When Piëch becomes the all-powerful boss of the Volkswagen group, the boy hasn’t had anything to prove for a long time. His reputation preceded him anyway. The man is readily described as particularly stubborn and authoritarian. It must be said that his ascent went without a hitch.
Associated with the development of the Quattro system at Audi, he climbed all the steps before finding himself at the very top of Volkswagen’s organization chart. The group owns Audi, Seat, Skoda, Bentley, Lamborghini, Bugatti, but Piëch wants more. He has an idea in mind.
The best sedan in the world
Did he want to pay homage to his grandfather, father of the first Volkswagen? Show his cousins who he was at war with, his power? We’ll never know.
But Ferdinand Piëch simply wants to release the best sedan in the world, under the Volkswagen logo.
A funny idea when you have brands like Bentley or even Audi in the group, whose customers would surely be more receptive to this kind of vehicle. But we don’t upset the boss.
Particularly ambitious specifications
The brand’s engineers set to work under direct pressure from Ferdinand Piëch, who imposed specifications worthy of a space rocket.
First of all, the Phaeton will have to be able to drive all day at 300 km/h under an outside temperature of 50°C, while maintaining a temperature inside the passenger compartment of 22°C maximum. Completely useless? Yes, especially considering that the Phaeton will be limited to 250 km/h as standard.
Second requirement, the car had to have a torsional rigidity of 37,000 N·m/degree, a value far superior to the best Supercars of the time. The air conditioning or the four-wheel drive system had to be themselves, the best ever produced in the world.
The seats, adjustable in 18 directions, are fully configurable, while the double glazing certainly makes it one of the quietest cars on the market.
Nothing is too good
It was out of the question for Piech to build this masterpiece alongside the brand’s other vehicles. The boss will order the construction of a hyper modern factory, specially dedicated to the Phaeton.
Erected in Dresden, the “Gläserne Manufaktur” is all glass, with a maple parquet floor, and workers in white gloves. The factory is designed to accommodate future customers, who will be able to attend a “wedding ceremony”, by pressing a button to assemble the car’s chassis and body.
A unanimous press
As soon as it was released, the specialized press around the world was rave about this Volkswagen sedan equipped with a W12 petrol and a V10 Diesel, never seen before.
The American magazine Motor Trend names it car of the year, it receives the title of “the safest car”, while Cars and Drivers calls the Phaeton “everything a car should be”.
Rare are the voices to raise against its excessive family resemblance with the Passat, or on its Volkswagen logo which could put off a clientele from Mercedes-Benz or BMW.
A costly failure
Unfortunately, from the first weeks of marketing, it’s a cold shower. The Phaeton does not sell and the ultra modern factory is idling. Despite the Chinese market, the large sedan is not successful.
Premium customers attach great importance to the image and image of their car. Difficult for them to put 100,000€ or more in a Volkswagen, literally “People’s car”.
It is also criticized for a bland style, comparable to a simple Passat at €30,000. With a development cost of 1.3 billion euros, it’s a disaster for the brand.
An effort that will not be in vain
Ferdinand Piëch, refusing to admit defeat, will continue to produce it until the end of his reign. In April 2015, he resigned from the group’s supervisory board. One of the first decisions of his successor will be to put an end to the career of this costly caprice.
Finally the Phaeton will have benefited the group by serving as a basis for the Bentley Continental GT and Flying Spur. The English ones use the same architecture, the same engine, the same all-wheel drive, the seat adjustments and all the electronics of the Phaeton. Volkswagen’s efforts will not have been in vain.