Piech adds to the drama at Volkswagen

Former chairman claims he warned VW’s supervisory board of scandal involving diesel engines in March 2015

The Volkswagen diesel scandal has taken a Shakespearian twist. Former chairman Ferdinand Piech has claimed that he warned the company’s supervisory board of a prospective scandal involving its diesel engines in March 2015, mere weeks before we has ousted in a boardroom coup.

Piech is the man largely responsible for the sprawling Volkswagen Group as we know it. A grandson of Ferdinand Porsche who designed the VW Beetle, he made his name in the 1960s and 1970s as the driving force behind the legendary Porsche 917 racing car, before moving on to Audi. There he turned a largely-forgotten and ignored brand into a burgeoning premium-badge powerhouse, before becoming chief executive of the broader VW Group.

Pulling VW out of near-bankruptcy in the early 1990s, Piech began investing billions of dollars, deutschmarks and eventually euro in research and development and the buying up of other brands. Skoda, Seat, Bentley, Lamborghini, Bugatti and Porsche all became VW outposts under his watch. In turn, the car firm went for almost a basket-case to vying for the most powerful and productive car-maker in the world.

Piech's claim now is that he raised the potential of a diesel-cheating scandal at a supervisory board meeting in 2015, six months before the scandal went public. According to German newspaper Bild Am Sonntag, Piech was tipped off that engineers had been cheating the data by an Israeli security firm.


This meeting would have taken place at a time when Piech was trying to have Martin Winterkorn ousted as VW's CEO and replaced with then Porsche boss Matthias Mueller. For possibly the first time in his professional life, Piech lost the struggle and was himself removed as chairman of the supervisory board. Winterkorn carried on as VW's chief, but then had to resign following the revelation that VW had been cheating on its diesel emissions test. He was replaced by… Matthias Mueller.

For its part, Volkswagen is rejecting Piech's allegations, saying in a statement that "the supervisory board of Volkswagen AG emphatically repudiates the assertions made by Ferdinand Piech as reported recently in the media. The board of management will carefully weigh the possibility of measures and claims against Mr Piech."

One has to wonder at the timing of Piech’s revelation, not least the tantalising inclusion of Israeli revelations. It has been all but 18 months since the revelation of VW’s cheating, and Winterkorn has not only long since fallen, but now faces possible criminal prosecution. Why did Piech wait so long to make the allegations?

With Piech in the role of a supposedly vanquished foe, returning to reassert his authority, one suspects we’ll need a third, fourth and fifth act, and perhaps an epilogue, before who is villain and who is hero is decided.