Fleet News

Geneva Motor Show: Phaeton highlights VW's high ambition

THE first public unveiling of the Volkswagen Phaeton luxury saloon reveals the size and scale of VW's ambition in the elite luxury car market.

In the flesh, the Phaeton looks every inch (at five metres-plus) the luxury saloon, immediately dispelling any misconception that it is simply a 'big Passat.'

However, Volkswagen accepts that it still has a major marketing exercise ahead to convince Mercedes-Benz S-class and BMW 7-series drivers that the Phaeton should join the shortlist for the accolade of the ultimate company car.

There is, however, no doubting the Phaeton's impressive technology and immaculate build quality, and Dr Bernd Pischetsrieder, who will become chairman of Volkswagen in April, describes the Phaeton as the 'car for the English gentleman who does not want a Bentley' - a reference to the Volkswagen Group's ownership of a brand that has no need to explain itself in the prestige market.

This is not yet the case for Volkswagen, although Pischetsrieder said: 'Phaeton has taught us a new level of quality and a new way beyond mass manufacture, that lifts the standards of everyone in the company. This is our internal centre of excellence, quality and customer support.'

The continental launch plan for the Phaeton emphasises customer support, with a new 'Phaeton Service' that sees all service, maintenance and repairs controlled via an international Technical Service Centre (TSC), for the life of the vehicle.

When the Phaeton customer calls on a dealer for a service, the dealer contacts the TSC, which decides how the car will be repaired, and provides technical support to the dealer.

The TSC will use a remote diagnostic system to retrieve the necessary data directly from the Phaeton. Dealers will also offer drivers a collect-and-return service to save time and maximise customer convenience.

'Success will not be measured by the volumes we sell. Our competitors will tell us our volumes are negligible, but our main aim is to satisfy customers,' said Pischetsrieder.

Volkswagen UK is still working on the fine print of how it will introduce the Phaeton to the British market, and which retailers will sell the car, but it insists it can sell 500 to 600 a year in the UK - about one-sixth of S-class volumes. The manufacturer insists it will not chase sales, however, pledging that every car will be built to meet a specific customer order, so each car should be individual, protecting residual values.

Off-the-record sources indicate that the Phaeton is a showcase for engineering and technology that will appear in the forthcoming medium-sized Bentley model.

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