The term Volkswagen means “people’s car” in
German, and that is mostly what
the brand sells stylish, well engineered
cars that are still relatively
Volkswagen usually leaves the task of
selling pricey sports cars, luxury
rides and super cars to its sister
brands such as Porsche, Audi and
But there was at least one time Volkswagen
tried to elbow its way into the
luxury car market and it failed
miserably, especially in the United
The Volkswagen Phaeton was, by most accounts,
a marvelous car, but it was
In 2004, pricing in the U.S.
started at sixty four thousand six
hundred dollars for the version with
the eight cylinder engine.
A 12 cylinder version started at
around eighty three thousand five hundred
It was widely reported to be a pet
project of Ferdinand Piëch, a scion of
Volkswagen’s founding Porsche Piëch family
and a longtime Volkswagen Group
executive who has been regarded as
very much a larger than life
personality in the automotive world.
Piëch had held key roles at Porsche
and Audi and over the years
demonstrated a taste for high
quality and high priced cars.
He was largely behind Volkswagen’s acquisition
of French super car maker
Bugatti, British luxury brand Bentley and
the Italian super car maker
With the fate on, Piëch wanted to
design a vehicle that would be nothing
less than the best car in the world,
and he wanted it to bear the
The Phaeton was meant to lift Volkswagen
to the level of luxury German car
makers such as Mercedes Benz and BMW.
The problem was, simply, that U.S.
customers did not want to spend sixty
five thousand dollars or more on a
The name itself of the people’s car
implies that it’s supposed to be
something for the masses and yet here he
was trying to create a car under
that brand to compete
directly with Mercedes Benz.
And it just it was a car that just
never really fit the brand as good as it
was. And it did a little better in Europe
for a time than it ever did here
and never, ever sold to any
in any huge numbers here.
To be fair, the Phaeton was
said to be very well built.
It had all sorts of luxury features,
many of which were quite advanced for
the time and some of
which are still rare.
For example, the car had a dehumidifier
in the cabin to prevent the windows
Piëch, who had a background in
engineering, had reportedly handed down a
mostly secret list
of 10 specifications.
Many of his own engineers said
would be impossible to meet.
One publicized spec insisted that the car
be capable of driving 186 miles
per hour all day in one hundred
twenty two degree weather and still
maintain an internal temperature of
seventy one point six degrees
Reviewers acknowledged the craftsmanship and
quality of materials in the
car. The interior is solidly built
using the finest leather and wood.
Volkswagen could find.
Even the production of
the car sounded premium.
It was built in Volkswagen’s transparent
factory, a glass walled plant with
hardwood floors that also functions
as a kind of museum.
Volkswagen uses to showcase
its latest innovations.
The Phaeton shared the production line
with the Bentley Continental, a car
with which the Phaeton
also shared a chassis.
But Volkswagen sold only three thousand
three hundred fifty four fattens in
the United States, and the company
pulled the car from the U.S.
and just a few years.
Although sales were stronger in Europe
and China, it remains one of
After all, the brand was meant to
bring style and engineering to the
masses. The car was also up
against entrenched competitors from BMW,
Mercedes and even Volkswagen’s
own Audi brand.
Not that it stood much of a chance.
The fate hands best year in the U.S.
was in 2004 when it sold one
thousand nine hundred thirty nine units.
That same year, Audi sold five thousand
nine hundred forty three of its
full size eight sedans.
BMW sold sixteen thousand one hundred
fifty five seven series sedans.
Mercedes sold twenty thousand four hundred
sixty S-classes and Lexus sold
thirty two thousand three hundred seventy
three full size LS cars.
That same year.
Of course, it is understandable that
manufacturers want to go upmarket and
there are cars today that well-made as
they maybe sometimes seem to sit a
bit awkwardly with their stable mates to
many of those who follow the
But anyone who wants to buy a
2004 12 cylinder luxury Volkswagen sedan can
now have a on for
less than twelve thousand dollars.