Thursday, November 18, 2004

There's more than one way to measure success

In the past, other Peoples' Car manufacturers have tried to offer ranges that span the cheap transport to luxury range. Both Fiat and Peugeot have had a go at the top end. They both failed, as they should have failed; the cars they offered simply weren't that great. What they offered were simply scaled up versions of ordinary sedans.

Toyota managed to make the leap with Lexus, and Honda, to some extent, with Acura. Now Volkswagen is offering the Phaeton at the top end.

Now, the Phaeton is not selling well. It is every bit as sophisticated as a comparable Benz or BMW; probably as innovative, and certainly as well built. No-one is really arguing on those counts. It seems the real stumbling block is the fact that so many people who can afford such cars can't see themselves spending those amounts on a Volkswagen. It's as simple as that. The snob thing. I don't even think the resale value side enters into it. Resale value is pretty terrible no matter what you choose.

So why do I think the Phaeton is a success? Because it's there. VW, for a while, took on the "Damn the Torpedoes" attitude that advanced Honda so far ahead of their opposition in the 80's. The sort of attitude that says "We will do it simply because we can." In the 80's Honda made two kinds of car and 130 kinds of motorcycle. They decided to make a turbocharged bike to show off their technological prowess. The easiest path would have been to tubo charge an inline four cylinder model, but they chose instead to base their new bike on the CX500 -- an eighty degree V-twin.

No engine could have been a worse configuration to start with; but that was the whole point. The resulting bike was massively complex, and no, it didn't sell well. But it showed that Honda had the expertise to build anything they set their mind to. As a wonderful by-product it started a whole new range of models that incorporated such features as anti-dive suspension, properly integrated styling, single shock rear suspension, fuel injection, aerodynamics, new ways to mold seat coverings, new ways to paint plastic; you name it.

Now VW has shown the confidence to produce a car that can cruise all day at 150mph, and touch 200mph. The Phaeton itself might not sell in large numbers, but it's offshoot, the Bentley Continental GT will, and the Bentley Sedan will as well; the people who buy the Bentley sedan might be the same ones who rejected the Phaeton, and it will be an open secret that under the bodywork they are one and the same. But everyone will win.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good volkswagen post!

6:25 PM  

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