The strangest and possibly most significant automotive industry career this side of Henry Ford is about to come to an ignominious end.
Ferdinand Piech, a world-class eccentric but a figure of transcendent importance in the history of cars and car companies, is selling his nearly 15 percent voting stake in the family firm that controls Volkswagen Group. It is the endgame in a bitter family dispute of the kind that has characterized his life and career.
But what a career it has been. Piech, who turns 80 next month, has exercised more power than any auto leader since the end of World War II and is one of the most accomplished pure automotive engineers of any time.
Even at this stage of life, Piech's every move is watched and wondered about. The question is whether the sale of his stake might set off a chain of events that alters the course of the world's largest carmaker.
And exactly why is Piech offloading his stake in a holding company that owns more than half the voting shares in VW, the automaker founded by his grandfather, Beetle designer Ferdinand Porsche? Was it Piech’s choice, or is he being forced by his family to sell?
Relatives say Piech has become increasingly embittered since resigning as chairman of the VW Group supervisory board in April 2015 — a move that pre-empted an ouster led by cousin Wolfgang Porsche, a source close to the families told Automotive News.
The other third- and fourth-generation descendants of Ferdinand Porsche have signaled that they will exercise their right of first refusal for Piech’s stake. That means Piech has little choice but to divest the shares to the same people he has mocked and belittled over the years.