BERLIN — Ferdinand Piech, grandson of the original designer of the Volkswagen Beetle and a towering figure in modern automotive history, has died, his wife, Ursula Piech, said Monday.

Piech’s influence in the industry extended well beyond Volkswagen AG

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  in Wolfsburg, Germany, the company town that grew up in the shadows of the vast auto plant his grandfather built and where Piech transformed a nearly insolvent regional auto maker into a global powerhouse.

“Ferdinand Piech’s life was marked by his passion for the automobile and for the workers,” his wife said in a written statement. “Until the end he was a passionate engineer and auto lover.”

Born in Vienna on April 17, 1937, Piech, died “suddenly and unexpectedly” on Sunday, she Piech said. He was 82. Piech was the son of Louise Porsche, the eldest child of Ferdinand Porsche, and Anton Piech, who kept Porsche’s finances and was an early manager at the Volkswagen plant.

Piech began his career at Porsche — the company founded after World War II and bearing the name of his grandfather — before moving to Audi, where he turned a musty and weathered brand into a technology leader. He then rose to serve as chief executive of Audi parent Volkswagen from 1993 to 2002, when he became chairman of the company. Piech was forced out in the spring of 2015 after unsuccessfully trying to unseat his former protégé Martin Winterkorn, Volkswagen’s CEO at the time. Having lost his influence at Volkswagen, and estranged from family members, Piech then sold his shares in Volkswagen to the family and withdrew from the family business.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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2019-08-26