Three Porsche CEOs in a year: what's going on?

Published: 07 July 2010

If change at the top is sign of turmoil in a company, then Porsche is a business at war with itself. Three bosses in less than a year is a sure sign of policy disagreement and tension – there can be no doubt that Porsche is having a rocky ride at present.

Yesterday's news that Volkswagen's 57-year-old chief strategist, Matthias Müller, will lead Porsche from 1 October is the latest indication that Wolfsburg is exerting its control over its soon-to-be-subsumed sports car division.

CEO Michael Macht, appointed only in July 2009, is being dispatched to run all factories within Volkswagen Group worldwide. Hardly fired then, but still a sign of the change at the top of Porsche.

Three CEOs in a year: all change at Porsche

It was almost exactly a year ago that Wendelin Wiedeking, Porsche's golden boy, was ousted in a boardroom coup as the predator became the hunted. Wiedeking had audaciously hedged his company's shares in Volkswagen to maximum advantage and made a pile of cash with which it tried to buy Europe's biggest car maker.

The plan backfired, however, and Wiedeking and his finance expert were duly exited from the business. In a dramatic reversal of fortunes, VW then turned the tables and set a counter bid to snaffle Porsche. The two companies have a long and familial relationship, and in a multinational age it made sense to agglomerate Porsche into Volkswagen.

The problems facing Porsche

Sounds easy, doesn't it? VW has long experience of assimilating other brands into its empire. However, Porsche will prove different to Seat and Skoda. It's different even to Bugatti and Lamborghini, the two existing sports car jewels in Wolfsburg's crown.

Porsche operates in a rare space: it is both volume and luxury. It now cranks out 100,000 cars in a good year, and yet it has – so far – retained its allure.

Müller, an acolyte of VW chief Martin Winterkorn, must tread carefully as he integrates the two businesses. Can Volkswagen really leverage its scale inhouse at Porsche? There will be some obvious areas of cooperation: the Touareg and Cayenne have been twinned since day one. The Bluesport mid-engined sports car programme is likely to bear a Porsche spin-off to slot underneath the Cayman/Boxster.

But where do the other efficiencies lie? Could a future Panamera programme be paired with full-size Bentleys, a possible Lambo super-saloon and even – whisper it – a future Phaeton replacement? Don't forget that Müller oversaw the closer ties between Audi and Lamborghini in an earlier life, as well as running the original Audi A3 project.

And what of the 911? VW has made no secret of the fact that it thinks Porsche design has stayed glued in the past and group design overlord Walter da Silva told CAR that he wanted more stylistic change.

Whatever the outcome, the cast of protagonists will ensure that the integration of Porsche into Europe's, and maybe soon the world's, biggest car maker will be a story to watch. The Porsche and Piech families, and the buzz at the heart of Porsche, will make this one fascinating drama.

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By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet