Workers urge Volkswagen to end bitter leadership battle

Workers urge Volkswagen to end bitter leadership battle
Ferdinand Piech (right), Chairman of the Board of German car giant Volkswagen AG, and CEO Martin Winterkorn in this April 2007 file picture.

BERLIN - Employees at German auto giant Volkswagen urged management Monday to settle a bitter power struggle and focus instead on running Europe's biggest carmaker following media reports of strained relations between VW's supervisory board chief and its CEO.

"We ask that the focus should return to the successful day-to-day running of the company and its 600,000 employees, rather than on debates that fill newspapers," the head of VW's general works committee Bernd Osterloh told the business daily Handelsblatt.

"We will not participate in any further discussions about people and their positions," Osterloh added.

VW's supervisory board chief Ferdinand Piech, a member of the powerful Porsche dynasty that is a shareholder in Volkswagen, and one of the most important figures in German business, sparked a ferocious media debate at the weekend by declaring in a magazine interview that he was "distancing himself" from VW's chief executive Martin Winterkorn.

Until now, Winterkorn was seen as Piech's close ally and heir apparent on the carmaker's supervisory board.

Piech's comments ignited speculation of a fierce leadership battle that could derail the smooth running of the company.

But VW's other shareholders rallied behind Winterkorn, leaving Piech looking isolated.

Stefan Weil, the regional premier of the state of Lower Saxony, which holds a stake of 20 per cent, said he saw "no cause for action" in the management of VW and warned that "a public discussion about the leadership of VW (is) damaging" for the carmaker.

The Porsche family, too, refused to side with Piech.

"The statement from Dr. Piech portrays his private opinion, which is not aligned ... with that of the family," his cousin, Wolfgang Porsche said in a statement.

The holding company Porsche SE holds just over 50 per cent of VW's share capital. Piech and other branches of the Piech and Porsche families own 14 per cent of Porsche SE.

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