Bugatti gets new owners, but expect some chateaus and speedboats — and no layoffs, for now

Bugatti will be owned by Volkswagen when the German company takes control of the iconic French brand in April.

The new owner, Volkswagen, will keep some members of the Bugatti family in place, however, while phasing out the traditional hierarchy at the brand: With new leader Wolfgang Bernhard at the wheel, Volkswagen will take over the notoriously private brand and its legendary 16.4-inch Chiron speedboat that’s now the world’s fastest car, as well as the test vehicle that’s been used in 48th-generation Chiron driver’s education.

Bugatti fans can rest easy, though. Although Bernhard, who’s currently running Volkswagen’s commercial vehicles and industrial brands, called the decision to buy the car company “a coup d’etat,” the German marque will retain the spirit of Bugatti when the deal goes through, the company says. Bernhard is an expert at maximizing efficiencies and has pledged to retain the same union culture while making Bugatti more autonomous.

Bernhard and his wife, for example, already live with their Bugatti, but for far less space than a Chiron speedboat needs. The Sandhaus family continues to own the factory in Crete and has promised not to sell it or scrap the 110-year-old Bugatti brand. The Aulnay family, the original founding owners, has brought on veteran engineers to help expand the brand. And the Bugatti Veyron factory, which has attracted over 300,000 visitors, will continue to be visited by visitors.

Bugatti has been in Volkswagen’s hands since 1974. Bernhard’s background as a manufacturer of quality automobiles at Volkswagen really appealed to Bugatti in terms of development.

“Under our reorganization, Bugatti will be handled more like the Volkswagen Passenger Cars company,” Bernhard said in a press release. “Because Volkswagen has a proven track record in manufacturing, markets and cars, we will work together more closely to follow our strategy more closely.”

Bernhard knows how to wring out efficiencies for European automakers such as Volkswagen, which has operations in Europe, China, and more recently the United States. As a managing director of VW from 1988-1992, Bernhard led the company to multiple profit margins while it adapted to deregulation policies, led the company to parts manufacturers’ trade association, and became one of the first European companies to forge an alliance with a Japanese company, Mazda.

“While other companies were struggling, Volkswagen got the thing working,” Bernhard said in a preview.

Bernhard acknowledged that with the new owner, Bugatti will be dependent on VW’s manufacturing and distribution platform.

“But we’ll share the R&D plans of Volkswagen,” he said. “We’ll be able to increase the number of cars. As far as a sales strategy is concerned, as Bugatti has always been one of the most exclusive brands in the world, we’ll be able to defend our reputation as the leader of conspicuous consumption.”

The marriage between Volkswagen and Bugatti created an unwanted distraction at the company last fall as it tried to brush off a takeover effort by India’s Tata Motors.

That all seemed to be a distant memory as Bernhard kicked off Bugatti’s 60th anniversary celebrations in Sicily last week.

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