Volkswagen Chief Executive Herbert Diess, the architect of the German automaker’s multi-billion euro push to electric vehicles, will leave the company within weeks after being forced out by union leaders and shareholders.
The 63-year-old, who took over in the years following the VW emissions scandal, will be replaced by Porsche chief executive and former VW chief Oliver Blume from early September. His departure follows a vote by VW’s supervisory board, which is controlled by a loose alliance of worker and state representatives from Lower Saxony, the company’s second largest shareholder.
The 20-seat board, which includes representatives of VW’s major shareholders, the Porsche-Piëch family, voted unanimously to replace Diess, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.
Diess had made it his mission to catch up with Tesla and become the world’s largest producer of electric cars by the middle of the decade. He oversaw the launch of VW’s first purpose-built electric cars and pledged to spend 52 billion euros to develop battery-powered models, while forcing deep cost cuts.
But his tenure has been marred by repeated seats on VW’s powerful German works council, which represents most of its 300,000 workers in the country and holds 10 of the company’s 20 supervisory board members. Diess sparked union outrage last year after he privately suggested VW had 30,000 surplus employees in Germany.
VW works council chairwoman Daniela Cavallo said the group wanted to ensure that “job security and profitability remain equally important corporate goals in the years to come”.
“Our goal as an employee organization is clear: all our colleagues must be involved. Today’s decisions bear witness to this.
VW’s announcement comes just hours after Diess issued a holiday message to workers as they begin their summer holidays.
“I am very satisfied with our performance. . . I have no doubt that we will gain momentum in the coming months,” he wrote, adding that sales had been affected by semiconductor shortages and other bottlenecks.
However, his management style and propensity to compare VW unfavorably to electric market leader Tesla, which has built a factory in neighboring Brandenburg, have been constantly criticized by worker representatives.
In an interview last November, Cavallo also criticized Diss for problems with VW’s software development program, as well as recent poor performance in China, its largest and most profitable market.
Diess had overseen the merger of the VW Group’s disparate software teams into a company called Cariad, but the unit was plagued with delays and went over budget.
“Cariad probably brought too many problems and challenges to the VW Group and individual brands,” said Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, director of the CAR Center for Automotive Research in Duisburg. “Missed production starts and software problems have been very costly.”
Diess, a former BMW executive who was a rare underdog at VW, will be replaced by Blume, who was born near VW’s Wolfsburg headquarters. The new chief has spent his professional life with the group, most recently at the helm of its Porsche brand, which is due to be partially launched later this year.
Blume, who will remain Porsche’s chief executive once he takes over Diess’ post, oversaw the development and market launch of the Taycan electric model, which overtook the classic 911 in sales.
“I will focus on customers, brands and products,” he said. “The human component is always in the foreground for me. Team spirit, fairness and passion are essential to success.
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