Harry Potter is not the only performer sharing a common platform
Fans of Harry Potter will be delighted to know that running into King’s Cross Station’s brick walls to find Platform 9¾ is not the methodology applied by the motor industry in sharing platforms…well, not all the time. In automotive essence, the precepts of using common technology to create quite different models is ingenious at the very least.
From a British motor industry that once led the world, ‘badge engineering’, for the state-owned BMC/BLMC of the late-1960s, was derided quite justifiably for resulting in near-identical models that would not be tolerated today. Yet, it is still a marketing technique applied to various carmakers’ products in specific sales territories, where badge conflict is not perceived as an issue.
In the early days of the motor industry, when a separate chassis provided the manufacturing base, a plethora of coach-building companies, a number of which had grown from the equine era, would produce an enormous range of different models to suit most tastes and budgets…although cars were very expensive commodities. It was Henry Ford’s production line innovations that would lead to greater cost-effectiveness, which was passed on directly to the budding motorist.
Bringing the entire process up-to-date, the development of unitary construction through the 1950s meant that carmakers needed to seek alternatives to earn a crust. It was Volkswagen Group that led the field, when it developed the Golf model. From one platform arose several, quite different models, including: Audi A3, Audi TT, VW New Beetle, Seat Toledo, VW Jetta, Skoda Octavia, Seat Leon, VW Eos convertible and multiple derivatives including SUVs and MPVs.
Each was differentiated by employing markedly different trim levels, even though the core mechanical elements were largely identical. Where further model distinction was required, revised ECUs and suspension settings were employed. Unfortunately, brand differentiation did lead to higher cost implications, which had the effect of eradicating the basic premise for platform sharing. An alternative was needed.
From what had been a shared metal pressing at floor level, now transmogrified into core component sharing, a factor that would allow, in VW’s case, an MQB (‘Modularer Querbaukasten’) platform to result that could be stretched, or shrunk and widened, to meet whatever demands the carmaker placed upon it. It is exceptionally ingenious on a number of levels and several carmakers employ the techniques.
Yet, there can be significant downsides. To a company like ISQA, which is involved in Quality Control issues with a number of automotive clients, it understands the surprising complexity of the shared platform. It can lead to replication issues and should a problem arise undetected in the standard platform, resolving it can spread across a significantly greater scale. For the manufacturer in-the–know, investing in control will reduce undesirable recalls and warranty claims that can reach nightmare proportions and could make the sharing process unprofitable.
Try the following fun exercise. Firstly, guess whether a specific model is badge-engineered (B), or platform-shared (P). Then, try to name the actual source platform.
1. Dodge Colt
2. Nissan Qashqai (2006)
3. Infiniti Q30
4. Smart forfour (2004)
5. Volvo C30
6. Audi TT
7. Chrysler 300C (2004)
8. Lincoln LS (1999)
9. Skoda Superb
10. Subaru BRZ
Answers: 1. B, Mitsubishi Lancer; 2. P, Renault Megane; 3. P, Mercedes-Benz A-Class; 4. P, Mitsubishi Mirage; 5. P, Ford Focus; 6. P, VW Golf; 7. P, Mercedes-Benz E-Class; 8. P, Jaguar S-Type; 9. B and P, VW Passat; 10. B, Toyota GT86