Volkswagen Group is distributing more than 3.27 billion euros to investors for the 2019 calendar year. About 1 billion euros will go to the Porsches and Piechs, whose holding company has just increased its stake in the automaker to 53.3 percent.
In normal circumstances, such long-term anchor investors are regarded as important for stability and protection from hostile shareholders, speculators or shaky hands who might dump their holdings when times are hard.
The Porsche-Piech and Quandt families are not usually in the spotlight. That's now changed and anger against them is building.
"With ownership comes responsibility," tweeted former German politician Christopher Lauer, citing a phrase from the country's constitution. “You cannot hold more than 40 percent of BMW, have a net worth of circa 38 billion euros, rake in 9 billion euros worth of dividends from BMW over 10 years and then expect the state to come save you.”
Opponents are organizing under the hashtag #Abfckpraemie on social media.
VW Group CEO Herbert Diess defended the automaker's support for a stimulus program for new-car sales and the automaker's use of state aid for worker salaries even as it still plans to offer shareholders a dividend for the 2019 calendar year.
"We had one of the most successful years in the history of Volkswagen," Diess told the German public broadcaster ARD. The dividend payout was a pledge to shareholders and "you have to carefully consider whether to go back on such a promise," he said.
BMW CEO Oliver Zipse said dividends are being criticized because the coronavirus pandemic affects every part of society unlike the 2008-09 Great Recession. "It is very difficult to explain to the public why you specifically only support one industry,” he told analysts during the company's first-quarter earnings call.
'Very slow' U.S. recovery
Separately, BMW on Thursday said China sales of luxury passenger cars rebounded in April but the automaker cautioned that other markets including the United States will be "very slow" to recover from the corona pandemic.
Earlier this month BMW lowered its profit expectations for its automotive and motorcycles divisions, citing worse-than-expected demand which would deteriorate in the second quarter.
"There is at least a glimmer of hope coming from China," Zipse said at the meeting.
"Unfortunately, our biggest single market is only of limited use as a blueprint for development in other markets."
After China sales fell 88 percent in February 2020, deliveries rose 14 percent in April, thanks to pent-up demand in a market where vehicle ownership is relatively low by global standards, BMW said.
"Economies in Europe have been affected to varying degrees by the pandemic, for instance. Demand for cars in countries like Spain, Italy and the UK will probably be very slow to recover. The same applies to the U.S.," Zipse said.
BMW is gradually ramping up production and last week reopened its factory in Goodwood, England, a plant in Spartanburg, S.C., and a motorcycle assembly factory in Berlin.
This week BMW is resuming production in Dingolfing, Bavaria, and next Monday the carmaker will resume work at its German plants in Munich, Regensburg and Leipzig, as well as facilities in Oxford, England, Rosslyn, South Africa and San Luis Potosí in Mexico, BMW said.
Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report