The Porsche Family’s Race to the Top

1 minutes reading time
Published 12 Jul 2023
Reviewed by: Kasper Karlsson
Updated 22 Mar 2024

When it comes to high-performance sports cars, the name “Porsche” undoubtedly echoes in the minds of automotive enthusiasts around the world. For numerous decades, the Porsche family has not only been a prominent player in the car manufacturing sector, but they have also steered Volkswagen to become one of the world's largest and most prestigious family-owned businesses. In this article, we’ll drive through the lanes of Porsche’s history, the family’s wealth, how Porsche interlinks with Volkswagen, and how this German-Austrian dynasty traces its roots back to pre-World War II Germany.

Key Insights

  • Ferdinand Porsche's Legacy and Controversy: Ferdinand Porsche, renowned as the founder of Porsche and for creating the Volkswagen Beetle, also had a controversial past due to his involvement with the Nazi regime during World War II.

  • Ferry Porsche and the Porsche 356: Ferdinand's son, Ferry Porsche, significantly contributed to the family legacy by introducing the Porsche 356 in 1948, the first car to bear the Porsche name. Influenced by the Volkswagen Beetle, the 356 laid the groundwork for Porsche as a premier sports car manufacturer.

  • Porsche-Piëch Family Dynamics and Influence: The Porsche and Piëch families, linked by Ferdinand Porsche’s daughter's marriage to Anton Piëch, have maintained control over Porsche SE and a significant stake in Volkswagen.

  • Wolfgang Porsche and Future Leadership: Wolfgang Porsche, Ferdinand's grandson, currently oversees the Porsche legacy. As he approaches his 80s, the focus shifts to the next generation's leadership.

Ferdinand Porsche: Engineering Meets Controversy

Ferdinand Porsche, the founder of the company, was an exceptional designer and engineer. His enduring legacy largely lies in the creation of the "people's car," the Volkswagen Beetle. Ferdinand also had a questionable past, like many skilled German engineers at the time, he became closely involved with the Nazi war machine. Ferdinand’s close association with Adolf Hitler consequently led him to design military tanks and the V-1 flying bomb. While it undeniably forms a tragic chapter in Porsche's history, it's essential to note that the engineering expertise demonstrated in collaboration with the German government significantly shaped the genesis of Porsche.

Born in 1875, in what is now called Vratislavice nad Nisou, Czech Republic, Ferdinand displayed an early fascination with electricity and mechanics. He pursued his education at the Imperial Technical School in Liberec while sharpening his skills as an apprentice in his father's metalworking shop.

Ferdinand's passion for automobiles began when he encountered a vehicle constructed by Gottlieb Daimler. In 1898, he secured a position with Jakob Lohner & Company in Vienna, Austria, which built coaches for European monarchs and aristocrats. At Lohner & Company, Ferdinand not only contributed to engine design but also ventured into vehicle creation. In 1900, he developed the Porsche-Lohner Chaise, an electric vehicle that was displayed at the 1900 Paris Exposition, solidifying his reputation as a skilled engineer. Over the next 25 years, Ferdinand collaborated with renowned automobile manufacturers in Austria and Germany, designing groundbreaking high-performance vehicles for brands such as Austro-Daimler, Mercedes-Benz, and Auto-Union.

The Founding of Porsche

In 1934, Ferdinand founded his own business, the same company that we today call Porsche. Shortly after, the German government asked him to design a practical and affordable "people's car" and provided him with a factory for its production. The outcome was the Volkswagen Beetle, which later became one of the world's best-selling vehicles. Ferdinand's passion for cars was later inherited by his son, Ferry Porsche, who made the family name a legend in 1948 with the introduction of the Porsche 356, the first vehicle ever to wear the Porsche name.

The Porsche 356 was named after its production number. The "356" designation came from the fact that it was the 356th project that Ferry Porsche worked on. The design of the 356 was heavily influenced by the Volkswagen Beetle and utilized many components from it, including its engine and suspension. The Porsche 356 played a significant role in establishing Porsche as a reputable sports car manufacturer and laid the foundation for the brand's future success.

The 356 was eventually replaced by the iconic Porsche 911, a sports car with a rich history which continues to be produced to this day. Since its introduction in 1963, the 911 has been universally admired for its timeless design. Even though it has undergone numerous updates and improvements over the decades, its unmistakable shape and style have always kept it immensely popular. Remarkably, over a million Porsche 911s have been manufactured since its launch, evolving through eight significant 'generations', as they're known within the company. While each generational shift has undeniably improved performance, comfort, and technology, they have all stayed true to the original design ethos.

A few years after the introduction of the Porsche 356 in 1948, Ferdinand suffered a stroke from which he never fully recovered from. He passed away in January 1951 at the age of 75. After Ferdinand's death, his son Ferry played a pivotal role in the development of the company alongside the Piëch family.

Turmoil Within: A German “Succession” Saga

The torch of ownership has been passed through generations within the Porsche and Piëch families. These two families became interconnected when Ferdinand Porsche’s daughter Louise married Anton Piëch, which solidified the ownership lineages. The families continue to possess the majority of ownership and a controlling stake in Porsche SE (the family holding company), which in turn is the largest shareholder of Volkswagen, owning 31.9% of its shares as of December 2022. Volkswagen successively owns 100% of Porsche AG (the car manufacturing company).

Thanks to non-voting shares that other shareholders own, the Porsche-Piëch family controls 53.3% of the voting power of Volkswagen, which gives the family alliance effective control of the group. As of December 2022, the market value of Porsche SE's stake in Volkswagen was $25.1 billion.

Like many big families, the relationships within the Porsche-Piëch family have not always been peaceful. The family's history is like a car-themed version of the TV show "Succession," full of fights for control and secrets. In the middle of all this are the different ways the Porsche and Piëch sides of the family went after inheriting their shares from Ferdinand. The way the third generation was raised was very different – the Piëchs were brought up with strict rules, while the Porsches were encouraged to be creative and into arts. The relationship between the families has also been strained at times due to disagreements on business decisions and strategies. These differences, among other things, have repeatedly caused rivalry and arguments between family members since the company's inception.

Despite the tumultuous history, the relentless pursuit of automotive excellence has always remained consistent within the family. For instance, Ferry Porsche played an instrumental role in building the brand into the impregnable fortress it is today. Partly, as previously mentioned, by introducing the first car ever to wear the Porsche name. Also worth mentioning is that Ferdinand Karl Piëch served as the Chairman of Volkswagen between 2002 and 2015, further consolidating the family’s position in the automotive sector and interlinking the two families.

Porsche has maintained the exclusivity of the brand
Even though Porsche has grown its deliveries from 11 000 cars in 1964 to 310 000 in 2022, the exclusivity of the brand has still remained

Wolfgang Porsche: Carrying on the Legacy

Currently in the driver’s seat of the Porsche family is Wolfgang Porsche. Being the grandson of the legendary Ferdinand Porsche, Wolfgang was destined to be part of this automotive saga and the family legacy. He now serves as the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of both Porsche SE (the family holding company) and Porsche AG (the car manufacturing company), and has also been part of the Supervisory Board of Volkswagen since 2008.

As the curtain draws to a close on the era of Wolfgang Porsche, who turned 80 in May 2023, eyes are now fixed on who will inherit the mantle. The race is wide open, with candidates including Oliver Porsche, Peter Porsche, and Hans Michel Piëch among others.

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