Porsche is, after a titanic batttle, about to become a member of the VW Group. Last year Porsche tried to take over VW. VW struck back. This has been one of the great soap operas of industrial history.
The fight has encompassed money, power, glamour and a rift in one of Planet Automobile’s most high-profile families, the Porsche-Piechs.
But at an all-night board meeting last night, the boss of Porsche, Wendelin Wiedeking, was pushed out. He’d led the fight for little Porsche to buy the giant VW Group. He’d always thought he could do a better job of running VW than the VW bosses could. And you could see his point – Porsche was a basket case when he took over in 1992, and he turned it into the most profitable car company on earth.
But to swallow VW, Porsche needed huge sums of money. And the more VW shares it bought, the more expensive the rest of the shares became. In the end, despite borrowing a reported £10 billion, Porsche couldn’t get majority stake in VW.
And then there was the family feud. Wolfgang Porsche is the leading Porsche at Porsche, but his cousin Ferdinand Piech (they’re both grandsons of Ferdinand Porsche) is chair of the supervisory board over at the VW Group. They have spent the past year trying to manoeuvre a majority of shareholding family members – as well as powerful politicians and union leaders – into one camp or the other.
So what does it all mean for car lovers? Well, if Porsche had won the battle, Porsche cars would have remained low-volume, distinctive and expensive. Just a couple of weeks ago Porsche manufacturing boss Michael Macht told me the Boxster/Cayman would always be the baseline Porsche, and that they’d never do a cheaper car.
Well, that was his job title at the time. Yesterday he was given the job of replacing Wiedeking as Porsche CEO. But his power will be curtailed when the VW merger happens.
It’s overwhelmingly likely that Piech will make sure his protegee Martin Winterkorn, currently boss of the VW Group, will be given the task of running the new combined group.
And Winterkorn’s policy, which he learned at the feet of Piech, is to do as much platform sharing as possible. It was Piech, 15 years ago, who masterplanned cars like the Golf/A3/Octavia/Beetle/Leon etc.
‘Many rods catch more fish,’ Piech used to say.
I think the fact that VW, not Porsche, has won this takeover battle means it’s likely you’ll see more mongrel Porsches. For instance remember the VW Bluesport Roadster? How about a Porsche version, as well as a VW version and an Audi version? Or a Porsche rebody of the Audi Q5? Not a nice thought.
Oh and don’t feel sorry for Wiedeking. He has walked away with a £43 million package. Though he promises to give half away to local Stuttgart workers’ charities.