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Monday, 10 September, 2001, 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK
Ford 'prepares bid' for VW
Volkswagen chairman Ferdinand Piech
Mr Piech is due to step down in April next year
The complicated complicated ownership structure that has helped keep Volkswagen out of predators' hands could be coming under attack

In an interview with German news magazine Der Spiegel published on 10 August, VW chairman Ferdinand Piech said he had received "concrete indications" that Ford is interested in buying his company.

The "indications" date back as much as a year, Mr Piech said.

To forestall such a possibility, the German state of Lower Saxony, where the company is based, has an 18.6% stake in the car maker.

"Poison pill"

The company's statutes prevent any single shareholder taking more than 20% of the voting rights.

The existence of the "poison pill" stake - so called because it could spell doom for any planned hostile take-over - is the subject of interest from the European Commission, on the grounds that it could be a hindrance to the free flow of capital.

A group of German investors has complained to Brussels in the hope of sparking a wider official investigation.

You scratch my back...

In the same issue as the interview with Mr Piech, Der Spiegel said the car company is working on cross-shareholdings with Deutsche Post and ThyssenKrupp.

In the wake of the massive buyout of Mannesmann by Vodafone in 1999 - the first successful hostile take-over in German corporate history - all three firms are keen to keep the risk of a hostile takeover to a minimum.

While Mr Piech would not confirm the plan, he nonetheless called it a "good idea" - although he said any such activity would take a long time to set up.

Stepping down

Mr Piech has become a legend in Germany. He himself has been chairman of Volkswagen since 1993 and his grandfather - Dr Ferdinand Porsche - was one of the company's early leaders.

He is standing down in April 2002 to be replaced by Bernd Pischetsrieder, the former boss of rival car maker BMW.

The appointment has generated some controversy since Mr Pischetsrieder, when at BMW, presided over a bungled investment in British manufacturer Rover.

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