The Phaeton preview took the shape of a late 1990s Porsche Panamera with Audi TT-esque taillights.
Name: Volkswagen Concept D
Debuted: 1999 Frankfurt Motor Show
Specs: V10 turbodiesel engine with 313 horsepower and 750 Newton-meters (553 pound-feet) of torque, six-speed Tiptronic gearbox, 4Motion all-wheel drive, air suspension (with adaptive damping)
Why We Remember It Now:
Because it served as a preview for what was to become one of the biggest money pits for the entire Volkswagen Group.
Ah, the Phaeton! A pet project of former VW chairman Ferdinand Piech, the fullsize luxury sedan never actually managed to meet the company’s ambitious sales target of 20,000 units per year. The result of an investment exceeding a whopping $1 billion, the defunct flagship from Wolfsburg was sold at a great loss based on a study conducted some years ago by automotive analyst Sanford C Bernstein. The data obtained showed VW incurred costs of $38,252 for each Phaeton put together at the fancy Transparent Factory in Dresden, Germany inaugurated back in 2002 when production of the luxobarge commenced.
But before the Phaeton, VW had this. The Concept D unveiled in 1999 wasn’t a traditional sedan as it took the shape of a sportier five-door liftback with a pair of Audi TT-esque taillights. Not only does it make us immediately think of the Porsche Panamera’s shape, but we’re also seeing great similarities with the Bugatti 16C Galibier concept (pictured below) unveiled a decade later.
The four-seater, five-meter Concept D was envisioned with a torquey V10 TDI, which went on to power the road-going Phaeton and was offered alongside plenty of other engines, including mighty W12. It had all the high-tech goodies available back then, including a silky smooth air suspension, bi-xenon headlights, electrically adjustable seats, and a reversing camera hiding behind the VW logo at the back. In 2001, the Concept D evolved to become the D1 (pictured below) and that one looked essentially the same as the production-ready Phaeton.
As a reminder, the Phaeton was discontinued in March 2016 after demand in China fell and production was reduced to fewer than 10 cars per day. There are signs of a spiritual successor in the form of a pure electric model previewed by the recently unveiled I.D. Vizzion expected to see the light of production day by 2022.
With the Phaeton gone, the next-generation Touareg debuting on Friday will serve as the company’s flagship model in Europe whereas in the United States that role has been reserved to the Arteon. In China, the range-topping VW is the Phideon, a big sedan positioned above the Passat developed to fill in the gap created after the Phaeton's demise.