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September 30, 2020

VW reviewing high performance brands

Volkswagen is reviewing the future of high performance brands Lamborghini, Bugatti and Ducati as part of a broader quest for more economies of scale as it shifts to mass producing electric cars, senior executives have told Reuters.

By Olly Wehring

Volkswagen is reviewing the future of high performance brands Lamborghini, Bugatti and Ducati as part of a broader quest for more economies of scale as it shifts to mass producing electric cars, senior executives have told Reuters.

One executive said the management board and directors would look at the carmaker's strategy at a meeting in November and are working on a new "to do list" as the company tried to more than double its value to EUR200bn (US$235bn).

The review could result in technology partnerships for the high performance sports car and superbike brands, restructuring, or other options up to and including a listing or sale, two executives said.

They said Volkswagen, which also owns VW, Audi, Porsche, Seat and Skoda, is looking at whether it has the resources to develop electric platforms for its smaller brands at a time it is investing billions to transform its more mainstream cars.

Reuters noted the stark choice faced by VW came as chief executive Herbert Diess sought new ways to free up cash to fund its move away from combustion engines after powerful labour leaders blocked a cost cutting drive in Germany.

In an interview with Reuters, Diess declined to comment on the high performance brands individually but acknowledged that Volkswagen, which also has a stable of trucks, needed to reinvent itself for an era of electric and autonomous cars.

"We are constantly looking at our brand portfolio, this is particularly true during the phase of fundamental change in our industry. In view of the market disruption, we must focus and ask ourselves what the transformation means for the individual parts of the group," Diess told Reuters.

"Brands must be measured against new requirements. By electrification, by reach, by digitalisation and connectivity of the vehicle. There is new room for manoeuvre and every brand must find its new place," he said.

VW also needs to free up cash to develop connected and autonomous vehicle technology and new forms of mobility services, Reuters said.

Last year, Volkswagen sold 4,554 Lamborghinis, which start at about $200,000 and cost millions for special editions. It sold 82 Bugattis, which have seven digit price tags, and just over 53,000 Ducati motorbikes.

Diess believes the company's valuation will rise once the market understands how profitable its electric vehicles are but it faces a short term investment crunch after EU lawmakers proposed a 50% cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

He told Reuters the goal of raising market value to EUR200bn by 2025 was still valid.

"We formulated the EUR200bin company valuation as an aspirational target," Diess said.

"Volkswagen is severely undervalued when you look at its technological competence, its global positioning and perhaps also when you see that, compared with the competition, we have the best prerequisites in terms of technology."

VW currently is worth EUR78bn, far below rival Toyota's $187bn valuation, even though it sold more vehicles than the Japanese company last year. Volkswagen sold 10.96m while Toyota came in second with 10.74m.

Analysts have said that's because Volkswagen has more brands, is less efficient and has higher costs. The group had 671,205 employees at the end of 2019, well above the 359,542 Toyota staff at the end of its last financial year.

"The crucial thing now is to manage the transition to electromobility. That is by far the greatest lever for us in this phase," Diess told Reuters. "Individual mobility will change dramatically. Electrification only accounts for 10% to 20% of this change. The big push will come from the increasing intelligence of vehicles."

Reuters noted winning over the VW supervisory board, where workers control half the seats, may be the hardest part.

"The company's strategy is good. It has already foreseen that there will be adjustments here and there," supervisory board chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch told Reuters, referring to some divestments already announced.

Volkswagen has no plans to list Porsche or Audi, and other plans will only get a hearing if they protect jobs in the long run, according to IG Metall, Germany's biggest union.

Its leader, Joerg Hofmann, told Reuters he was not fundamentally opposed to listing, or spinning off divisions.

"We have never opposed plans by a company to fund growth on the stock market," he said. "But if the goal is to break up a company for the sake of getting a higher valuation, or to separate off 'Bad Industry', then we say no," Hofmann said.

After several clashes with VW's powerful labour chief Bernd Osterloh, Diess told Reuters he had changed his approach.

"In the last five years I have learned a lot here. In Wolfsburg we have our own culture and also special power structures. This requires a very integrative management style. With my sometimes confrontational approach, I have reached my limits. I have to recognise that and adjust to it."

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