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Is the Bugatti Chiron enough to redeem VW?

On Monday, VW’s head honchos proudly lifted the curtain on the Veyron successor, the Chiron, to fanfare and applause at the Geneva motor show. A welcome change, no doubt, from the sneers and lawsuits they’ve faced since VW confessed it had done the dirty on more than 11 million of its loyal customers around the world. The Chiron is VW’s halo car, just like its older brother, the Veyron. But is this diamond in the rough enough to distract people from damning headlines and win back hearts and minds to the world’s largest automaker?

Cue visual effects, emotive soundtrack and dry ice, lots of dry ice – ladies and gentlemen, the Chiron has arrived. Up on stage, corporate heads waxed lyrical about its reported top speed of 288mph, its magnificent 8-litre engine, its brutal 1,500 horsepower and, oh yes, the not-so-insignificant $2.5million asking price, but emissions and fuel economy? Don’t be silly.

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When the emissions scandal broke in 2015, VW’s executives decided to hold their nerve on the Chiron project, despite staring in the face of crippling criticism and economic uncertainty. Madness, even conceited, one might think, to keep funding a vanity project like Chiron while millions sit with a rapidly depreciating, emissions-bomb on their driveway. But there is method in the madness, gentlemen. The Chiron and all the hype that follows in its wake is more than a hugely expensive and badly-timed ego trip for the German powerhouse. If anything, it’s timing couldn’t be better, because what VW must do now is win back its once loyal fan base and prove it is the greatest engineering specialist on the planet.

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While the Chiron itself will happily spit in the face of eco-warriors and burn fossil fuel at a rate not seen since the industrial revolution, it is highly likely that it will be the most accomplished example of automotive engineering to date. With a production run expected to be under 500 units, the Chiron is unlikely to ease VW’s financial woes, but it has the ability to recast the company as the trustworthy, reliable, German engineer – the family favourite and the default choice.

On the surface, the Chiron may look like a desperate play for long-lost popularity, but in reality it’s a well-thought through and beautifully-executed lesson in reputation management and marketing. At the same time, VW has done what so many car manufacturers are falling short of: making motoring attractive. In an age when human interaction with cars is threatened by technological advances from the likes of Uber, Google and Tesla, VW’s raucous Chiron is a breath of fresh air. Well, not quite as fresh as it says on the box, but you get the idea. After all, it’s still a VW.

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