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Ferdinand Piech resigns as Volkswagen Group Chairman

by Ben Hsu

The hugely influential former CEO and board chairman has lost his battle against Winterkorn.

The resignation of Volkswagen Group chairman Ferdinand Piëch over the weekend represents the end an era. The imposing 78-year old Piëch has led the company for over 20 years, overseeing its rise to the second largest automaker in the world.

Piëch, the grandson of VW Beetle inventor Ferdinand Porsche, was the massive auto conglomerate's CEO for nine years starting in 1993 when the company was hemorrhaging cash. During his tenure he reversed losses of over $1 billion that year to a $2.6 million profit, in the process going on an acquisition spree of brands such as Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti.

Earlier this week, Piëch, who until yesterday sat on the supervisory board, told German media that he had "distanced" himself from current CEO Martin Winterkorn. The statement led to the rest of the board members rallying behind Winterkorn, which prompted Piëch to redouble his efforts in secret.

However, Piëch has lost the battle, with the board backing Winterkorn in a 5-to-1 vote. Now Piëch, whose family still owns 51 percent of VW, has had to step down, along with his wife Ursula who had joined the supervisory board in 2012. The family is still represented by Wolfgang Porsche - Piëch's first cousin cousin - on the supervisory board.

The shakeup had threatened to destabilize the multinational company, so all parties were forced to act quickly. The hugely influential Piëch, who had criticized Winterkorn for the company's lack of competitive product in the low end of the market, marks the end of an era, and the automotive world is now watching to see how his absence will change the VW Group's direction.

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