When we last met Wolfgang Dürheimer in 2012, Forbes called him the ‘next king of Volkswagen’, a rising star at the world’s second-largest automaker. Having led VW’s Porsche R&D to unimaginable heights—he developed and launched that fountain of profit, the Cayenne—he was moved to sister company Bentley in 2010 to redraw the business plan amid the Great Recession and two years of collapsing sales and over $400 million in losses.
“I joined Bentley at a time where I could make my mark,” the 56-year-old CEO says now. Confident in future growth, Dürheimer had bold plans that included development of an extravagant new flagship—the $300,000 Mulsanne—and by 2011, Bentley returned to profit, just barely.
For his efforts, Dürheimer was named head of Audi R&D—in short, ‘chief engineer’. Then his career went into a spinout. A culture clash with Audi lifers and a proposed recasting of Audi’s mission ended Dürheimer’s tenure after nine months.
Following a short time in what the Japanese call a ‘window job’— watching over VW Motorsport—Dürheimer was back at Bentley.
Such is life at VW these days. Dürheimer’s drama is just a small part in the Wagnerian Ring Cycle playing out at the automaker, where Ferdinand Piëch, the mercurial chairman of Volkswagen, was recently ousted in a showdown with his presumed successor, Martin Winterkorn. When Piëch publicly humiliated Winterkorn in March, saying he wasn’t up to the task of running the company long term, Winterkorn got the backing of the automaker’s top-level committee and beat his former boss for control of the company. By late April, Piëch was gone.
Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6 concept
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(This story appears in the 12 June, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)