It’s without question that Ferdinand Piëch has been one of the most influential people to the automotive industry in its history. As the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche himself, Piëch worked at Porsche and helped create the legendary 917 racecar. Audi fans will know him for something a bit different, though. In the early ’80s, Piëch moved from Porsche to the Volkswagen Group and Audi. While there, he led the creation of the original Audi Quattro, which led to the four-ringed brand becoming the prominent performance car maker that it is today.
Piëch was a fascinating man. After his time with Audi, he became the CEO of the Volkswagen Group in 1993. At the time, VW was in bad shape, financially, and was losing money. However, Piëch not only turned it around but helped to make it the world’s largest automaker. And he did it the right way.
Under his direction, VW put out new versions of the famous Golf and Passat, versions that went on to be massively successful. So he helped grow the brand internally, the way it should be. But he also worked externally, looking to buy outside brands to expand the Volkswagen Group portfolio. So under Piëch’s direction, VW bought Bentley, Lamborghini and even Bugatti.
Ferdinand Piëch was also responsible for some of the most groundbreaking cars on the market in the early-to-mid 2,000’s. For instance, it was his idea for VW to create the Phaeton, one of the most wildly ambitious projects in the brand’s history. Essentially, the Phaeton was designed to beat the Mercedes-Benz S-Class in terms of luxury and quality while costing significantly less. It was also one of the most high-tech cars ever made at that point. It failed quite spectacularly, in terms of sales and reliability, but the ambition was impressive.
He also was the one to urge Bugatti to make the fastest car in history, the Veyron. In fact, it was Piëch who told Bugatti that it needed to have a minimum of 1,000 hp and a 248 mph top speed. At the time, that was lunacy. Yet Bugatti got it done thanks to Piëch’s assistance and funding.
Sadly, Ferdinand Piëch died only a few days ago at the age of 82. According to his wife Ursula, Ferdinand died unexpectedly, which is even sadder. “Ferdinand Piëch’s life was marked by his passion for the automobile and for the workers who built them,” Ursula Piëch said in a recent statement. “He was an enthusiastic engineer and car lover until the end.”
Audi CEO Bram Schott also gave a statement. “One of Ferdinand Piëch’s greatest strengths was that he really burned for the brand Audi. This Latin word [Audi] means ‘listen’ – and he always listened well to both customers and staff. He lived the dream of automobility all his life and was the engine of innovation. He developed Audi into a premium brand and created a technological lead with groundbreaking developments. These include the five-cylinder spark ignition engine, Quattro permanent four-wheel drive, the procon-ten safety system, the fully galvanized all-steel body and lightweight aluminum construction with the Audi Space Frame, which celebrated its premiere at the 1993 IAA in a study of the Audi A8. We will keep alive the memory of Ferdinand Piëch – a man who uniquely united genius with passion and perseverance”.
Not many auto executives and engineers can claim to have reshaped the auto industry as a whole multiple times but Ferndinand Piëch could. The Porsche 917 was an icon, the Audi Quattro changed the brand and rally racing forever and the Bugatti Veyron took every notion we had about speed and threw it out the window. And those are just a few of his many accomplishments.
Ferdinand Piëch may not be gone but he most certainly won’t be forgotten.