There's a joke making the rounds at Volkswagen Group headquarters in Wolfsburg: If someone uses the phrase "Audi executives," another person says, "Are there still Audi executives?" -- and gets lots of laughs.
Audi's seven-member management board has only one dyed-in-the-wool Audi person: manufacturing chief Frank Dreves, who has worked there 30 years, except for a brief stint at VW's Seat subsidiary. The other board members earned their stripes in the far reaches of the VW Group or outside of it. Last Monday was the first day at work for three senior Audi execs: development chief Wolfgang Duerheimer; sales boss Luca de Meo and Bernd Marten, the head of purchasing. Audi insiders tell sister publication Automobilwoche that the new board members are seen as outsiders sent in by VW.
So is Audi's legacy of independence -- part of the brand's self-image -- under attack by the suits in Wolfsburg?
Independence has always been part of the Audi legend -- for example, the famous tale of how the first Audi 100 was developed in secret three decades ago and subsequently assured the survival of the brand. Other off-the-books projects cropped up over the years, differentiating Audi from VW. But that independent streak may have gone too far for the Wolfsburg bosses.
And who was the maverick that led that secret Audi 100 program three decades ago? VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech.