Family ties still rule the world's big automakers

For Volkswagen, Peugeot, Fiat, BMW, and Ford, blood still runs thicker than gasoline.

Family first
vw martin winterkorn ferdinand piech
Martin Winterkorn (left) and Ferdinand Piech

A recent disclosure came as jarring reminder that -- at a surprising number of the world's most prominent automakers -- family come first.

Ferdinand Piech, chairman of Volkswagen's supervisory board, announced that he was planning to remain on the job for another five to seven years, and that his protégé, Martin Winterkorn, chairman of the management board, would do the same. That wouldn't have been so surprising since VW has enjoyed a very successful run lately -- except that Piech is 75 years old, and Winterkorn is 65, and the decision had apparently been reached with no prior discussion with any other board members or shareholders.

But then Piech seldom has to look any further than a mirror when making a decision about VW. Following this year's acquisition of Porsche, which is controlled by the Piech-Porsche family, Porsche owns 50.7% of VW's common stock. Since Piech appointed his wife to the VW supervisory board last summer, members of the Piech and Porsche families now control five of the ten management seats.

With VW the only profitable volume manufacturer in Europe and headed toward becoming the largest auto company in the world, its non-family shareholders have little to complain about. The same can't always be said of other family-run automakers.

  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated November 28 2012 06:18 AM ET
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