The Phaeton Had the Most Expensive Interior Mock-Up in VW History

The fact that the Phaeton was an expensive folly that showed the best and worst of Volkswagen at the time is, by now, not new information. But in a recent interview with Top Gear, VW’s head of design gave the world an insight into just how best-and-worst it was.

Bischoff was, at the time, designing the interior of the Phaeton and apparently working directly with the CEO at the time, Ferdinand Piech.

It was “the experience of a lifetime,” Bischoff told Top Gear. Unsurprisingly, Piech was a hard man to impress so when, at one design review, he saw the car and simply said it wasn’t enough, Bischoff vowed to impress his boss at the next review.

“I built what is still the most expensive interior mock-up in the company’s entire history,” Bischoff says. “Actually a fully functional mock-up of the entire car, inside and out.”

It worked.

“He said ‘ahhhh, now that is right.’ Believe me, that was the utmost compliment you could achieve,” explains Bischoff.

As we now know, it was decisions like that that made the Phaeton such a sales nightmare. Volkswagen couldn’t price the car high enough to get its money back and ended up reportedly losing around 30 grand per car sold. As a side note, it’s odd to me that VW is criticized for that by automotive outlets. I can see why MSNBC might be upset, but the fact that a car is priced $30,000 below what it cost to make sounds like the deal of the century to me.

Regardless, whether hubris or 4-dimensional Bentley chess or maybe some combination of the two, the fact remains that it was a fascinatingly non-conservative car from perhaps the most conservative carmaker. And Bischoff appears to have learned a lesson or two from that.

“You need to understand the core of brands, where they are coming from, where they can possibly go to and it’s not just about the guy moving lines up and down,” he told TG. “What’s the purpose of a brand, what’s its reason for being there? What’s its heritage?”

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