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As Tesla rises, Volkswagen's largest shareholders back CEO's controversial EV push

(Credit: Daniel Aharonoff/Twitter)

As Tesla continues to rise in Europe with the construction of Giga Berlin and the impending local prduction of the Model Y, Volkswagen’s controlling family issued a rare statement of support for CEO Herbert Diess’ aggressive and somewhat controversial electric car push. In a recent statement to local German media, the Porsche-Piech family stated that they are fully backing the CEO in these trying times, as a painful shift to electric cars may be what is required to keep Volkswagen thriving in the coming EV age. 

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess is a staunch proponent of electric cars, with the company’s first all-electric vehicle, the ID.3, being his personal project. Diess’ dedication for electric cars has earned the respect of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who has expressed his support for the Volkswagen CEO’s efforts in the past. “Herbert Diess is doing more than any big carmaker to go electric. The good of the world should come first. For what it’s worth, he has my support,” Musk wrote. 

Unfortunately for Diess, his aggressive push for electrification has faced sharp criticism. These negative sentiments have only become more prominent as Volkswagen’s ID.3 ramp met roadblocks due to the vehicle’s software. Diess has predicted these challenges, stating that Volkswagen’s shift towards electric mobility is “perhaps the most difficult task VW has ever had to face.” Yet with investors reportedly growing restless, it appeared that the Porsches and Piëchs, Volkswagen’s controlling family, have deemed it pertinent to express their stance. 

In a statement to the BILD newspaper on Thursday, Supervisory Board member Hans-Michel Piëch stated that he fully supports Diess’ initiatives. “He has our support. He is faced with an enormous task. For this, he needs strength, but also support from everyone in the Group,” he said. Wolfgang Porsche, Piëch’s cousin, echoed his sentiments. “Even if Mr. Diess is criticized from many sides, he would be taking an insane risk: There is no alternative today to the path that he and the Volkswagen Board of Management have taken,” Porsche said. 

Apart from openly supporting Diess’ efforts, the VW majority shareholders explained why the company had gone all-in on electric cars. For example, Diess has taken a strong stance against hydrogen, opting instead to focus solely on electric vehicles. According to Piëch, this is a decision that he and his cousin fully support. “The discussion about a decision for hydrogen or batteries alone is unfortunate. Hydrogen is too expensive for the foreseeable future and simply cannot be produced with sustainable energy,” he said. 

Wolfgang Porsche, for his part, has stated that an intense focus on developing next-generation automotive solutions is needed to survive and thrive in the car industry of the future. Seemingly addressing Volkswagen’s current issues with the ID.3’s software, Porsche stated that it is better to tackle the growing pains of electrification now, instead of potentially facing a real risk in the future. “In the future, digitization and software will determine the car. You have to know: If we don’t tackle this transformation now, the company will have a huge problem in the future,” Porsche said. 

The coming years will likely be historic for the automotive industry as a whole. Young carmakers such as Tesla have established a hold in the mainstream market, with vehicles such as the Model 3 becoming a viable and even preferable alternative to conventional best-sellers like the BMW M3. With legacy carmakers now realizing the value of electric cars and the importance of battery tech and software, it is in the best interest of Volkswagen to ensure that it invests in the future today. For now, this would likely result in several painful transitions. But if Diess, Piëch, and Porsche’s statements are any indication, it appears that Volkswagen will be willing to take some heavy blows if it means securing a future where the company is still relevant and competitive. 

H/T Alex Voigt.

As Tesla rises, Volkswagen's largest shareholders back CEO's controversial EV push
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