VW's Ferdinand Piech is dead at 82

Ferdinand Piëch, Volkswagen AG's former chairman and chief executive, who transformed the German carmaker from a regional manufacturer into a global automotive conglomerate, has passed away, German tabloid Bild said on Monday.

Piëch, 82, died on Sunday in Rosenheim, Bavaria, the German tabloid said, without citing sources.

A representative for the Piëch and Porsche families, who still control a majority stake in Volkswagen through their family holding company Porsche SE, could not be reached for comment. Volkswagen could not be reached for comment.

Piëch is a grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, the designer of the iconic sports car and part of the Porsche and Piëch clans, which today still control the carmaker.

A brilliant engineer, Piëch turned around VW after betting on a modular construction technique by sharing common vehicle underpinnings between the various brands within the VW empire.

Under Piëch's leadership, VW added high-margin luxury marques to VW's volume brands, acquiring the Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini brands in a single year. Today Volkswagen Group includes the Seat, Skoda, Bentley, Audi, Porsche and Ducati brands in addition to the MAN and Scania truck brands.

Piëch was known for his ability to outmaneuver rivals using stealth management tactics and by turning against his own managers and family members.

"It is not possible to take a company to the top by focusing on the highest level of harmony," he said in his autobiography.

While working as development chief at Audi, he decided to keep his top engineers in the dark about the aerodynamic qualities of the Audi 100 by using wind tunnels in Hamburg, Stuttgart, Wolfsburg and Turin to develop the vehicle.

That way no single engineer could defect to a rival with crucial know-how.

"I was in the middle of it all, putting together the pieces of the puzzle," Piëch said in his autobiography.

Piëch held various senior positions within the VW empire, including development jobs at Audi where he developed the brand's Quattro four-wheel drive technology, before becoming Volkswagen's chief executive in 1993 and chairman in 2002 after a brief stint at Mercedes-Benz where he developed diesel engines.

Max Warburton, an analyst at Bernstein Research, described Piëch as the architect of VW’s global success in a note from 2012.

"His stewardship of VW has been indisputably successful. Piëch will go down in history as an automotive legend, in the same class as Gottlieb Daimler, Henry Ford and Kiichiro Toyoda."

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