Russia ties stall Wolf"s entry on to Porsche board

U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Russia mean Volkswagen Group’s majority owner, Porsche Automobil Holding SE, will have to do without without a veteran auto executive on its supervisory board initially.

Austrian automotive executive Siegfried Wolf, 60, will postpone joining the new, expanded board on the investment company that controls more than half the votes in the VW Group. Wolf cited risks related to his role as chairman of Russian van maker and contract manufacturer GAZ Group.

GAZ and its billionaire owner, Oleg Deripaska, were targeted by the U.S. government for economic sanctions in April, along with a handful of other Russian oligarchs including one of the wealthiest, Viktor Vekselberg.

“In the interest of Porsche SE, [Wolf] wants to wait until the issue of his mandate at GAZ can be cleared before assuming his new assignment on the supervisory board,” Porsche said in a statement.

A spokesman said the seat would remain vacant in the meantime.

Porsche SE had planned to expand its board to 10 from six, including three members from the fourth generation of the Porsche family following a vote at the company"s annual general meeting of shareholders today.

The vote was a foregone conclusion since only Porsche and Piech family members own voting stock. Wolf would have been the only auto executive on Porsche SE"s supervisory board.

In an interview with Automotive News Europe sister publication Automobilwoche, the family’s patriarch and chairman of Porsche SE, Wolfgang Porsche, said he was glad that the trio of family members would be joining the supervisory board since it should help reduce friction between the Porsche and Piech clans.

Former Magna boss

Formerly co-CEO of Magna International, Wolf is perhaps best known for his attempt to acquire former General Motors brands Opel and Vauxhall in 2009 after their parent had filed for U.S. bankruptcy protection.

Magna was expected to evenly split a 55 percent majority stake in Opel with Russia’s Sberbank while GM would retain a minority holding. Deripaska’s GAZ unit would be the silent partner in the deal, as Moscow had hoped to ensure a future for the Russian auto industry. That deal never happened as GM decided to retain Opel and Vauxhall, only to sell the brands to French rival PSA Group last year.

Wolf was rewarded for his efforts with Opel a year later, leaving Magna in November 2010 to join Deripaska’s holding company Basic Element. Here he took over as chairman of its automotive subsidiary GAZ, Russia"s largest van maker, which is best known for its GAZelle light commercial vehicle.

Porsche SE isn’t the only one that might be a victim of collateral damage from the sanctions. New VW Group CEO Herbert Diess said last month on his very first day running the company that he was “naturally concerned” by news that GAZ was targeted by U.S. officials.

GAZ has assembled the VW Jetta, Skoda Octavia and Yeti models at its plant in Nizhny Novgorod since 2011. Earlier this year the Skoda Kodiaq was added to the facility. The plant also makes the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.

“We’re closely following the events there and should it really come to sanctions against GAZ Group we would naturally have to review our business ties,” Diess told reporters.