Ferdinand Piëch: The technological heritage of the VW Patriarch
Ferdinand Piëch has shaped the automotive industry like no other. But not all innovations of the deceased VW boss were blessed.
Ferdinand Piëch was considered a tough manager, but also as a brilliant engineer. The late ex-VW boss leaves the car world numerous achievements to which entwine some myths. The seven most important technical coups of the Austrian in the check.
1. Porsche as a thoroughbred sports car manufacturer
Almost single-handedly, Ferdinand Piëch has radically changed Porsches image - from a somewhat portly sports car manufacturer became a brand that fascinated customers. Crucial for this: success in racing, for which Piëch personally provided, for example, through the development of the Porsche 917. "The idea was that I wanted to put together two 911 six-cylinder engines to a twelve-cylinder," Piëch once described the key technical challenge.
Piëch, from 1965 head of the Porsche development department, called the 917 "the biggest risk of my life". Today, the car is considered a century construction, then the cost of developing and building the 25 prescribed specimens would have almost ruined Porsche.
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Because the car raced from victory to victory, he underpinned the full-throttle myth, from which Porsche continues to live today. "The racing success of the 917 is an integral part of Porsche's success today," said car expert Peter Fintl of technology and innovation consulting Altran.
Before the 917 existed, Ford and Ferrari had dominated the racetracks of the world in the 1960s - including the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Then Porsche won the world title in 1969 with the Porsche 908, the first Le Mans triumph then succeeded in 1970 with the 917th "With the 917 Piëch has created something Titanic, over the years, nobody passed," says Fintl.
2. Extreme cars in the small as well as in the large
Ferdinand Piëch loved the extremes - even as an engineer. So he supposedly had a penchant for over-engineering, so for the most complex solution, although it would have done a simpler design. So he had a narrow-gauge vehicle construct with two consecutively arranged seats, with which he drove in 2002 from Wolfsburg to the VW Annual General Meeting in Hamburg. The average fuel consumption on this trip was 0.89 liters of diesel per 100 kilometers.
The one-liter car marked the one extreme, the Bugatti Veyron introduced in 2005 the other. The supercar was equipped with a 16-cylinder engine with four turbochargers. He developed a power of 1001 hp and made the car more than 400 km / h fast.
"Even more technology, even more innovations, that was typical of Ferdinand Piëch," says technology consultant Fintl. If you look at what German cars are valued around the world, it is that they are better thought out than their competitors, Fintl said. "And if the customer notices the effort and pays for it, it's not over-engineering." And that was exactly the case with many Piëch cars.
3. Diesel, diesel, diesel
Germany is diesel country - without Piëchs diesel engines that would hardly be the case. In 1989, only four million diesel cars were on the roads of Germany, when the then Audi CEO Piëch first brought a car with diesel direct injection on the market - but not as the first, but as the third manufacturer worldwide. The Audi 100 was a 2.5-liter, 120-hp turbo diesel, which made the manufacturer and thus Volkswagen the diesel forerunner.
Because the number of passenger cars with diesel engine jumped in the following years. By 2005, it had more than doubled with 9.1 million cars in 2018, there were 15 million. "The TDI has made Germany the diesel country, even if Piëch did not invent it," says Fintl. "But he knew what customers wanted, namely driving pleasure, smoothness and low fuel consumption."
As a technician, he then realized that this could be implemented with the TDI, says Fintl. "And this is the topic that has the right people set," says Fintl. This brought VW the nimbus of the technology leader in the diesel for years - "even though about Peugeot-Citroën wonderful diesel engines," said Fintl.
The history of the triumphal march of the diesel, however, also includes the exhaust gas scandal. For years, Volkswagen built cars with manipulated nitrogen oxide cleaning in order to be able to offer the mass-demanded cars cheaper. Piëch dismissed the responsibility and said once that he had warned internally about the problem.
4. The zero joint
Narrow, exactly the same body joints increase the quality appearance, found Piëch. As VW CEO, he drove the delusion of perfect gap to the extreme - and got the nickname "Fugen-Ferdl". German manufacturers are known worldwide for this quality - but that was not always the case.
Many manufacturers even had their doors installed in the early 1990s - Piëch wanted to show that things could be done differently. For this he took Japanese manufacturer as a model, which then set the standards for manufacturing quality. When entering a Golf IV customers then felt that the car was better than competitors like the Opel Astra. The other manufacturers had to follow suit - in the end all customers got better cars.
5. Four-wheel drive for everyone
Under Piëch's aegis, the four-wheel drive made it into mass production for the first time - because Piëch pushed through the technology against all opposition in the VW Group. The motorsport success of the Audi quattro and its image helped Audi to become a premium manufacturer.
The other manufacturers had to pull along from the eighties, even Mercedes sat after a long hesitation on four-wheel drives. However, the Quattro is a typical example of the system of the engineer and manager Piëch: He usually did not invent a technique himself, but recognized their advantages just before their marketability. Then he used it first in a big way.
"Piëch was an outstanding idea recognizer," remembers engine expert Fritz Indra, who worked with Piëch at Audi from 1979 to 1985. "He had an incredible sense of what suggestions he wants to put into action now or not."
6. Platform cars that differ
Equally built cars are significantly cheaper - Ferdinand Piëch proved that they do not have to look the same. The motto was simple: one head, many hats. However, Piëch did not invent this strategy; Lee Iacocca had previously successfully used it on Chrysler. But the American manufacturers made a mistake: The platform models of the US manufacturers hardly differed from each other, the brands mingled to a uniformity.
In the 1990s, VW found a good balance between synergy effects and differentiation, says Fintl. However, the engineers had to prevail against the finance department - which wanted to drive the same part strategy to the extreme and produce all cars as cheaply as possible. This has prevented Piëch as VW boss, however, explains Fintl. "Cars like the Passat W8 [with an eight-cylinder engine] would never have existed without a CEO who runs around with the loaded pistol, so to speak."
7. The fully galvanized body
Rusting cars - this logic was almost irrefutable in the 1970s. After four or five years, the rust fell on most cars at that time. The manufacturers tried to counteract, but with little resounding success. Until the then Audi Board Piëch came and Porsches made advances in rust protection mass suitable.
The sports car manufacturer had processed galvanized sheets in models 924 and 944, for example, which were manufactured at Audi in Neckarsulm. "Piëch has realized that this technique works and uses it in a big way," says Fintl. Audis rusted less, which brought other manufacturers in Zugzwang. That's why there are hardly any rust eaters left today. It would indeed have come without Ferdinand Piëch, admits the consultant. "But the question is always who recognizes the opportunities of a technology and helps it get ready for series production, and Piëch has often turned out to be such a catalyst."
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