VW chairman denies plans to oust CEO

Christoph Rauwald
Bloomberg News

Volkswagen AG Chairman Ferdinand Piech denied reports that he was seeking to oust Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn, working to defuse a power struggle he sparked two weeks ago.

“Mr. Winterkorn and I talked it out last week and agreed on the continuation of the cooperation,” Piech told Der Spiegel magazine, where he first challenged the CEO’s authority earlier this month. “I’m not pursuing his dismissal.” Piech made nearly identical statements to Bild newspaper.

Though board leaders had already backed Winterkorn in an April 17 statement, tensions were reignited Thursday by reports by German broadcaster NDR and newswire DPA that Piech was seeking to remove Winterkorn before Volkswagen’s annual shareholders meeting on May 5.

Both reports, which didn’t identify the sources of the information, said Piech was proposing Porsche division chief Matthias Mueller and head of the Czech Skoda brand Winfried Vahland as potential successors.

Winterkorn’s future was called into question after Piech told Spiegel on April 10 that he had distanced himself from his former confidant and no longer wants him as the next chairman. The dressing-down came without explanation and was a surprise blow to an executive who has led the company to record profits and put it within reach of overtaking Toyota Motor Corp. as the No. 1 in the industry. VW stock has declined more than 8 percent since the feud became public.

In the statement from last Friday, the leadership committee of Volkswagen’s supervisory board said that Winterkorn is the “best possible” CEO for the Wolfsburg, Germany-based company and had the group’s “full support.” The six-member body, made up of Piech and five others, said it plans to propose to the full board in February that Winterkorn’s contract be extended beyond 2016.