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Volkswagen - History 6

Now is the time, to speak about Rudolf Leiding (the boss at VW from 1971 - 1975) who, just in time, presented the decision, of which direction VW was to take. As a primary school scholar and motor mechanic journeyman he went through many departments at VW and Audi and worked his way up. He had quite a reputation as a fireman, e.g., he successfully put out fires in the early days at Audi and at VW do Brasil. He would decide which direction was to be taken, but would never harvest the fruits of his efforts, because in the end, he would fail through conflicts with the worker's representatives.

The rescuer had to be someone who could roll up his sleeves, Rudolf Leiding had this quality, he proved this by stopping the very unfortunate Porsche mid-engine project, the EA 299 just before it's introduction. In his autobiography, Ferdinand Piech describes, with both relish and horror, how a Leopard-tank effectively flattened the row of cars. Actually, there was a hard and fast rule, that all vehicles of this type were to be destroyed in this manner, oddly enough, one specimen survived (see above picture). From this point onwards they concentrated their efforts more on the Audi than on the Porsche.

This could be distinctly seen in the case of the new 1973 Passat, which only differed from the Audi 80 through it's big tailgate. This was solved far better in the new 1974 Golf, which almost wrote designing history through the expert co-operation with Giugiaro. Shortly before, the new Scirocco had arrived, whose angular bodywork did not do it justice. Indeed, this was the design of the time. The Polo, which never varied from the Audi 50, because no money was available, rounded off the series. Fear and hope, a great deal of innovation, indeed, not always outstanding quality.

Germany followed the career of the Golf very closely. Thus, the developers and constructors had to explain in detail, just what they were undertaking to iron out the various defects in the new Golf. Due to this, the car underwent a great deal of model-refreshing. The same as the Beetle once did, shortly after the war it was said that it had as many errors, as a dog has fleas. The last, and decisive problem, the rusting, would only be solved with the appearance of the Golf 2. The Golf 1 also carried on making history through the appearance of the Diesel-, the GTI- and the Cabriolet-version.

It was only then that the work of the VW-designers actually started. In an unprecedented show of strength, they had to give the Audi-similar models a character of their own. This in fact, succeeded very well, just have a look at the successors of the first polo's and Passat's. The latter managed, with their estate-car, to become a real public favourite. This had a certain amount of tradition at VW from the era of the Type-3 and Type-4, here however, it was also able to convince the buyers through it's particular design.

After the break-off design strategy, the absolutely necessary thrust in quality improvement was started. The Golf 2 was, by no means, more attractive than its predecessor, however e.g., through the internal cavity-protection using wax, was far superior. With this model, the particularly advanced production methods were also introduced, e.g., in the famous building No. 54. It is said that, cetrtain robotic procedures have been done away with, nonetheless, the factory, partly deserted of humans, was at least in high-wage countries, pretty far advanced.

The giant was on the search for it's identity. Because of it's main subsiduary Audi, after 1978 it was called the VAG (Volkswagen joint stock company), this however, never really managed to assert itself. As far as technology was concerned, it learned, perhaps a little faster and with more lasting effect than the others, from the crude-oil price-crisis. It is quite amazing, how the Diesel-novice advanced to being the leading manufacturer in this field. However, the relationship between the subsidiary Audi and the mother concern, despite the adoption of the Audi-technology, remained tense.

The creation of the Audi 100 was still difficult, even under Nordhoff, whose developments were carried out by the engineer Ludwig Kraus and his team even though it was in fact forbidden. There was a great deal of fear, whether the good result would find favour in the eyes of the authoritarian boss. Actually the subsidiary, Audi always only had a chance when the mother company was having a hard time. Thus, after Toni Schmücker, Carl Hahn (1982 - 1993) managed the VW-factory. He had made a name for himself, particularly through his USA sales results, he bought Seat and Skoda and laid the, right now, important basis in China.

However, the factory was going through a bad period. The overheads that it was carrying were too high, it no longer knew what what was going on in the VW-factory in Mexiko or at Seat. Daniel Goeudevert, who changed from Ford to VW, was being talked about as the successor, while the boss at Audi, Ferdinand Piech, who was Ferdinand Porsche's grandson, was not completely accepted by Hahn. The path only became clear for Piech in 1972, at the time of the 'restoration case of VW'. He had to stand up to Goudevert alone. Whatever the case may be, he took on a difficult inheritance, which demanded similarly drastic cut-backs, like those made at the time of Leiding.

In the meantime, Audi, under the leadership of Piech and the, this time fitting slogan of 'Advantage through Technology' had gone through quite a good deal of development. For many years one had been investing in the direct-injection principle, which, after all, had been around in trucks for a long time, until, for the most part, this was taken over by the mother company. Let's not forget the Quattro-technology, which turned the, previously only a niche-product 'Quattro', into a household name. 'Space Frame' was the magic word for the wholly aluminium car-body of the A8 and a little later also the A2, whereby, the restraint-system 'Procon ten', the aerodynamic line of the larger saloons and the five-cylinder in-line petrol engine never produced the desired success.

Indeed, Ferdinand Piech rose to be chairman of the board of directors, whose term of office could be divided into two parts, tidying up and taking off. He had always admired the Japanese culture and with it, 'kaizen' or "change for the better". Right now, the Japanese were roughing up both the American- and the European markets. The managers were reverently travelling eastwards, to learn about the production methods there, Piech attempted, finally with success, to apply them somewhat more directly.

Of course, this didn't happen overnight. First of all, there was the affair with Ignacio Lopez, the chief buyer at GM, who, after much coming and going, moved to VW with a larger team, which brought the factory the accusation of conducting industrial espionage. The Americans were furious, probably also because of the severed, close relationship between Lopez and GM-boss Jack Smith. This certainly damaged VW's chances on the American market, in the end they accepted a 100 million dollar fine and committed themselves to make purchases at GM to the tune of 1 billion dollars. Piech personally paid DM 400.000, in spite of the lack of proof of guilt. 02/19

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