Martin Winterkorn, as part of the "Dieselgate".
Piëch finally sold most of his shares for a huge amount of money, marking the end of his reign over the German car industry.
The Piëch method throughout his professional life was to improve quality at all costs, while rationalizing as many components as possible in order to build a family of reliable, coherent, high-performance and economically efficient models for both customers and the company.
Ferdinand Piëch embodied perseverance, success, sometimes turning into megalomania as some claim. He was a great entrepreneur, despite his outbursts. Piëch will forever mark the history of Volkswagen and Porsche of course.
And as one does not change a winning team, his son Anton "Toni" Piëch followed in his father's footsteps by developing efficient and environmentally friendly electric cars by creating his own company "Piëch Automotive AG".
Adulated and feared at the same time, a demanding visionary and perfectionist, there is no doubt that Ferdinand Piëch will leave an indelible mark on the automotive industry.
Let's hope that the leaders of future generations will be inspired by the "Piëch method", his vision of technical progress and his obsessive quest for quality.
Start your engine to live your passion!