Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller says he’s young and fit enough to be a candidate to succeed Martin Winterkorn as head of the Volkswagen Group.
During the Porsche’s annual earnings press conference in Stuttgart today, the newest member of the VW Group’s top management board effectively announced his desire for the job, dismissing a report that he had no interest because he is in his 60s.
“I was misinterpreted as saying I felt myself to be too old for that. I only told the supervisory board members that ... when the 67- or 68-year-old Winterkorn leaves, you have to ask yourself whether a 62-year-old represents a generational change,” he told reporters, in comments that seemed to suggest his candidacy had been discussed.
“Out of that came the interpretation that I was too old -- let me just say I am not too old for anything. I feel great. In principle, I stand ready to take over any assignment,” Mueller said.
Who will replace Winterkorn as CEO is perhaps the biggest question mark surrounding the midterm future VW Group, a company with $216 billion in annual revenue, nearly 600,000 workers and 118 production sites worldwide. Analysts widely expect its dominance in China will help it supplant Toyota this year as the world’s biggest carmaker by vehicle sales.
Winterkorn’s contract expires at the end of next year, but reports have surfaced that he is willing to remain CEO for another two years, at which point goals he set forth in his Strategy 2018 plan will be completed. During VW’s annual news conference March 12, Winterkorn declined to answer any questions about his succession plans.
Unlike rivals Toyota and General Motors, which have relatively young leaders in Akio Toyoda, 58, and Mary Barra, 53, VW Group has been controlled since 2007 by the aging duo of Winterkorn and his 77-year-old boss, Ferdinand Piech, who is both VW Group chairman as well as a major shareholder.
Among the candidates to succeed Winterkorn are incoming VW brand boss Herbert Diess and Audi CEO Rupert Stadler.
Diess, formerly both the head of procurement and development at BMW, will start as VW brand chief in July. Although the 56-year-old executive has yet to work one day at the company and despite the lack of an internal power network in the highly political halls of Wolfsburg, home to VW, Diess is considered to be a strong possibility for the No. 1 job.
Stadler is seen only as a dark horse candidate given he doesn’t have the engineering background considered to be a prerequisite for running Volkswagen. Meanwhile, VW sales boss Christian Klingler has yet to prove himself as a strategist capable of managing all sides of the business from development and procurement to production like VW’s various brand chiefs including Mueller.
When asked if he wanted Winterkorn’s job Mueller said: “Why would I oppose such a task?” He added, however, that the decision was one that would not be made by him but rather by Volkswagen’s 20-person supervisory board.