Volkswagen stands for the “people’s car,” although the Phaeton was anything but that as only a relatively small segment of the market was able to afford the luxobarge developed to take on the Mercedes S-Class. The brainchild of the late Ferdinand Piëch, the flagship sedan ended up being a financial disaster for the company as the car never met the company’s original sales target of 20,000 units per year. It is believed VW lost about €28,101 (about $30,000 in today’s money) per each car it sold, amounting to nearly €2 billion ($2.17B) throughout its life cycle, according to an analysis made by Bernstein Research.
Although the Phaeton was dropped about four years ago, interesting details are still emerging about the high-end sedan produced at the Transparent Factory (Gläserne Manufaktur) in Dresden for 14 years. Top Gear magazine sat down and had a chat with the VW Group’s Chief Designer Klaus Bischoff to learn that the Phaeton was extremely expensive to develop right from the beginning.
Gallery: Volkswagen Phaeton, the history
The former VW Group supremo wanted nothing but the best for his pet project, and when Bischoff showed him a mock-up of the interior, Piëch said: "that’s not enough." That motivated Bischoff to come up with something even better to impress his boss, thinking "next time I get you." That he did as he came back with a more complex interior mock-up, which to this day remains the most expensive car mock-up ever developed by the VW Group.
Bischoff went on to mention they ended up creating a fully functional mock-up of what was to become the Phaeton, with both the exterior and interior replicated down to the last detail. Upon seeing the reworked car mock-up, Piëch said: "ahhhh, now it is right." Bischoff told Top Gear "believe me, that was the utmost compliment you could achieve," adding that working with Piëch was "the experience of a lifetime."
VW had planned to introduce the second generation of its flagship model, but then Dieselgate happened and the project was axed. That said, the company did say back in October 2015 something about coming out with a new Phaeton to serve as a range-topping EV with an “emotional design,” but it remains to be seen whether it’ll happen. Between the Porsche Taycan and Audi E-Tron GT, the VW Group has enough premium electric sedans as it is.