The troubles and subsequent changes at Volkswagen AG have led to an unforeseen departure.
Walter de’ Silva, overall head of the entire group’s stylistic development and one of the most powerful men in this line of business, has chosen take early retirement, merely a few weeks after having become appointed president of Italdesign, Audi’s semi-independent design branch. The scene appeared to have been set for de’ Silva’s stepping aside over the next year or so. His post at Italdesign could be interpreted as a slightly more hands-on honorary post than usual, in a move clearly aimed at keeping him close to the VAG fold. This early retirement, on the other hand, can easily be interpreted as a gesture of dissatisfaction with the new management, led by Matthias Müller, and its policies.
German news outlets are reporting that Müller and his staff are pursuing different ways to cut costs, at the same time as they are trying to make some sense of the ever-growing emissions scandal. Reportedly among said cuts is not just an abolishment of VAG group’s lavish pre-motor show parties (which are claimed to cost the company about €25 million per annum), but also a focus on increasing the various styling departments’ efficiency.
This move seems to have sparked de’ Silva’s ire and may be the major reason behind his move. Other motivations can only be guessed at, such as personal antipathy (his rapport with Müller is unknown) or a sense of loyalty to his patron, Martin Winterkorn, who took him to Wolfsburg with him when he was appointed VAG CEO in 2007. Yet in the latter case, it would at least appear awkward that he did not leave his post in the immediate wake of Winterkorn’s dismissal.
Who will succeed de’ Silva and in what capacity remains the subject of debates. Some sources report that Müller actually considers the post of group styling director itself to be superfluous and any authority above each brand’s styling bosses unnecessary. But in case that turns out to be incorrect, we can expect either Klaus Bischoff, styling director at VW brand (and one of the protagonists of ‘Steering Column Gate’, a – very minor – VAG scandal of yore), or Michael Mauer, who holds the same post at Porsche (and Müller’s own trusted collaborator), to take over.
Expect an appraisal of de’ Silva’s career in general and his work at VAG in particular to be published at DTW in the near future.