Ferdinand Piech, the former Volkswagen chair and legendary one-time patriarch of the billionaire clan behind the carmaker’s success, has died aged 82, dpa reports.
Piech collapsed while at a restaurant with his wife Ursula Piech in the German state of Bavaria, she said in statement emailed to dpa by the family lawyer, Christian Schertz.
The Bild newspaper initially reported his death.
Piech was taken to hospital, where he later died.
Piech was chief executive of Volkswagen from 1993 until 2002, and while feared for his authoritarian leadership style, he was widely credited with positioning the company to become Europe’s largest carmaker.
Together with then chief executive Martin Winterkorn, Piech steered the ever-widening VW empire with a strict hand, in a hierarchical and centralist manner.
The German news magazine Der Spiegel once described the atmosphere at Volkswagen under the duo as “North Korea without the labour camp.”
Piech dominated the German automotive sector for decades, becoming the chair of VW’s supervisory board, a post he held until 2015, when he was ousted in a bitter power struggle with Winterkorn.
Winterkorn would resign six months later when it emerged that Volkswagen had been cheating on environmental testing by fitting its diesel engines with a so-called defeat device, in a scandal that rocked the company and cost it tens of billions of dollars in fines and legal settlements.
Piech angered members of his family at the height of the emissions scandal when he claimed he had alerted key VW directors in February 2015 to the affair.
He agreed in 2017 to sell a large share of his holding in his family’s firm Porsche SE, which controls VW, to younger members of the dynasty.
In a frank bit of self-analysis in his autobiography published in 2003, Piech said of himself: “My need for harmony is limited.”
Born in Vienna on April 17, 1937, Piech was the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, who invented what became the Volkswagen Type 1, known as the Beetle.
Ferdinand Piech first tried to drive a car at the age of nine, but hit the garage door.
The man who lived and breathed automobiles for his entire adult life was a Renaissance man who had studied mechanical engineering, had a passion for sailing and was interested in Asian culture and Japanese ethics.
His influence on the industry was noted by many.
“Ferdinand Piech shaped the automotive branch like no other,” former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder once said of him.
While his employees feared him, calling him “the old man,” investors revered him, once referring to him as “father of the gods.”
And another of Piech’s successors as advisory board chief, Hans Dieter Poetsch, said that despite a few dark spots towards the end, “Piech set memorable milestones in the automotive industry.”