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Fail of the Century

Fail of the century #24: Volkswagen Phaeton

The Phaeton wasn’t a bad car. In fact, it was a gloriously engineered masterpiece of a car. Conceived by VW boss Ferdinand Piëch as revenge on Mercedes for pinching Golf sales with its 1997 A-Class, the Phaeton was intended not only to be classier than an S-Class, but a veritable quantum leap in the world of understated luxury: the Veyron of comfort.

Piëch defined a stack of insane engineering parameters, including the ability to drive non-stop at 155mph for 24 hours in 50° heat while maintaining a 21° cabin temperature, raising the question of a) on precisely which 4,500-mile stretch of derestricted desert road this might prove useful and b) what one was supposed to do for fuel. Another parameter demanded hidden, silent air conditioning vents, because there’s nothing plutocrats hate more than noisy air.

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Thanks in no small part to a reported $1.4 billion development budget, the engineering team delivered on Piëch’s exacting demands. On release in 2002, the Phaeton was heralded by the world’s media as a triumph. Quantum leap, achieved.

There was, however, just one teeny tiny problem Piëch had failed to foresee: absolutely no one actually wanted to buy a money no object luxury limousine with a Volkswagen badge on the front. Sales were catastrophic. The Phaeton was quietly euthanised, the best-engineered failure in history.

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