Carl Horst Hahn died on January 14, 2023 in Wolfsburg at the age of 96. Whether as Chairman of the Management Board of Volkswagen AG or as a member of the Supervisory Board of many national and international companies, Carl Hahn was a leading European entrepreneur . Although he has played a major role in the Volkswagen Group and its suppliers, he has also shown great humanity in assuming his social responsibilities for a long time.
Oliver Blume, Chairman of the Board of Management of Volkswagen, paid tribute to Carl Hahn: “Carl Hahn was a great visionary, endowed with an extraordinary personality. For forty years he laid many milestones in the development of Volkswagen, thus laying the foundations for the current success of the company. So, in the United States United States, the Beetle became an emblematic model. When he was responsible for sales at the Management Board, he played a leading role in the creation of the premium brand Audi, and in a way, he became one of fathers of the Golf generation. As the head of the Board of Management, he not only made Volkswagen an international group with many strong brands, but above all he showed exceptional strategic vision by engaging with China. After the reunification of Germany, it was under his watch that our Saxon VW site became an exemplary factory. Volkswagen AG and Wolfsburg owe a great deal to Carl Hahn and share his pain as his family. Carl Hahn is, always has been, and always will be an integral part of the Volkswagen family. »
Carl Horst Hahn was born on July 1, 1926 in Chemnitz, into a family of Catholic industrialists. His father played a major role in making DKW the world’s leading motorcycle manufacturer and co-founded the Auto Union consortium in 1932. Enlisted as a private, Carl Hahn finished the war unscathed and began studying economics in Germany, Switzerland and England as well as politics. study science in France. In 1952, he earned a doctorate in Bern.
At the end of 1954, at the age of 28, Carl Hahn joined Volkswagenwerk GmbH as assistant to the managing director, Heinrich Nordhoff. It was the latter that sent a young graduate to the United States in 1959 to build Volkswagen of America there. By setting up an exemplary commercial structure and relying on a revolutionary marketing concept for that time, Carl Hahn managed to sell more than 650,000 copies of the Beetle in the American market.
In 1964, on the strength of this American success, Carl Hahn returned to Wolfsburg to join the Board of Management of Volkswagen, where he oversaw worldwide sales at the age of 38. In the same year, Volkswagen bought Auto Union from Daimler-Benz. Carl Hahn then imposed a two-brand strategy: in 1967, DKW Auto Union became the Audi brand, with its own range of products and an independent commercial structure.
In 1972 Carl Hahn took over as CEO of Continental AG before returning to Wolfsburg in 1982 as Chairman of the Management Board of Volkswagen AG. His visionary strategic decisions and his entrepreneurial intuition allowed him to turn Volkswagen into a world-class manufacturer.
Shortly after his arrival at the head of the Management Board, Volkswagen made an exclusive partnership with the Spanish manufacturer SEAT, which notably provides for the transfer of production of the Polo and Passat models to Spain. This decision leads to an increase in the number of Golfs produced in Wolfsburg and allows the Volkswagen group to return to profitability and lead the European manufacturers. When SEAT was acquired in 1986, Volkswagen acquired a profitable new brand. A few years later, Carl Hahn also succeeded in adding the Czech brand Škoda to the group and making Volkswagen the market leader in Central Europe after the fall of communism.
A convinced European, Carl Hahn pursued a strategy of systematic globalization throughout his tenure at the head of Volkswagen, relying especially on the Chinese market where he had been interested since his arrival as Chairman of Management Board. So Carl Hahn identified the potential of China before all of its competitors, and from 1983, Volkswagen tried the Santana assembly in Shanghai. About a year later, Volkswagen signed a joint venture agreement with the Chinese government and laid the foundation for a car factory in Shanghai. The second joint venture was established in 1991 in Changchun, with the FAW company, which allowed Audi models to take a position in the premium segments.
Saxony has always held a special place in the heart of this Chemnitz native. Since his childhood, Carl Hahn has been familiar with the automotive tradition of the region and is convinced that it has many opportunities. After the fall of the Wall, he was one of the first to invest in a factory in the region by setting up Volkswagen in Zwickau. The first electric vehicle assembly plant in Europe, the Zwickau site is now a showcase for the brand’s strategy in the transition to electromobility and an industry flagship.
Carl Hahn left his mark on Volkswagen strategy for forty years. At the end of 1992, he handed over the chairmanship of the Group Management Board to Ferdinand Piëch, then CEO of Audi, and joined the Group Supervisory Board, where he was a member until June 1997. In love with a cosmopolitan Europe, Carl However, Hahn does not remain inactive in retirement, and continues his activities within a large number of supervisory boards as well as an honorary member of the supervisory boards of Audi, Seat and Skoda.
Not content with his entrepreneurial success, Carl Hahn was involved in many cultural and social fields. So he was the originator of the creation of the Wolfsburg art museum, which operates with private funding. He is also a member of the curatoriums and directors of the Antonius Holling Stiftung, the Ilsenburg Abbey Foundation (Stiftung Kloster Ilsenburg) and the German branch of the Mayo Clinic Foundation as well as the Foundation Board of the Volksbank BraWo Stiftung. In 2006, he created with his wife, who died in 2013, the foundation that bears their name (Carl and Marisa Hahn Foundation), which provides assistance to populations in need and funds educational projects for young, a place where Carl Hahn has. always giving importance to his country.
Honorary professor at the West Saxon University of Zwickau (Westsächsische Hochschule Zwickau) and at the State University of Civil Engineering, Transport and Architecture of Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) within the Faculty of Software Engineering, he also served on the board of trustees of the Lauder Institute of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the international board of trustees of the Salk Institute in California, and the Instituto de Empresa in Madrid, Spain. The practical school of economics, administration and health in Wolfsburg has been named after him since 2014. He also gave his name to the Saxony International School Carl Hahn, which brings together 17 free schools with around 2,500 students.