By on September 27, 2010

There are times I really wish I had half the brains, knowledge, and skill of the average print-rag journo. Today is one of those times. You see, in my not-so-spare time, my race team and I have designed a lower control-arm brace for the first-generation Neon. It’s a neat thing, looks very industrial. I’m making it right here in Ohio, using 5000-series aluminum for corrosion resistance. The parts are laser-cut, and we have some semi-sophisticated CAD modeling tools involved to ensure it’s as strong as possible for the given weight. I’ll have the first batch of fifty in my hands this upcoming Friday.

Now here’s the big question. Will this brace fit the second-generation Neon? For the last decade, I’ve been reading various assertions by “automotive journalists” that the “PL2000” Neon is really the same “platform” as the first-gen car. If that’s really true — if all Neons are the same under the skin — this brace should bolt right up and we won’t have to go back to the CATIA screen to design a different one. We could sell a lot of them to owners of the newer Neons and SRT-4s. What do you think? Would you double your planned production run based on what you’ve read in Car and Driver? Of course not. Instead, we’re heading to the junkyard with a prototype to measure and check.

What the hell is a “platform” anyway? Once upon a time, a “platform” was called a “chassis”. Many early motorists ordered a chassis and engine from one manufacturer and had it “bodied” elsewhere. Nearly all of the automobiles built before the Second World War could be driven around without their bodies. The use of a Model T sans body as a kind of hillbilly proto-ATV was particularly popular. As late as 1966, Rolls-Royce had two different “coachbuilders” create unibody Silver Shadow coupes. James Young created a Shadow Coupe with a straight beltline; Mulliner Park Ward built a dipped-waist variant that became the Corniche.

Don’t rush down to your local Ford dealer and ask to buy a “D3 chassis”, because there’s no such thing. We are deep in the unibody era now and you couldn’t put a Flex body on a Taurus sedan floorpan without the assistance of a dozen expert fabricators and hundreds, possibly thousands, of labor hours. Same goes for making a Highlander out of a Camry, or a Flying Spur out of a Phaeton.

A platform is really a concept. It’s a set of shared measurements and designs. It’s a way to avoid doing some obscenely expensive first-principle engineering. Example: Honda designed a solid, well-proven suspension, engine mounting system, and set of “hard point” locations for HVAC/electronics/seat mounting for the Accord. By beefing-up those designs but keeping the same basic principles, they could make them work under a minivan, thus the Odyssey. And once you have those pieces in your inventory, why not build an SUV with them? It’s entirely possible that someday, somewhere, somebody will assemble four-wheel-drive, jacked-up Accords using Pilot components. If they bolt together, that is. The only way to know for sure is to measure it out and then do it.

Thirty years ago, the American automakers were under pressure. From Wall Street, to churn quarterly profit. From the government, to be “responsible”. From the public, to turn out a halfway decent product. Chrysler and General Motors decided to very publicly discuss the “X-body”, “K-car”, and “J-platform” when introducing their new vehicles. Doing so satisfied Wall Street: it was obviously cheaper to have a common underlying platform. It satisfied the governmental authorities, who not-so-secretly yearned for the day they would be able to mandate a single kind of car for everyone. And it satisfied the public that all the new cars, whether they were Citations, Skylarks, Omegas, or Phoenixes, had the latest engineering. But did anybody stop to ask if it was true?

I’m serious. For all anybody really knew, the Cimarron and the Cavalier could have been totally different under the skin. Sometimes the “platform twins” really were different, even if they had the same nameplate on them. Try swapping doors among the “G-body” Regal, Cutlass, and Malibu. They don’t always fit. Some critical dimensions were changed for the different assembly plants. What I’m getting at here, though, is that in automotive “journalism” we assume the manufacturer is telling the truth, unless it conflicts with our preconceptions.

Every automotive journalist in America implicitly accepted that the 1981 Aries and Reliant were the same car. Nobody measured them out. Nobody swapped parts just to check. They just took Chrysler’s word on the subject. Nothing’s changed in the past thirty years. All the babbling in the press about, say, the new Explorer, is just that — babbling. Nobody’s done the work to see just how different the Explorer is from the Flex under the skin. We all took Ford’s word that the two are related. What else can we do in the space of a hour-long test drive along a pre-planned route?

This leaves journalists with a problem, namely: If I get all my “platform” information from the manufacturers, how can I sound more insightful than my peers without actually doing any work? The answer is to make stuff up. I won’t link to examples of these assertions, particularly since a few of the links would have the same basic URL as found in this article, but how often have you read statements like:

  • The Cavalier was “fundamentally the same” throughout its 23-year run, and the Cobalt uses the same basic platform as its predecessor?
  • The Ford Panthers are “the same car underneath” from 1980 to 2010?
  • The (insert name of full-sized truck or van here) hasn’t “really” changed since (1970-something)?
  • The Chrysler 300 is just an old W210 E-Class “in drag”?

All of the above assertions are exposed for the garbage they are the minute you look underneath the vehicles in question with any kind of tape measure or caliper, but they sound very knowledgeable when you read them on a website or in a magazine. It’s lazy journalism at its finest, spouting ridiculous, uninformed assumptions as loud as humanly possible.

Note that I used American and/or German manufacturers for the examples above. The reason I did that? The Japanese aren’t stupid. For a long time now, they have carefully controlled the information they dole out regarding platform-sharing. That’s why the Civic and Corolla are always called “all-new” by the sycophantic press and the domestic subcompacts are always “carryover” this and “reused” that.

As someone who has raced a few Hondas and worked in a race garage with a few more, I can tell you from firsthand, turn-the-wrench experience that there are tremendous similarities between any two consecutive generations of Civics. Why is the press silent on this? It’s simple. Honda doesn’t think they have a need to know about commonalities, so Honda doesn’t tell them, and there’s obviously no way these fat-ass buffet hounds will find out on their own. It’s a brilliant strategy.

For more than thirty years, the Motor Trends of the world have swallowed and unthinkingly repeated the ridiculous idea that Japanese automakers effortlessly clean-sheet their entire lineup every four years while the domestics and Germans drag “platforms” out for decade-plus life spans. Two hours in a garage with a few tape measures would have exposed the falsehood — but who’s gonna do that when there are free drinks available at the hotel bar?

The irony of this is that Honda’s relentless determination to reuse critical dimensions, designs, and even bolts is a key factor in ensuring their famous reliability. It also allows NASA Honda Challenge race teams to “LEGO-set” some pretty neat cars. Want to put a Cobalt SS turbo engine in an ’02 Cavalier? No freakin’ way, not without a plasma torch. Want to put a Prelude engine in a CRX? Check out HondaSwap for the instructions. Those people know how similar most Hondas are, but they aren’t writing the “Wheels” section in your local newspaper.

The manufacturers are all wising-up to the fact that autojournos are too stupid to do their research on platforms. During the recent Cruze introduction, Chevrolet PR people repeatedly made semi-misleading “platform chat” assertions to link the Cruze with the Opel Astra, forgetting to mention that, while the Cruze is a “platform mate” with the Astra, it’s also a near-complete twin of a Daewoo. The recent Scion tC launch barely mentioned the Toyota Avensis, and furthermore, the Toyota PR people absolutely refused to speculate on whether the tC was a refreshed first-gen Avensis platform or a second-gen Avensis platform, or even if said two Avensis generations were different in any substantial way.

This isn’t stopping my fellow journalists from boldly forging ahead with new platform-based diatribes. One fellow recently wrote that the 370Z was a “converted truck”, citing the commonality with the Infiniti FX. That’s in-your-face writing, and it sounds quite knowledgeable. I wonder if the author of that piece could list any common pieces between a 370Z and an FX50? If he can, do you suppose he also knows if the lower strut brace I tested on my 1995 Plymouth Neon will fit a 2004 Dodge SRT-4?

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65 Comments on “How To Be An Automotive Journalist, Part III: Pathetic “Platform” Prose...”

  • avatar

    For more than thirty years, the Motor Trends of the world have swallowed and unthinkingly repeated the ridiculous idea that Japanese automakers effortlessly clean-sheet their entire lineup every four years while the domestics and Germans drag “platforms” out for decade-plus life spans. Two hours in a garage with a few tape measures would have exposed the falsehood — but who’s gonna do that when there are free drinks available at the hotel bar?

    THIS, THIS, THIS… sorry for the interwebZ forum “argument”. Finally someone has the cojones to say this openly.
    But you left out Toyota. My guess is that they recycle a platform for at least 2 car generations.
    There is nothing wrong in carrying over a set of proven components/dimensions.

    • 0 avatar

      Toyota is kinda weird. They apparently marry components of disparate platforms a lot and that muddies waters.

    • 0 avatar

      Platforms don’t recycled for 2 generations.  They get recycled for endless generations, and get greatly modified.  But deep down, they’re still built the same way.  A truly clean sheet is exceedingly rare.
      The best explanation I ever read of what a platform was (from some GM muckity-muck) was as follows: it’s (1) a build order, (2) common attachment methods and connectors, and (3) a common electronic architecture.  There may have been a fourth point, I don’t recall at the moment.  Enormous variation is possible within these parameters.
      But from that we see what a platform really is: it’s actually a factory. It’s not a set of measurements, necessarily. Nor is it necessarily a feature set, either.
      I bet if you worked slowly back through the 4 or 5 generations of FWD Corollas (the switch from RWD to FWD – now there’s a real platform change) you’d find them being built the same way even though the parts had changed and dimensions had been altered.  But I bet they install the wiper motor in the same order by the same method through each and every one of them.

    • 0 avatar

      Between platform sharing and parts bin components it’s surprising that any car is much different from it’s same brand cousins.
      Guess that takes us right back to people who would rate a Mercury Villager significantly different from a Nissan Quest or a Crown Vic from the Mercury equivalent.
      The car companies likely hold on to the same parts and platforms as long as they can b/c they already have alot of money spent on adapting assembly lines and tooling to platforms. Easier and cheaper to change just the fixtures that actually touch the parts being manufactured or assembled.
      Just re-skin a car insider and out and keep the hidden parts the same as long as they can.

  • avatar

    And, if it fits PL2000 NEONs– won’t it work on the PT wagons? The NEONs with panache? I mean, it’s just a NEON station wagon.
    neon is not capitalized in the first-generation, Jack. After 2000, they’re NEONs. :) It’s easier this way.

    *EDIT* I’ve seen late dashboards in early cars, but I don’t think the elder computers have provisions for the later car’s digital mile-counter. I ran into this whenever I wanted to put a Sebring trip computer in my 1998 car.

  • avatar

    Then, Jack, you have to get around the people who are glad they were disproved of the notion that the Chrysler LX is the same as the Mercedes E-Class, and those who are highly resentful of having been corrected on this count.

  • avatar

    I share a platform with a chimp, but let me assure you there are material differences. For example, I don’t fling poo. There are some others, but they’re too esoteric to list here.

  • avatar

    Who thought that the Cobalt was based on the Cavalier? This is a new one to me. The Cobalt is based on the oft-delayed, frequently reworked along the way Delta platform. It was supposed to arrive much sooner than it did, but the initial iteration (which shared more with the Saturn ION) was canceled when it massively failed clinic testing.
    Clark and Fujimoto’s Product Development Performance, published in 1991, probably remains the most comprehensive study of practices within the auto industry. Though at this time many of the particulars are likely out of date, they weren’t when the above preconceptions formed.
    Clark and Fujimoto praised the Japanese for carrying over a much higher percentage of parts from generation to generation. They were much better than others at only redoing parts that it made sense to redo, while Detroit went to extremes, either changing only minor trim or redoing nearly everything. With platform mates, GM is infamous for varying things it made no sense to vary, which could make it impossible for cars that should have been assembled on the same assembly line to actually be assembled on the same assembly line. And yet, because they could not vary various hard points, the cars could look too much alike anyway.
    What did it make sense to redo? The parts people can actually see. Honda and Toyota used to totally redesign the sheetmetal and interior bits every four years, and still do about every five.
    My understanding, perhaps from the same source, is that Honda and Toyota re-engineer the platform itself every other generation. This is why the Accord, Civic, Camry, etc. often have dramatic dramatic dimensional changes every other generation. Even then, mounting points for the plant, production sequencing, motor mounts, etc. could well remain unchanged unless there’s a good reason to change them.

    • 0 avatar

      I suspect they have been using Lean on design from a long long time. Different than Mr. Niedermeyer’s assumption it started in the 90’s.
      Anything not worth redesigning is just… waste.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      Civics haven’t had a complete platform redesign since at least 1988 and possibly the generation before. The ’88 – ’91 (4th gen) model was the first that was desirable for its double wishbone suspension front and rear. The next couple generations were only cosmetic. The big change in 2001 involved the change to MacPherson front suspension, but the rear suspension kept the same layout. The 2006 model looks completely different on top, but similar underneath. Can’t talk too much about the 2012 model yet, but suffice it to say that it is not a platform redesign :-)
      A lot of the time, even though they keep general layouts the same, there are still just enough minor differences in the parts that they’re not exactly the same from one generation to the next.

    • 0 avatar

      You may be right about Civics sharing drivetrain and suspension parts, but let me assure you, there are a lot of subtle differences between the 1984-91 Civic sedans/coupes and their wagon counterparts (I owned four sedans and two wagons from this vintage).  The wagons had a different A-pillar angle for a more upright seating position, resulting in a custom front door, front door mirrors, and virtually all of the dash components being different.  Different seats too I believe.

      I got a center dash A/C vent assembly (with built-in clock) from a Civic sedan.  SURELY they were smart enough to share that part with the wagon of the same year, right?  NOPE!!  The parts were so similar looking that you had to line them up side-by-side to notice the subtle differences.  I couldn’t believe it!

      Honda had retooled the entire dashboard in the wagons to allow for the more upright seating position.  The instrument cluster pod was angled differently, so all of the dash parts were unique to the wagon.  And the driver’s door window frame was 1.5″ or so taller than the sedan’s door.

  • avatar

    You might want to check with Bob Sheaves He is very knowledgeable regarding these designs and CATIA.

  • avatar

    Where people get “all new” for the Japanese designs vs “re-used platform” for the Big 3 is that at least the Japanese design a totaly new “top hat” and interior on top of carryover components, while the Big 3 have a history of nose and tail jobs sufficing as major updates for years while the basic car obviously stays the same – which they still do today 2006 vs 2010 Fusion, anyone?

    I have had lots of fun burning money on my 1992 Mazda MX-3, with it’s J-SPEC motor that bolted right in along with its Ford Probe GT tranny. Interchangeability is fun!

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    It’s been utterly common knowledge that most Hondas and Toyotas use the same “platform” for two generations. And it’s usually very easy to see: the current Camry and its predecessor are very obviously deeply related, etc…
    And I’ve never heard anyone ever suggest that the Cavalier and Cobalt were directly related in the slightest way. Where did that come from?

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      And I’ve never heard anyone ever suggest that the Cavalier and Cobalt were directly related in the slightest way? Where do you get this BS from?
      Ignorant NON-GM Honda racing, fanboys

    • 0 avatar

      I believe we had a few TTAC posters claim that the Cavalier, Cobalt and Aveo were all the same car, and all built in Korea, probably using slave labour, likely children, because their fingers are better at precision work.

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse


      Clever Schindler reference. The B&B are showing remarkable spunk, and it’s Monday.

    • 0 avatar

      I may or may not be considered a Honda “fanboy” – however, I’ve always known that the new Cobalt is NOT based on any previous gen Cavalier. GM’s been dragging their feet getting the Delta platform onboard here in the US, so, this car was eventually going to make it here. Unlike the previous gen Cavalier, having driven both, the Cobalt is a much better car, in both design and execution. In the competitor space, it still lacks and lags behind a Civic Si or Corolla S in the “fun” department. The turbo-charged SS version may be cheaper than either of the imports, but still lacks the refinement to make it a serious “fun” car.
      And, if you’re going to want a turbo, get either a Subaru WRX or a Genesis Coupe 4Tubro (yes, I”ve driven those two as well). For not much more money, you can have a lot more fun.
      Also, during the mid-to-late 70’s and early-to-mid-80’s, Toyota had the practice to “Hand-down” the previous designed nameplate to it’s lesser sibling (Who remembers the Crown, Camry and Corolla hand-downs of that era?) Cheaper to switch out nameplates than re-design a whole new car!

  • avatar

    Note that I used American and/or German manufacturers for the examples above. The reason I did that? The Japanese aren’t stupid. For a long time now, they have carefully controlled the information they dole out regarding platform-sharing. That’s why the Civic and Corolla are always called “all-new” by the sycophantic press and the domestic subcompacts are always “carryover” this and “reused” that.

    Partly this is true, but it’s not entirely so.  

    Many platforms do remain fundamentally similar for a very long period of time.  In the case of, say, the Panthers and Econolines this is largely considered a strength: parts and service procedures don’t change much at all.  If the Panthers changed as much as, say, Toyota’s XV-based cars did over the same period, they probably wouldn’t appeal to luddites like Sajeev (j/k). Ditto the perennial whipping boy that was the Cavalier: the car didn’t change fundamentally in the time that the Civic saw it’s entire front suspension changed and grew several inches in wheelbase.

    Conversely, the Chrysler LX/Mercedes W210 thing was played up by DaimlerChrysler at the time.  They’re not (very) stupid either: in 2002, saying your car was built on “German engineering, using a Mercedes platform” made great copy and probably sold a lot of cars before people realized that Mercedes couldn’t, basically, build a statistically reliable car.

    Somewhere between what you’re complaining about among other journalists doing and what actually happens is the truth.  The American marques really did leave things on the vine much too long: sometimes way too long (Saab 9-5).  The Japanese don’t make whole new cars, but they have done a better job of changing the parts that matter to customer experience.

    I agree that there’s a lot of lazy journalism, and not just in automobilia, but this article comes across as sour grapes.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Even the Model T with it’s LONG production run was being constantly refined, even with that old stick in the mud, Henry, at the helm.  The old man was a big believer in materials science engineering and he made slow steady changes to the car.  (Example, adding a battery to aid starting, adding a magneto (while keeping the old wiring system as a redundancy) ect…
    All automotive companies need to slowly refine their products and not be ashamed of it.  You may think your real world testing and computer models tell you everything, but there will nearly always be unforeseen problems.  The only sin is not correcting them.

    • 0 avatar

      Good ol’ E. Dan! You’re absolutely correct about the Model T. I would much rather see “continuous improvement” and refinement on car models than wholesale reinvention of the wheel, which adds cost and complexity needlessly, unless technology leaps demands it. That being said, some of the patch jobs to distinguish car models of the domestics is truly amateur-night development quality.

    • 0 avatar

      VW Golf Citi currently sold in South Africa? (1980s Golf/Rabbit)
      VW Transporter Van currently sold in Brazil? (1970s VW van with drivetrain upgrades)
      I don’t mind old designs sold as new cars today as long as the old design was a good one to begin with. My ’97 VW Cabrio convertible is in many ways the same car under the skin as my ’84 VW Rabbit/Golf convertible. There have been improvements though.
      Would I buy my ’87 Accord hatchback again new? Sure. I think that car morphed into the Acura Intergra hatchback so in a way I could have for several years. I would buy my ’84 VW Rabbit ‘vert again. I would not buy any of the Cavaliers again I have ever driven, nor the 80s Escorts, nor the Luminas that my family owned. Sometimes they weren’t good cars, sometimes it was a styling thing for me, sometimes the vehicles weren’t good designs.
      Build me something that I believe is a good car and I’ll buy it even when the design is an old one. All I ask is upgrade the engine if like with the 80s VWs a 1.8L now makes more than 90HP or put in a 1.4L instead still making ~100 HP. A light car like that did fine with ~100 HP.

  • avatar

    “The Ford Panthers are “the same car underneath” from 1980 to 2010”
    I would bet that ninety-some percent of the people who read TTAC would check the TRUE box next to this if it were a question. Not a criticism, just an observation.
    This particular Panther folklore has caused me to question countless other factoids I’ve heard about cars over the years.

  • avatar

    Though not 100 percent accurate and one must read the “notes” section, especially regarding sheet metal and trim components an interchange manual can be an eye-opener.
    Hollander is considered by many to be the “cream of the crop.”
    Is the Mitchell manual still around?
    Of course, as with so much else, computers have even made great changes in the “junk yards” strewn across the land.
    Back in the 80s some Cadillac basic components also worked on full-size (or smaller) Chevys.
    Memory eludes me but I recall the time the old geezer demanded a Cadillac-sourced brake component though the exact same component from a Chevy would not only work… it was the exact same part!!!!!!!!!!
    Brought out a front “rotor” that had the mark used on-site for a full-sized Chevy “C” but we knew and the interchange manual confirmed it was a direct perfect fit for his particular model of Caddy.
    He threw a fit. Thought we were trying to screw him.
    Well,  we did have a disc off a Caddy that would also fit his car and was marked as such.
    Brought it out and charged him double since it was a “Caddy” front brake disc.  Same casting number. Exactly the same in every dimension as the “C” disc.
    He was charged extra for being a “richard” and making us do extra un-needed unnecessary work.
    The old fart was happy so what the heck.
    Some wrecking yards do take advantage of the unknowing general public, charging more for parts that interchange between “high end” models and “budget models” though the parts in question are exactly the same.
    Also beware, always, when buying a used engine or tranny. Lying about the mileage upon the component is normal. That always rankled me and I refused to lie to customers.
    One reason I was not a success in that industry and eventually departed.
    I was/am a deplorable capitalist.
    Unsure if salvage yards are still as profitable as they were in the “old days.”
    Wish I could have amassed the capital needed to start my own yard.
    My tactics regarding inventory control and reducing/eliminating wastage resulted in greatly enhanced profits for owners that absolutely refused to share the wealth.

    • 0 avatar

      The Hollander is available in electronic format. I’d love to have one copy of that, but it’s too expensive and I don’t have a use to justify the purchase.

    • 0 avatar

      recently i was trying to find an Isuzu part for a friend by calling some salvage yards.  I was shocked to find that most in my area are closed on weekends now.  I remember 20 years ago combing the lots for used parts on weekends.  No more

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve heard stories for years about a pile of parts coming off of the GM assembly line would be tested and the best sent to the Cadillac line, second best to Buick, lesser quality to the Chevy line and so forth…
      Junkyards around here are still open on the weekends.

    • 0 avatar

      I think often they’d finish Cadillac parts better, take a few extra steps with them, or use higher quality materials or processes in certain places when they built ’em.  They’d be materially different, even though they’d fit into other GM cars easily.  Cadillacs weren’t a big rip off . . . until I’d say the mid-80s.  Before that, they really were mechanically superior automobiles.

  • avatar
    Jordan Tenenbaum

    I have no issues with the fact that Volvo produced the 240 from `74 through `93.  Volvo constantly updated the car, even after it outlasted it’s kill-by date: it received an airbag in `90, and ABS in, IIRC, `92.
    I do not recall anyone ever really lambasting Volvo for their decision.

  • avatar

    Sift through any parts catalog, as one is wont to do with the brand, and you’ll see that VW has a fair bit of modularity.
    It is said that in the MkII cars, you can swap just about any VW engine, including a VR6 -which only requires a small amount of mini-sledge to a frame rail (passenger side?).
    And throwing the odd few better parts from an Audi TT, like the HD rear control-arm bushing is kinda fun,
    when the car is not exploding on you.

  • avatar

    The Buff Mags are a total waste of time.  They are not competent.  Those guys are the “clean hands” type:  don’t know how to turn a wrench.  Too in love with the manufacturers.
    Read HotRod, Street Rodder & other mags of their type if you want real info.

    • 0 avatar

      If there’s one person qualified to make that statement, it is most certainly you.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      @E30-LS1, Amen to that.  The enthusiasts live on parts interchangeability.  These are the kind of guys who figure out that a SBC 400 crank will fit a 350 and make a 383V8, not the guys who consider themselves, “journalists.”

    • 0 avatar

      Those magazines are for guys who like to order a Hot Rod piece by piece from the catalogs. I miss the good old days of working with friends building a car from junkyard stuff. Alot more work of course. Alot cheaper too.

    • 0 avatar

      I think CarCraft, GRM, some interwebZ blogs and forums are more junkyard oriented. HotRod isn’t as much as CarCraft.
      In both HotRod and CarCraft, there are junkyard related articles. I really digged the Mopar 318 article.

  • avatar

    Consumers don’t mind platform sharing when the preceding vehicle is a stout, quality piece — see the Accord/Odyssey/Pilot example. On the other hand, I do care when car companies waste millions to bring out an ALL-NEW!! platform, that alas isn’t noticeably improved over its geriatric predecessor.
    Isn’t it just a tiny bit GM’s fault that it was so easy for some to believe the Cavalier and Cobalt are fundamentally the same car? After all, both share the same styling language and overall dimensions, the same craptastic handling qualities (SS variants of the latter notwithstanding) and the same Wal-Mart-grade interior plastics. In every way the average buyer interacts with their vehicle, the Cobalt is obviously a small evolutionary step from the J-Car and nothing more.
    The Delta was a joke… and I doubt rebadged Daewoos are the magic answer Gov’t Motors is looking for, either.

  • avatar

    Finally! Someone writes up what I have always known to be true. I can remember having an argument with another commenter right here about this. He thought the Japanese had totally brand new cars every 4 years or so and I told him he was nuts, err… misinformed. Thank you Jack. This is the kind of article I can have my non-enthusiast friends read to give them some needed education. The whole 300 is a “warmed over” E class has vexed me over the years. Now I understand that one of the causes of this misconception is that  DaimlerChrysler promoted it as a marketing tactic. There is more in common between the current 4 cylinder engines of Chrysler, Hyundai, and Mistusbishi than between the 300 and older E-class. The engines were actually developed from a common design. The cars, not so much.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “Instead, we’re heading to the junkyard with a prototype to measure and check.”
    You could save yourself the trip and just check the Hollander’s interchange manual. By the by, platform sharing is nothing new. GM did it forever, though for years the various divisions mostly had their own engines and sheet metal.
    In modern terms, “platform” also includes many major sub assemblies such as the engine, transmission, brakes, etc. Many would be surprised how many different Honda and Acura models use the exact same rear disk brakes, for example.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Absolutely John.  GMs practice of doing that is why it’s not that hard to swap in engine and transmission combos to various platforms that were never offered from the factory (at least in the particular vehicle in question.)

      5-speed manual in a W-body anyone? It was offered from the factory for a few years in the late 80s and can be possible with the right parts and the right generation of the platform.

    • 0 avatar

      A LS1 swap in a 00-04 Impala would be also interesting.

    • 0 avatar
      Jordan Tenenbaum

      I believe the 5 speed was a Getrag 284, but my knowledge on W bodys has really faded away. I know you could get one in a Cutlass along with the Quad 4. Back when I was in the W Body scene (I had a `95 Cutlass Supreme SL from `00-`02,) a lot of people were interested in doing the 5 speed swap, but I recall one of the main hitches being the OBD-II in the newer cars. Perhaps with the introduction of Megasquirt and various other stand alone systems this can be accomplished now, but back then, there’s wasn’t much that could be done on the 3100s that didn’t involve a high level of creativity and ingenuity. Also, you would absolutely need a new transmission, as the 4T60 and 4T60E couldn’t handle over 200+hp, IIRC.

    • 0 avatar

      @ ^^^
      I think the only trannies that would bolt up to those engines are the NVG used in Quad4 Cavaliers and others or the Isuzu-derived used in OHV 2.2 Cavaliers.
      AFAIK, they started using the Getrag with the Ecotec. In any case, go to a good J-Body forum, where they have swapped anything from 3.1 to Northstars to find out.

  • avatar

    I don’t know if I would consider door, engine, or complete suspension compatibility to be prerequisites for saying something is platformed shared.

    • 0 avatar

      There needs to be a “definition” of what constitutes a platform. Anyway, I read somewhere that the Mazda 2 and the Ford Fiesta share only two parts, despite both being spawned off the B “platform”. I also imagine there’s very few similarities between the Euro Focus, Mazda 3 and the assorted Volvos built on the C1 platform.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    I don’t know which is more troubling….that this happens, or that so few people other than TTAC’s B&B know about it….

    America, constantly dumbing ourselves down, continues our irreversible slide into the third-world status…

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    And now, it’s time to turn the Town Car over to TTAC’s tame racing driver…

    Some say…he invented platform sharing, but only if he’s first and it’s a redhead. And he can can discern key part measurments completely in the dark by feel alone.

    All we know is, he’s called the Jack!

  • avatar

    Platforms are as said a ‘concept’ and sometimes just a map for the robots assembling the car. This does not mean that the parts are interchangeable, because the robots does not care at all what the parts look like, as long as the bolts go in the same place. Two cars built on the same ‘platform’ does not really have to have interchangeable parts at all, even if most mechanical parts normally will fit, give or take an inch or two of sheetmetal or ‘macguffin’.
    As far as I know the typical american, japanese and german  manufacturers are very well known to love interchangeability to keep costs down. Which is also very helpful to us modding enthusiasts. And they can all brag as much as they want about their ‘90% new parts’ in a new model. We all know they have just given our 11 year old car a new donor for brake discs, sportseats, and power steering pumps.
    ’95 Ford Mondeo Zetec in a ’68 Escort, with a Ford Sierra transmission from the late 80’s?, no problem.
    1980’s Mustang T5 transmission in your ’96 Explorer 4.0 V6 using a t-4 bellhousing from a Mustang ll ? no problem.
    R32 or TT engine in a Golf 2, using vr6 parts ?,may be more work , but entirely possible.
    My guess is , you can possibly upgrade your Charger/Challeger/300C with AMG or Brabus parts ment for the old Merc’s
    77 Firebird doors on a 77 Camaro, not the same at all…

  • avatar

    In post-WWII history, the VW beetle was the Model T. It evolved without fundamentally changing in layout from the 1940’s into this century. Many, but not all, hard points carried over even if no parts interchanged over the whole production span.

  • avatar

    I remember reading back in the day (in GRM, IIRC) that Neon’s chassis was so stiff that braces were counterproductive (well of course in those days only strut tower braces were available). Hope this gives you a good laugh, Jack.

  • avatar

    Anybody who actually turns a wrench knows that often the similarities are often less than the differences.   The K car example is a good one because it is often considered to be mostly the same for its entire ’81 to ’89 lifespan.  Truth be told, the floorpan was mostly the same, as was much of the rear from the A pillar back.  Same for the basic engine block and transmission.  However, pretty much everything else was changed.  All new dash, door panels, even the door gasketing was changed.  All new front sheet metal, and under the hood, most of the components were not interchangeable.  Even the hubs went from a four bolt design to five bolt.  I know this because I was planning to strip out my crappy ’81 of all the new parts that I had installed and use them for the ’87 that I bought cheap.  In fact, I only bought the ’87 for the fact that I would have all these parts to call on if the need arose.  That was a big mistake on my part.  At least the ’87 hardly ever required repair.
    I do know that I was able to bolt 2006 Taurus front seats into my ’92 Sable, so I guess that floorpan stayed the same, too

  • avatar

    The turbo Cobalt is considerably quicker than a Genesis or WRX. It’s in the next “speed class” up – it was faster around VIR than an Impreza STi or Lancer Evolution X in a Car and Driver test, and lives at the back of the Elise/Boxster S/Corvette crowd. It will do things that a Genesis or WRX won’t – accelerate very hard from 100 on up, get into a corner without plowing, turn a couple more laps before the brakes fade out.

    • 0 avatar

      So where is GM proof with a Cobalt run around the Nurburgring? Seems to me that if the car is that good that GM ought to be bragging a little more about the Cobalt and a little less about the so-far vaporware of the Volt or any of their concept cars not yet in production.
      You know they need to learn to brag about products worthy of bragging. All I see looking at the Cobalt is a grocery getter car and Gm is doing very little to change that perception outside of the enthusiast circles.
      Perhaps it is time to print up posters or charts to place in auto parts stores or dealerships or mall displays to show the Nurburgring times of their performance vehicles. Sort of like TopGear does with their “stars in an affordable car” or the laplist for the supercars around the TopGear track.
      No – I don’t need a car capable of running the Nurburgring but it would sell cars to me alot better than “the chassis is 14% stiffer than last year” or the engine produces 178 HP (at the redline and inside a powerband 200 rpm wide).

    • 0 avatar

      @joeaverage: Google Chevy Cobalt at the ring. You’ll get many links. I personally would have liked to been on the track the day they tested the HHR SS on the ‘Ring, that would have been fun…
      I would say that GM has a huge disadvantage in the sport compact arena vis-a-vis the Japanese competition. However, the turbo Cobalt was the giant killer, but now that it’s out of production and with no immediate replacement in sight, GM’s reputation among the fast and furious crowd will dim again.
      But I can certainly understand that they need to get the small car stuff right, and appealing to the public. Hot rods like the Cobalt SS are not going to lead them to sustainability.

  • avatar

    The “Lightning Lap” results from VIR show the Cobalt SS Turbo to not compete in the same class as the WRX or Genesis Coupe. It leads the next class up – the one with the Lancer Evolution, Mustang 4.6, and Impreza STi. When you buy one you are giving up some refinement for the luxury of hustle.
    Don’t trust the words Car and Driver writes any further than you can throw them but so long as Patrick Bedard walks this earth their numbers are sound. Draw your own conclusions from them.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    Of course anyone who has read “The Machine that Changed the World” would know that the Japanese have aimed at 70% reuse of components between consecutive models for 30 years or more. There again perhaps expecting Journos to read anything longer than a bar tab is a bit much.

  • avatar

    I hate the similarities between the 1989 Corolla and the 1999 version. I don’t feel it was a substantially worthwhile upgrade of the car, and the 94 felt cheap also. Still they were/are very very reliable car. Hence why its the most popular car in a few countries.

  • avatar

    Any news on the Neon measurement?

  • avatar

    I’m not sure, but I have a guess:

    Not only will the brace probably not fit, it appears that the late model Neons and SRT-4s are different to each other. It appears that the SRT-4s share that underpinning with the PT Cruiser, however. (About as non-ideal a platform sharing arrangement as possible for a performance part builder…)

    Source: search for control arms for a 2004 Neon

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