Volkswagen’s driver

Ferdinand Piech, the 61-year-old head of Volkswagen, has his foot firmly on the accelerator in his drive to establish VW as the world’s number three car maker. Piech is on a buying spree ‘that seems to know no limits’, as one industry observer says. Seat, Skoda, Rolls-Royce and now even Lamborghini look set to join […]

Ferdinand Piech, the 61-year-old head of Volkswagen, has his foot firmly on the accelerator in his drive to establish VW as the world’s number three car maker.

Piech is on a buying spree ‘that seems to know no limits’, as one industry observer says. Seat, Skoda, Rolls-Royce and now even Lamborghini look set to join the VW stable. There is speculation that Piech’s shopping list may include Scania, Volvo, MAN and Renault.

Piech himself says: ‘We still have many surprises in the bag.’

Analysts say that by the time he clears his desk, probably in 2002, Piech will be controlling more than 10 marques, including a couple of commercial vehicle makers.

Competitors can only watch in amazement as Piech forges ahead. One leading commentator asks: ‘Is he a genius, a fanatic or an automotive demigod; what drives this man on?’

On a personal level, the need to book his place in car industry history is likely to have surpassed financial gain many years ago. He can apparently live comfortably off the interest on his fortune.

But he stands in the shadow of his maternal grandfather Ferdinand Porsche, creator of the Beetle. Piech’s mother Louise, now 94, is one of the original Porsche family.

Some point to Piech’s desire for an 18-cylinder engine to be among the group’s range his grandfather only ever managed 16 cylinders.

Piech’s career shows signs of restless ambition. Having qualified as an engineer in Zurich he went to work in the engine testing department at Porsche.

In 1971, just as he was getting within reach of the top office at Porsche, he quit, setting up as an independent engineer. The next year, he joined Audi NSU Auto Union. There he moved from special projects manager to the boardroom within three years. From there he set off on his ascent.

But ‘the old one’, as he is known in VW inner circles, still has much to achieve.

The push into the luxury car market via Rolls-Royce is only one goal. Acquisition of a truck maker is the next likely move.

Sweden’s Scania, the ‘Rolls-Royce of truck makers’ according to Piech, is the probable target.

Analysts say Scania would be the perfect fit, if its owners, the Wallenberg family, have realistic price expectations.

Industry rumours point to a price tag of about £3.5bn, making it the most expensive item yet on Piech’s shopping list.

Piech seems to be developing ideas almost daily in his pursuit of the number three spot in the world rankings. VW is still behind General Motors, Ford and Toyota. Piech is confident of passing Toyota soon. He says: ‘I want to get up the ladder and as quickly as possible’.

Stuart Penson