Two years ago, I described Ferdinand Piech as a genius engineer and ruthlessly aggressive business executive. He might have been well-known beyond automotive insiders had he, like his cousins, been descended from one of the sons rather than the daughter of his grandfather, Ferdinand Porsche.
And perhaps more than any of his relatives, even including his uncle, another Ferdinand, nicknamed “Ferry” who created the Porsche 356 and launched the sports car brand, Ferdinand Piech, who died this week at the age of 82, had the most impact on the automotive world.
Consider that Ferdinand Piech, while still in his late 20s, created many of Porsche’s most successful race cars, including the all-conquering 917, designed the heralded inline 5-cylinder Mercedes-Benz engine during a period when family members couldn’t hold high positions at Porsche, engineered the quattro system and turned Audi into a prominent international brand, brought Volkswagen back from the brink of bankruptcy, brought Porsche safely in and under the VW umbrella, which he also spread over other historic brands, Lamborghini, Bentley and Bugatti.
Yes, he also was responsible for the short-lived Volkswagen Phaeton luxury car, which most people saw as an oxymoron, and then, in 2017, his chairmanship of the VW Group dissolved in the aftermath of the so-called Dieselgate scandal.
How large was Piech’s role in the automotive world? When veteran Automotive News editor Richard Johnson wrote Six Men Who Built the Modern Auto Industry, the six he included were Henry Ford II, Soichiro Honda, Lee Iacocca, Bob Lutz, Eberhard von Kuenheim (of BMW) and Ferdinand Piech.
“Piech was the most magnetic, not to say obsessive, of the six giants,” Johnson wrote. “He questions every idea ever presented to him. He employed fear and menace as tools — often to his own detriment. Yet he collected as many acolytes as Soichiro Honda.”
Johnson writes that Piech idolized his grandfather, and that his grandfather doted on the young boy, and that as a teenager, Piech worked behind his uncle Ferry building the first 356 sports cars.
Though it was the Porsche brand that overshadowed Piech’s accomplishments, it has fallen to one of Piech’s sons, Anton, and Anton’s business partner to put the Piech name on a car. At the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year, Anton Piech and Rae Stark announced the launch of Piech Automotive and their plans to produce, starting in 2022, the Mark Zero, a 600-plus horsepower electric-powered grand touring sports car that can be recharged to 80 percent of its 300-kilometer range in less than five minutes.