The future of the vw brand is at stake.” When Thomas Schäfer, the mass-market marque’s newish boss, gave a presentation to his management team in early July, he did not sugarcoat its problems. High costs, falling demand, growing competition—the list goes on. “The roof is on fire,” he warned, echoing one of the most noted alarm calls in recent business history—from Stephen Elop, who in 2011 compared his company to a “burning platform” shortly after taking the helm at Nokia, then the world’s largest maker of mobile phones.
In the case of Nokia, the wake-up call did not help. A few years later the firm was dismantled and its mobile-phone business sold to Microsoft, which has since closed it down. Could mighty vw, its mightier parent group, which owns nine other brands, or even Germany’s mightiest industry as a whole really suffer a similar fate? And if it did, what would that mean for Europe’s biggest economy?