Kurt Lotz, who as Volkswagen CEO made the decisive switch from rear-engine Beetle derivatives to front-engine, front-drive cars, died March 9. He was 92.
His tenure lasted only three years, but Lotz drastically changed the technological and strategic direction of the German automaker.
“Kurt Lotz, a strong entrepreneurial personality, set his mind thoroughly on steering Volkswagen into the future, together with his fellow board members,” said Ferdinand Piëch, head of VW’s supervisory board and former chairman of the company.
“To achieve that, he fused NSU and Auto Union to create Audi and initiated a model offensive which led to the Passat, Golf and Polo, which are successful to this day,” Piech added. “He gave the Volkswagen corporate group and the Volks-wagen brand substantial impulses to re-capture its sustainability.”
Lotz took over VW from Heinrich Nordhoff, VW’s post-war chairman for more than 20 years. Nordhoff turned the Beetle into a huge global success, but later he kept re-inventing the rear-engine car with new versions and derivatives. His model policy was increasingly referred to as a Beetle monoculture.
When Lotz became VW boss in 1968, he decided to explore front-engine, front-drive concepts. During his tenure, VW put the Golf, Polo and Passat projects on track – all of them highly modern and lighter than their rivals. By 1975, four years after Lotz stepped down as CEO, VW had one of the most modern lineups in Europe.
Lotz recognized the opportunities to extend VW’s reach with other brands. He acquired NSU, which he fused with Auto Union to create Audi. The front-drive NSU K70, completely developed but not yet launched, became the VW K70. Having the Audi brand allowed VW to reach new customers with front-drive cars that were bigger and faster than VW’s cars.
“Kurt Lotz kept the Volkswagen group on track during economically difficult times between 1968 and 1971 by hiring the engineers who paved the way for the transition from the Beetle to the Golf,” said VW Chairman Bernd Pischets-rieder.
“His emphasis on leadership training was part of a strategic shift,” Pischetsrieder said. “To Lotz, change management meant putting humans in the center – customers and employees.”