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Mon, Jul 20, 2009 - Page 10 News List

Porsche board meeting to mull Qatar offer

AFP , FRANKFURT, GERMANY

Embattled Porsche chief executive officer Wendelin Wiedeking is gearing up for one of his toughest board meetings on Thursday, when the debt-laden sports car maker’s fate could take a decisive turn.

An extraordinary meeting of the Porsche supervisory board is to study an offer by the state-owned Qatar Investment Authority for a stake in the company along with Volkswagen (VW) stock options owned by Porsche.

VW, meanwhile, has made a counter-offer to buy almost half of the shares in Porsche, in which case Wiedeking could be left standing by the side of the road.

Media reports have said Qatar was prepared to pay up to 7 billion euros (US$9.9 billion) for the stakes, while VW’s bid is estimated to be worth around 4 billion euros.

Both Porsche and VW, which is holding its own supervisory board meeting the same day in Porsche’s hometown of Stuttgart, Germany, want to create an integrated auto group. The question is who will be behind the wheel.

Qatar and creditor banks are keen meanwhile for Porsche and VW to end their epic boardroom battle.

Just a few months ago, it looked like Wiedeking might pull off an audacious plan to take over VW after building up a stake of almost 51 percent in Europe’s biggest car maker.

His strategy backfired against a backdrop of collapsing global car markets and tighter credit conditions, and Wiedeking now sits in an ejector seat.

After turning Porsche around in the 1990s, he has driven it into one of the biggest dramas in its more than 60-year history.

“I don’t think we have had a comparable situation in the history of the German economy,” said German auto expert Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, reportedly close to Wiedeking.

In his gamble to buy VW, Wiedeking used tactics that made Porsche look more like a hedge fund than a car manufacturer and while the good times rolled it made more money through financial transactions than by selling its 911 sports cars and other models.

Complex VW stock options earned Porsche billions as the shares soared in value to more than 1,000 euros at their peak, but on Friday they closed just below 250 euros.

Porsche ended up 9 billion euros in debt and shelved plans to take its VW stake higher.

An initial target of 75 percent would have given Porsche access to VW’s coveted cash reserves.

VW and its supervisory board chief Ferdinand Piech have now tried to turn the tables on Porsche with a counter-offer.

Piech, a grandson of Porsche founder Ferdinand Porsche, is also a major Porsche shareholder, but in a sign of how heated the debate has grown, Dudenhoeffer said the Porsche family “knows they would destroy the heritage of Ferry Porsche if they agree to Piech’s plan.”

Ferdinand (Ferry) Porsche was the founder’s son, but auto analysts say his determination to preserve Porsche’s independence would already be laid low by the sale of a minority blocking stake to Qatar.

Meanwhile, Wiedeking says he has no plans to step down.

“Why should I resign when I have a contract that suits me?” Wiedeking asked reporters on Thursday at a ceremony marking the centenary of VW’s Audi unit as media speculation about his future swirled.

Wiedeking, 56 and an engineer by training, took the top position at Porsche in 1993, when the automobile maker was in dire financial straits.

He turned Porsche around, but 16 years later the group, which is owned by the Porsche and Piech families, is once again fighting to remain independent.

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