Piëch: architect of Audi’s ascension
His genius for powertrains and power politics made Audi
EARLY DAYS After the family diaspora from Porsche, Ferdinand Piëch joins Audi as a departmental head in 1972, and sets about proving himself. An early project is to solve a US emissions problem: the 100 cannot pass carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon standards. Piëch negotiates a temporary exemption, buying time to it direct fuel injection to ix the issue. FIVECYLINDER POWER In ’73, Piëch thinks about quitting after missing out on promotion, but agrees to stay on in case head of development Franz Behles doesn’t work out. He doesn’t – because Behles’ attempt to create an economical and user-friendly rotary engine is doomed. Instead Piëch’s ive-cylinder proves superior, gets the nod for production and inds fame coupled with... FOURWHEEL DRIVE You know the tale: chassis tester Jörg Bensinger spots the cornering capabilities of the Iltis, a military o-roader Audi is developing. In secret, Piëch has an 80 saloon adopt its all-wheel drive, and fellow execs are amazed as a prototype conquers an Alpine track. It’s the birth of quattro, and the path to premium. TRANSFORMATIVE TDI Piëch sees a reined, punchy diesel as a beacon for Audi. TDI – turbocharged direct injection – with computer control delivers an unusually smooth, economical and quick oilburner in the 100, after 11 years of development. ‘This milestone gives him a personal stake in diesel tech,’ says dieselgate author Jack Ewing. THE PATH TO POWER Success at Audi propels Piëch to VW Group CEO. On his watch, scandals rock VW – compensation to GM over an exec defecting with inside info; funding sex for union o¤icials – and then the US emissions violation hits. Piëch’s complicity is unproven, but the pressure he puts on colleagues to succeed or face the music leads to a saying at VW: ‘Impossible doesn’t exist’.