Volkswagen AG’s controlling shareholder downplayed the potential exit of former patriarch Ferdinand Piech as his relatives will retain their sway over the world’s largest automaker.
A transfer of Piech’s voting stake will “not bring any major change,” Hans Dieter Poetsch, Volkswagen’s chairman and Porsche Automobil Holding SE CEO, said Tuesday at a press conference in Stuttgart, Germany. “It remains the case that the common stock will be held by the Porsche and Piech families.”
Volkswagen’s 18-month-old diesel-emissions cheating scandal has intensified a clash between Piech, a former VW chairman and CEO, and one of the more powerful members of the billionaire clan that controls the German automaker. Piech like other descendants of Ferdinand Porsche, the creator of the VW Beetle, control all of the voting stock of Porsche SE, which in turn owns 52% of the carmaker’s common shares.
Porsche SE said on March 17 that Piech was in talks to sell the bulk of his stake in the holding company. Internal rules specify that he must first offer the shares to other members of the clan.
Cashing out of his stake and ceding his Porsche SE board seat would end Piech’s association with Volkswagen, where he pulled the strings for more than two decades. Porsche SE is now just a holding company after Volkswagen took over the Porsche sports-car brand in 2012. While Ferdinand Porsche created the manufacturer bearing his name and designed the VW Beetle, equity links between the companies only date to 2005.
Piech, 79, resigned abruptly as Volkswagen chairman two years ago after losing a power struggle with then-CEO Martin Winterkorn. Five months after his withdrawal, the carmaker’s emissions manipulation came to light and triggered Winterkorn’s departure as well.
Since then, Piech further isolated himself with allegations that other VW supervisory board members, including his cousin Wolfgang Porsche knew earlier than they’d admitted that the company had developed technology to rig as many as 11 million vehicles to cheat on emissions tests.
The directors have denied the claims, and Poetsch told reporters early this month that an external probe by U.S. law firm Jones Day found them to be implausible.
Piech is one of only a handful of clan members with a sizable voting stake in Porsche SE. His holding of 14.7% is valued at about 1.1 billion euros ($1.19 billion). The stake sale was prompted as family members had discussed replacing Piech on the holding company’s supervisory board, according to people familiar with the matter. The body is being cut to six members from 12 after labor leaders agreed to exit the board. No decision has been made about candidates for the seats, Poetsch said today.
Piech attended the most recent board meeting March 10 and seemed “fresh and in good spirits,” Poetsch said. Piech’s achievements in the car industry “will not be forgotten,” and the company will “find the right way to commemorate them, despite atmospheric darkening,” when he turns 80 next month, the VW chairman said.
By Christoph Rauwald