Check out the numbers in the accompanying table: Volkswagen Group, Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors each sell about 10 million vehicles annually around the world, yet VW has more global employees than Toyota and GM combined.
Clearly, the weak profitability at its VW brand stems from its low productivity. Yet because of the powerful role unions play at Volkswagen, that surplus of workers is unlikely to change anytime soon.
For example, the carmaker's statutes stipulate no plant can be opened or closed -- anywhere in the world -- without the consent of workers represented on its supervisory board. The reasons are rooted in VW's history during the Nazi regime.
In a 2009 newspaper opinion piece, the then head of IG Metall, Germany's influential trade union, wrote: "The means to build the Volkswagen plant were procured from the funds of trade unions seized and expropriated by the Nazis in 1937."
Only by granting wide-ranging rights to VW workers after the war did unions agree not to sue for ownership rights.
"Anyone who acquires shares in this company must be aware of this historic responsibility," wrote the union leader.
The writer was Berthold Huber, who last month was named VW's interim supervisory board chairman following the resignation of Ferdinand Piech.