TTAC has been following Volkswagen’s new building block architecture for years. Now, it finally begins to sink in what it means. Suddenly, there are media reports more effusive than we ever dared. An article by Reuters compares Ulrich Hackenberg, Volkswagen’s father of the Modularer Querbaukasten MQB, with “the likes of Henry Ford, Alfred Sloan and Taiichi Ohno in the canon of auto industry pioneers.” The architecture, says Reuters “is helping power the German company to the top of the global sales charts several years ahead of its 2018 target. It could also make VW one of the most profitable carmakers in the world.”
Like so often in the business, the idea was a tough sell. Hackenberg nurtured his idea for three decades, “early pitches to auto executives were largely ignored.” Finally, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn bought it, must likely with Ferdinand Piech strongly recommending that he should.
Volkswagen basically dumped platforms, and developed a lego kit from which cars are designed and made, along with fundamental changes in production engineering.
According to the article, previously dismissive companies such as Toyota and Ford already are “benchmarking” the architecture. “We’d be crazy not to,” a senior Ford official told Reuters.
The MQB kit will cost Volkswagen nearly $70 billion, but it also promises annual gross savings by 2019 of $19 billion, Morgan Stanley calculated. It could bring Volkswagen’s gross margins to 10 percent.
The first large-scale and very successful roll-out of the MQB architecture was the new Golf. Soon, all of Volkswagen Group’s small and medium front-wheel-drive family models, and hence the bulk of Volkswagen AG’s output, will have MQB as their base.
Far behind in the game is the world’s second largest automaker GM. Two years ago, GM announced plans to slim down its obese portfolio of platforms, shrinking he number of “Core Architectures” to 24, which will serve 62 percent of GM’s output. By comparison, more than 60 percent of Volkswagen Group’s output will be served by MQB alone. By 2018, GM wanted to shrink the number of global architectures to 14, serving 90 percent of the volume. By the end of the decade, GM will still use a mess of platforms, while Volkswagen will have long retired platforms altogether. Most carmakers find themselves 10 years behind Volkswagen.
Volkswagen engineers are already working on the next level of integration:
Larger cars with longitudinal engines are underpinned by a Modularer Längsbaukasten. Then there is the NSF (New Small Family) kit for tiny cars, and the Modularer Standardantriebsbaukasten (MSB), designed for premium rear- and all-wheel-drive vehicles such as the Porsche 911, the Bentley Continental and the Lamborghini Gallardo. That large number of kits bugs Hackenberg, and he already thinks about the mother of all kits.
Now you know why leading Volkswagen engineers all have white hair.