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Opinion

Opinion: Winterkorn scores a victory at VW - for now

Martin Winterkorn is set to remain head of Volkswagen, despite last week's public rebuke from patriarch Ferdinand Piëch. But DW's Henrik Böhme has his doubts this will be good for Germany's largest carmaker.

I admit it: This surprised me. Martin Winterkorn will remain head of the Volkswagen group, and his contract will even be extended. So his trip to Salzburg on Thursday (16.04.2015) worked out well for him.

Barely a week after supervisory board chairman Ferdinand Piëch had publicly withdrawn his support from him, the company's top management gave Winterkorn its backing - in Austria, of all places, the stronghold of the Piëch and Porsche families, the company's biggest shareholders.

Winterkorn still had to endure a defeat for the Wolfsburg football club in the evening, but by then he knew he had won the battle for his job. That might have made it a bit more bearable.

Peace for our time

This means there will be peace, at least for the moment. Even though the leadership crisis smoldered only a few days, the company's image has already taken a hit. And that also applies to Winterkorn himself. He enjoys broad support in the workforce, but on the management level Volkswagen still remains a snake pit.

Need an example? This time, mighty works council boss Bernd Osterloh stood demonstratively behind the CEO. But not long ago he outflanked Winterkorn in his own way: As Winterkorn presented his five-billion savings package, Osterloh put forward a 400-page document as an alternative. So it goes.

Watch your back

Of course, all those who reckoned they had a chance to take Winterkorn's place at the top of the table are now lying in wait for him to trip up. Granted, the executive chairmanship of a group with 600,000 people and sales almost equal to the economic output of Finland is no picnic. But with an annual salary of nearly 16 million euros ($17 million), you can get comfortable lying on a bed of nails.

And one very important question remains: What now for Ferdinand Piëch? Winterkorn is his protégé. Motor oil flows through their veins. But now Piëch wanted him gone, and quickly - the fate of many a top manager.

At first glance, Piëch is the loser. But I'm sure he has something up his sleeve - and we still don't know what it is. A departure from the automotive stage like this? With an ignominious defeat? Never. No. There will be something else.

The peace between Wolfsburg and Salzburg is deceptive. The fuse is smoldering. The company urgently needs a new structure. Piëch's rebuke of Winterkorn was only the first move in the major restructuring the old patriarch still wants to bring about. But are such strange methods really what it takes? I have my doubts.