By on February 11, 2013

Hackenberg and Winterkorn

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.

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28 Comments on “The Kit Hit: Hackenberg Joins Henry Ford, Alfred Sloan And Taiichi Ohno...”


  • avatar
    fredtal

    Is the MQB really a new idea? To me it sounds like a better more complete execution of the Ford FOX chassis. I’ve seen the concept presented for 10 to 20 years. Still I’m looking forward to the A3 version to replace my 2007 in a couple of years

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      I would go one step further and suggest the Falcon/Fairlane/Pinto and its variants were even closer to the MQB idea.

      But I have a question about this: “Modularer Standardantriebsbaukasten (MSB), designed for premium rear- and all-wheel-drive vehicles such as the Porsche 911, the Bentley Continental and the Lamborghini Gallardo”. One integrated modular platform low volume vehicles with wildly different power train layouts?

      That sounds both cost inefficient and bound to be riddled with compromises. There is also a risk they are institutionalizing long term inflexibility. By that I mean, what is flexible today, may become a constraint 5 years down the road.

  • avatar

    MQB is NOT a chassis.

    • 0 avatar
      fredtal

      Chassis platform architecture matrix …. it’s all the same to me.

      • 0 avatar
        hreardon

        Very far from it, fredtal. Think in terms of legos or of an old erector set. But that’s only part of the ingenuity behind this architecture – the key component is in the flexibility of manufacture which allows (in theory) any MQB production line to assemble any MQB vehicle. There’s a commonality in architecture, commonality in assembly components, commonality in assembly methods. The other major component in MQB is the ability to mix and match different materials during assembly. This will permit Audi to employ more aluminum and other weight savings components in their MQB product (A3, next generation A1 and Q3, TT), while allowing Volkswagen to stick with more traditional materials to reduce cost.

        Audi was the first to test this with MLB in the new A5 and A4, then expanded to the A6, 7 and 8 and Q5. The speed with which they were able to bring the A5 Sportback to market is a testament to the flexibility of the architecture. The next step for Audi is “MLB-EVO” which uses more exotic materials (carbon fiber).

        The flexibility allows designers to stretch the height, width or wheelbase, the only fixed points being the angle the engine is mounted and the front axle-pedal box distance. Otherwise the sky is limit. Audi rolled out the first MQB last March with the A3 3-door, followed by the A3 Sportback in September, followed by the forthcoming A3 sedan this spring and the A3 convertible likely this fall. The 3-door, Sportback and sedan are all on different wheelbases, but the flexibility of the architecture makes it very feasible to accomodate market changes very quickly.

        So, that’s a long winded and pedantic way of saying: don’t think of it as just a chassis.

  • avatar
    helius

    Is there an article out there about the downsides of the MQB architecture (or any of the other architectures)?

    Given that engineering is by definition about compromises, surely there are some downsides?

    • 0 avatar

      Speaking as someone with zero manufacturing or engineering training, the first thing that popped into my head is the possibility of cascading problems. If there is a defective part, then recalls on a scale like we’ve never seen before could be possible, if they’re ordering 7 times the number of parts compared to a usual platform (5 mil versus 35 mil for MQB was a cited example).

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “the first thing that popped into my head is the possibility of cascading problems.”

        I’m not an engineer, either, but a lean production system makes parts in relatively small batches and theoretically should be able to catch and correct errors early.

        In practice, though, that doesn’t always work as intended. Toyota, which helped to pioneer lean, now sometimes ends up with comparatively large recalls because a bad design or part that isn’t caught early will end up being used in numerous applications and produced in high volumes before the problem is discovered. The vehicles are still more reliable than average, but individual incidents can impact relatively large numbers of consumers.

        There’s risk with both approaches. If every model was totally unique, then the challenge would be with the need to get so many more different things right. That would probably be even worse; the fewer opportunities for unique problems, the better.

      • 0 avatar
        hreardon

        Derek -

        That’s a major concern. I work with several companies that are medial parts suppliers and as their volume of sales grows, so does their paranoia about just such a cascading failure/defect. My understanding is that Volkswagen has spent considering time and money working with suppliers to simplify, verify and de-complicate in an effort to minimize just such problems.

        Volkswagen and Audi are making a big push for localization of production and this means localized parts supplies as well. With so many disparate providers there is a need to reduce complexity. Let’s hope that pays off in increased reliability.

  • avatar
    mike978

    This sound like what Mazda is already doing too (albeit on a much smaller scale). With the CX5, new Mazda 6 and soon to release Mazda 3 all having the same platform.

    How many platforms does Toyota currently have? GM was referenced since they actually gave a number, just curious how the others stack up.

  • avatar
    brettc

    So will the MQB Golf built in Mexico mean a less expensive but still high quality car? I love VWs but the prices are getting out of the people’s car range. (Unless you want a base Jetta). What they’re doing with the new platforms is pretty amazing to me so I hope it works out well for them and for consumers.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      The Mexican-built MQB Golfs will likely be somewhat less expensive than the current Mk6 ones, but no one knows by how much. Build quality should be about the same, interior materials no one outside VW knows yet.

  • avatar
    jaybird124

    I wish I could understand how this differs from a platform. Hopefully another article explaining the technology will come about.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t think of it as a platform per se. It uses a number of interchangable sections, like Lego, with one fixed dimmension, the distance between the front axle and the pedal box. That’s how you can build everything from a Polo to a Pilot-sized crossover with threerows on one architecture. Compare it to PSA’s modular platform, which only has an interchangeable rear section. You’re stuck doing variants of C and D segment stuff, rather than an enormous range like VW can do.

  • avatar
    L'avventura

    I’m not convinced the MBQ is as revolutionary as this article makes it out to be. VW plans on developing 3 more “Modularer Baukasten” platforms, evidencing that the platform itself isn’t as modular as its presented here.

    A lot of the core concepts being implemented with the MBQ are already being used by most of the auto-industry. In reality, the concepts of reusing, modularizing, and standardizing components for suppliers has been a trend in the autoindustry for over a decade.

    We’ve had examples such as the Lotus VVA, which, according to Lotus is so versatile it can be used in a small mid-engined sports car like the Elise to a crossover SUV like the APX concept. But the complexity of a large mass production vehicle, made across continents, and a disparity of global suppliers, is vastly more challenging than what Lotus imagines.

    One car company that has ‘retired platforms altogether’ is Honda. Honda never has fancy marketing names for their platforms like other company’s “SkyActiv platform” or VW “Modular Matrix”. Honda essentially uses, and has been using, one platform for the majority of their non-kei/sports cars. All Honda’s vehicles, from the Ridgeline pickup, Acura RLX, MDX, to the Civic/Accord are basically stretched and compressed versions of single FWD platform which has glacially evolved over the decades.

    Other companies aren’t that far behind, GM’s and Nissan-Renault’s platforms are ranked very highly for intra-group sharing, cross segment sharing and modularity (even when directly compared against the MBQ):

    http://goo.gl/EP98H (PDF)

    The future, beyond a single company’s platform, is further industry wide standardization for auto parts. Standards to insure the interchangeability of core components would exists so that there would be interoperability between brands. Ideally, this platform modularity to be extended to beyond brands and opened up to competition. As TTAC pointed out, governments have tried to do this before (and failed):

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/tag/meti/

    • 0 avatar

      I think that the MQB itself is one part of the equation. The other side of it is with the volumes that VW Group does, and much of their volume coming from B-segment and larger cars with transverse engines, they have one architecture for a majority of their cars. Other OEMs of a similar size (key phrase here; Honda is not, Lotus is not etc) are nowhere near this level of standardization.

      • 0 avatar
        L'avventura

        If volume alone was a criteria for FWD transversely mounted B segment vehicles, than Renault-Nissan’s V-platform and Toyota’s MC offer much that this MBQ offers.

        Renault-Nissan does one better in that its diverse and fills the price spectrum over a global array of brands and suppliers. They build low-cost Dacias and soon Russian-built Autovaz ventures and a Datsun-revival with the V platform as well.

        What is amazing with Honda is that it basically builds their entire brand on a single platform, outside of kei-cars and speciality sports cars like the now-defunct S2000. We are talking about A-D segments, a pickup, low cost cars and a luxury-brand. The new NSX is rumoured to be the same transversely mounted flipped around so that the V-6 in the rear of the driver.

        MBQ doesn’t seem to offer any versatility or modularity than other similar platforms in the industry. Contrary to what has been said, VW hasn’t “abandoned platforms”, which is why they are making different MB platforms.

        Simply, I don’t see, as this article asserts, that other “carmakers find themselves 10 years behind Volkswagen”.

  • avatar
    Lynn E.

    Please more articles and examples of how MQB works. I don’t get it.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      As I understand it, a traditional platform usually defines the width, wheelbase (although the wheelbase can be varied somewhat) and engine mounting points. Those constraints limit the design possibilities and largely define the size class of the car.

      Based upon the diagram above, it would appear that the modular concept fixes the platform to a limited area between the front wheels and the A-pillar, and uses a plug-and-play approach to create the rest of the vehicle, allowing for some greater degree of versatility while lowering R&D costs for some elements of the design, since models of various types and sizes will now share more things in common.

      I suspect that L’avventura is right, and that it isn’t really that radical of a switch. As noted, Honda has been effectively using a variation of one platform for many of its vehicles for quite some time (although I don’t think that they slice it and dice it using quite the same approach that VAG is here.)

      (Engineers, feel free to correct any of this.)

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Will this not run the risk of another Seville? Isn’t there the danger that the A4 and Jetta or whatever somehow become equivalent in the buyers’ minds and POOF! So long luxury margins?

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      A4 and Jetta have never been on the same platform, and will not be in the future, either (A4 will be MLB, Jetta will be MQB).

      But Golf, Jetta, Eos, New Beetle, A3 and TT have all shared platforms in the past. VW tends to do a pretty good job of differentiating the different models on the same platform, though.

    • 0 avatar
      xantia10000

      Nope, because all the sharing is underneath the sheet metal. To a customer, the different tops will be enough differentiation. This is not a GM/Ford/Chrysler badge engineering game.

  • avatar
    wmba

    I too have wondered about the real advantages of MQB. Everything is “variobel” except the engine, steering gear, dash and front suspension mountings. And the advantages are so nebulous, it took this guy 30 years to persuade Ferdy and his pals that this was the way to go.

    Apparently, such come out of left-field “nutballs” as the IIHS don’t figure in VW’s master plan. Yes, in the rest of the world Euro NCAP and the Oz equivalent plus of course the NHTSA apply standardized government crash tests to motor vehicles.

    The IIHS has since 2008 given the North American driving public the added benefit of roof strength, side impact and most recently the small-overlap front crash tests. Yes, your local friendly insurance company has devised tests BEYOND government requirements. Why? To lower claims for human injury, which outweigh bent pieces of metal. They also want motorcycles to be safer. How laudable.

    The Audi A4 essentially FAILED the new small overlap test, as did Mercedes C class, all covered here on TTAC. Consequently, if I were Mr. Piech and could tear myself away from my harem on the one hand and tearing strips off employees for fun on the other, I would get a spy/mole into IIHS to discover early what new forms of torture the insurance institute is devising to torture the car makers with.

    In that way, 35 million “mistakes” could be avoided. Nobody ever seems to query the IIHS and its methods, but like Consumer Reports and its gas mileage whining, the car makers are forced to respond to public criticism, just because. Cementing a design so solidly that all your factories and products make essentially the same thing the same way does not strike me as due diligence in the event of an unknown problem that outside forces discover.

    On the other hand, Chinese parts suppliers will have far fewer SKUs to stock for the repair/metal-bashing overspray trade, all dutifully sporting VAG/Audi part numbers.

  • avatar
    Remi

    Ford invented mass production, Taiichi Ohno invented the Toyota Production System, those are big shoes to fill, I think it’s a little premature to add Hackenberg to the list…

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Its amazing what VW can do, whats more astounding is they can’t seem to build a reliable car for the US market.

  • avatar
    RS

    I would guess this allows for more standardized manufacturing among their model variations. Different models can go down the the assembly line with minimal change-over time – where fixtures are reused for most and maybe just a robotic program change for assembly location variables. Adapting assembly equipment to a different location isn’t as big a deal if it’s not very far and the parts are standardized.

    As mentioned by others here, other companies are already doing it in some form as well – but they don’t have a fancy name. The potential savings (and quality improvements) using minimally variable manufacturing and part standardization can’t be ignored.

    One interesting thing about platform development like this (and others) is lower end models get chassis dynamics similar to the higher end variations.

    It’s also very good from a maintenance standpoint to have similar and inexpensive/standardized parts. The challenge for designers will be how to differentiate models with fewer variables.

  • avatar
    hreardon

    I don’t mean to harp, but MQB really is NOT a platform in the traditional sense. A typical manufacturer’s platform would essentially be a chassis with a fixed wheelbase that would let you change the sheet metal and interior (the “hat”). The result is things like the oddly proportioned Cadillac XTS which has too many fixed points to deal with.

    MQB is a building block, lego-esque kit that allows for everything to be variable with the exception of the front axle to the pedal box. Otherwise the width, wheelbase, track, front and rear overhangs, etc., can all be variable. That will allow them to build a Passat that has Passat-like proportions while still sharing extensive commonality with a Golf, instead of looking like a stretched Golf, or a Golf looking like a shrunken Passat.

    When it comes to assembly techniques, I need to locate it, but Volkswagen published a fascinating PowerPoint a few months ago that described the simplication there. Case in point was the design of a mounting bracket for the dashboard: in the past the Golf, Tiguan, various Skodas, Audis and Seats all had unique mounting brackets and mounting methods for the dashboard. Under MQB they’ve consolidated that down to just one mounting bracket and one mounting method. As a result, A new MQB A3 has a very unique dash compared to the new MQB Golf, but they’re assembled using the same technique and the same sub-components.

    For power trains, VW and Audi have standardized their transverse engines to all angle the same way (~15 degrees back) and mount the same way. In the past the 2.0TFSI, 3.2VR6, 2.5, 1.8, 1.4, 1.2, 2.0TDI, all had unique mounting positions in the engine bay and unique orientations. The gasoline models mounted differently from the diesels and each was packaged somewhat uniquely. Now, all of the engines will mount the same with near-identical packaging and placement.

    • 0 avatar
      ydnas7

      Platform is when the engineers ‘silo’ a design for maximum bang/buck but minimum diversity for market choice. epitome is Ford model T

      An alternative is a more LEGO approach whether known as VW’s MQB or a Japanese FWD ‘platform’ where increased variety takes greater precedence.

      An historical example would be Holden in the 1950′s producing sedans, utes, panel vans and wagons using a minimum of dies. Today that might be called a platform, but but then, the General Motor’s norm would be for a single body for a factory of that size. The Diversity of models offered by Holden was LEGO like.

      Nissan seems to be quite strict about common components but has a mixed salad approach to pressed metal, with pressing used between platforms, across generations and plenty of model specific pressing also. Personal I divide Nissan into 2 main FWD designs, based upon choice of CVT! Jatco CVT7 for 1.8L and below Jatco CVT8 for 2.4L and above. Many platforms but just 2 designs


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