Ferdinand Piech and Wolfgang Porsche could hardly be more different. Piech is a wiry and driven engineer who has dedicated his life to automobiles. The soft-spoken Porsche, by contrast, seems more comfortable stalking deer in the forest than corporate prey in the boardroom. What has long bound the billionaire cousins together is their grandfather's legacy: their family's namesake automaker, and for the past decade control of Volkswagen AG.
Their uneasy association is poised to come to an end.
On Friday, Porsche Automobil Holding SE, the family investment vehicle, said Piech is in talks to sell "the major part" of his stake -- valued at roughly $1.2 billion (1.1 billion euros) -- to other family members. Piech owns about 15 percent of the common stock of Porsche Holding, which in turn holds 52 percent of VW's voting shares.
To no small degree, the fortunes of the two iconic German car brands have turned on the relationship between the two cousins. Piech, 79, had become increasingly isolated after alleging that Porsche, 73, and other VW supervisory board leaders may have known about Volkswagen's widespread emissions violations earlier than previously acknowledged. In September 2015, VW admitted that it had rigged 11 million diesel engines to skirt pollution controls, a scandal that has cost the company $24 billion in fines and associated costs.
The allegations, rejected by investigators as "implausible," prompted some family members to seek to eject Piech from Porsche Holding's supervisory board, people familiar with the situation said earlier this week. Negotiations over the stock sale are ongoing, and there's no assurance of an agreement, according to Porsche Holding's statement.
The move to sell is vintage Piech: He takes an uncompromising approach to conflict, and he has usually come out on top. Until recently, Piech was the family's undisputed patriarch, calling the shots first as Volkswagen CEO and later as its all-powerful chairman. His hold only crumbled in 2015 when Wolfgang Porsche and other members of the board threw their weight behind the VW CEO, Martin Winterkorn, with whom Piech had fallen out.