Volkswagen Share Sale Keeps the Automaker a Family Affair

Volkswagen Share Sale Keeps the Automaker a Family Affair

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Mr. Piëch, who will turn 80 on April 17, is regarded as an automotive genius who oversaw Volkswagen’s rise to become the largest carmaker in Europe by far.

At the same time, Mr. Piëch’s dictatorial management style is often seen as a contributing factor in the emissions cheating scandal that has embroiled the company since late 2015. Mr. Piëch has not been directly implicated in the scandal, but he was known for dismissing or sidelining executives who did not meet his high expectations, possibly motivating some of them to resort to deception when they discovered in 2006 that Volkswagen diesel cars could not legally meet American emissions standards.

The scandal has cost Volkswagen tens of billions of dollars in legal settlements and fines and focused attention on the controlling families, all of whom are descendants of Ferdinand Porsche, who designed the Volkswagen Beetle for Adolf Hitler.

The Piëch and the Porsche families have been reluctant to appoint outsiders to positions in top management at Volkswagen, opening the company to criticism that it remains dominated by people who were in positions of power as the wrongdoing was unfolding.

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The management of the holding company and Volkswagen are closely intertwined. Hans Dieter Pötsch, chairman of the Volkswagen supervisory board, is also chairman of the Porsche Holding management board. Matthias Müller, the chief executive of Volkswagen, is a member of the Porsche Holding management board. Another member of the holding company’s board is Manfred Döss, Volkswagen’s chief counsel and the person who has overseen efforts to contain the myriad legal challenges that arose from the scandal.

Mr. Piëch will retain a small stake in Porsche Holding, but he is unlikely to play an active role in Volkswagen, a company that sometimes seemed to be practically created in his image.

Mr. Piëch will remain a member of the Porsche Holding supervisory board at least until the transfer of shares is complete, the company said. It did not say how much the other members of the family were paying for his shares.

After joining Volkswagen’s Audi unit as a junior executive in the 1970s, Mr. Piëch rose to become chief of the brand and established it as a rival to Mercedes-Benz and BMW. He became chief executive of Volkswagen in 1993 and led the company from the brink of bankruptcy to dominance of the European car market and near parity with Toyota, which competes with Volkswagen for the title of world’s largest automaker.

Mr. Piëch was also a force in the development of diesel for passenger cars. Diesel engines offered better fuel economy than gasoline motors but also produced more nitrogen oxide emissions, a major component of smog. As emissions standards became more stringent, Volkswagen engineers struggled to build compliant engines.

In 2006, according to admissions the company has made in court, Volkswagen decided to install software in cars sold in the United States that could sense when official tests were underway and temporarily activate equipment to control emissions. The equipment was not capable of meeting pollution standards during regular driving. The authoritarian, unforgiving company culture that Mr. Piëch created is seen as one of the elements that led Volkswagen employees to cheat.

Mr. Piëch became the chairman of Volkswagen’s supervisory board in 2002 after retiring as chief executive, but he was forced out in 2015, a few months before the emissions cheating became public.

A grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, Mr. Piëch has had tense relations with other members of the family for decades, and his departure could make it easier to achieve harmony and pave the way for a younger generation to assume more influence.

The sale of Mr. Piëch’s share is likely to provoke speculation that he might invest the money in some other way in order to retain influence in the industry to which he has devoted his life. Mr. Piëch has given no public indication of what he might do with the money.

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