By on August 7, 2011

Within the next ten years, the car industry will change more than in the past fifty years. At least at Volkswagen, says Audi Chief Rupert Stadler. Platforms are a thing of the last century. The future of the car industry is kit cars. Or make that cars designed and built using elements of a common kit architecture. Currently, there are two families of erector kits which can be assembled into all kinds of cars at Volkswagen. They have Teutonic names like “Modularer Querbaukasten” (MQB)  and “Modularer Längsbaukasten” (MLB). Porsche is developing a “MMB” (Modularer Mittelbaukasten) for Mittelmotor (mid-engined) cars. Or possibly a MSB (Modularer Standardbaukasten), which could be the Mutter of all Baukasten.

Audi is already working with the MLB architecture. This coming year, Volkswagen will start using the MQB. Says Automobilwoche [sub]:

“The Modulare Querbaukasten will provide at least 43 models of Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda and Seat with the same components: Underbody, axles, drivetrains. Europe’s largest automaker wants to become more flexible, wants to react faster to changing customer demands and wants to save 30 percent of costs. Michael Macht, chief of production, calls it a ‘milestone’.”

Success and failure of a car company will be decided in the emerging markets. This is where the growth is. But this is also where a lot of small cars change hands and the smaller the car, the bigger the need for creative cost control. VW chief Martin Winterkorn said: „In the car business, staying power is built on a better cost structure.“

The new kit architecture „is more than a new technology, it is a strategic weapon,” said Ulrich Hackenberg, chief of Volkswagen’s Research and Development. It also allows to build niche cars and to react to regional differences without reinventing the wheels. Audi alone will increase its model count from 38 today to 50 by 2020.

A new production engineering is inherent to the kit architecture. Volkswagen plants worldwide are being currently changed to accommodate the kit, and to become nodes in a larger production kit architecture.

If people think of badge engineering, then they are misguided, says Hackenberg:

“The creativity of engineers and designers of the different brands remains unencumbered. In the contrary. It is more welcome and more demanded than ever before.“


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17 Comments on “The Revolution Of The Car Industry: Kit Cars...”

  • avatar

    This is just an evolutionary step…

    Ten years ago, Max Bob said the same, that platforms were so last-century, and scalable architectures and component sets were where it was at…

    Last century, GM pretty much had this too due to the component groups producing soup-to-nuts parts … eventually this became a constraint (evident when one could see the similarity between a Chevy and Caddy components, or heavens!, engine sharing) While at the seme time being saddled with high-wages and restrictive work-rules at the component-supplier level.

    I’m not saying VW is on the wrong track; by no means. But VW needs to be careful to develop this idea judiciously, so as to not push it beyond its logical limit and suffer the loss of unique brand identities that (among other things for sure) preceded the loss of brand image and brand sales.

    • 0 avatar

      I thought of the exact same thing..the GM skateboard.
      From the AUTOnomy files…

      “Just as GM’s experimental Firebird I, II and III vehicles of the 1950s showed a daring vision of the future, AUTOnomy provides a glimpse into GM’s revolutionary vision for the 21st century: a socially responsible, infinitely adaptable and globally marketable vehicle line that has minimal design constraints”

    • 0 avatar

      I think VW has been pretty good with platform sharing without making people think a Skoda is a Seat… except on the positive side that all were regarded of high quality.

      I know there was/is some cannibalism between VW brands… but it worked out great for VW that people bought a Skoda over an Opel. Maybe 10% of the Skoda costumers came from VW, but the 90% that came from other brands more than made up for that.

      GM was nothing like that… their strategy was to sell the very same car under different names and prices and only replacing the badge. in addition the GM cars and engines were 10-20 year old designs. Obviously they failed.

      Most car buyers don’t care about brand identity. The people cross-shopping Skoda/VW/Seat stay withing the VW family because they trust the quality, but chose the Seat/Skoda/VW that seems to be the best bang for their buck and needs at the time. Audi/Porsche are different, those are bought for brand identity reasons.

      This article actually complements the previous Saab article and proves (again) that a small company like Saab never will make it. Not in the 21st century anyway.

    • 0 avatar

      @Robert. Walter “scalable architectures and component sets”
      Hasn’t Ford always done this to some degree with unibody cars? For example the Fairlane/Falcon/Pinto variations. It’s just that it’s being done globally now, as opposed to continentally. I’m sure others have done this as well.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    My question is, why does every automaker on the planet seem to be able to do a better job at this than GM does?

    • 0 avatar

      Because GM has a culture that is innately incapable of being competitive for the long term, due to the focus on internal politics and gamesmanship at the expense of engineering.

      More than the waste of tax dollars, this was what appalled me about the bailout; that it prevented the shakeup that GM so desperately needs to actually return to being the design and engineering powerhouse that we remember from the too-distant past.

    • 0 avatar

      My question is, why does every automaker on the planet seem to be able to do a better job at this than GM does?

      For one, GM was once the largest corporation in the world, and a very successful one at that. That sort of success often spawns hubris and complacency, and GM has had plenty of both.

      In North America, it had an additional problem — a branding model that was designed to beat Ford in the pre-war era, but that became unsustainable as the market began to change.

      What was once a strength became a liability, with most of the brands trying to compete in multiple price tiers. That was not what they were meant to do but that mission creep was a sure ticket to cannibalization. GM began to eat itself, when it should have been competing with everyone else, instead.

  • avatar

    Doggone it, when I read the headline, I was thinking of “Aha! Now I can buy a car like the old coach-built ones, thinking “Duesenberg”! What a let-down!

    So, are we to see the old VW-chassis make-believe dune buggies and other faux-classics in miniature like we did 40 years ago? Nope, don’t want one.

    • 0 avatar

      I was thinking a resurgence of home-built kits like what was popular in the 80s, and much for the same reason: Allow nifty-looking sporty and powerful cars that completely skirt around safety, emissions, and CAFE regulations. Granted the faux-classics built on Chevettes, bugs etc. aren’t what I had in mind, but rather a more daily-driver capable and more budget-friendly version of Superformance, Factory Five etc.

  • avatar

    VW kits? Wow, what a novel idea.

    I guess the engineers at Bugatti, now that Veyron production has ended, finally had time to finish Piech”s Bradley GT.

    Of course, Piech’s had 15 coats of hand-rubbed purple metalflake paint…

    “The Modulare Querbaukasten will provide at least 43 models of Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda and Seat with the same components: Underbody, axles, drivetrains.”

    Didn’t we used to call those things “frames”???

  • avatar

    Hmmm, wonder if anybody has put a TDI drivetrain into a Factory Five Coupe?

  • avatar

    This is where VW excels. The engineering and design is amortized over a large volume and it has to work for the top of the line models. The base value editions at the bottom of the chain are far better than any competing version as a result.

    Buy yourself a basic Golf and it blows the doors off of the nominal competitors. Yes, it does cost more, but not to the extent of making it out of reach. Look at a base Golf and a top of the line Aveo. It’s a joke. And there’s only a difference of a few dollars.

    If they can keep up that sort of program, this americanization of the Jetta is worrisome, it could work out fairly well. The big issue is if they have 2 parts bins. The “German” one and the Skoda/Mexican/US one.

  • avatar

    For those who are curious as to the “power” that these new kits provide, look no further than Audi’s product warpath. The new kit architecture (which, IIRC Winterkorn advocated and may have had a hand in developing at Audi) is the key to quick product responses, profitable niche filling and cost reduction across the board.

    Since 2008 the MLP has spawned the A4, A5, A5 Sportback, Q5, A6, A7, A8 and various “s” cars in-between. It has allowed Audi to step into these niches without having to spin up a whole new production line or stamping process. The result: you can produce a run of the mill, conservative A8 and then bring to market something with more flair, like the A7. This gives you economies of scale, (hopefully) expands the appeal of the brand to a broader customer base, and does something very important: spreads the risk. You’re far more likely to introduce a more niche model like the A7 if you know that your startup costs are minimal as compared to a completely new, standalone model.

    The MQB will obviously be very important for the VW brand, but Audi will leverage it with the new A3 and TT. The nice thing about MQB is that it allows Audi to bolt on things that it could not before when running on a Golf platform – such as greater use of aluminum or composites for weight savings, etc.

    The new kit mentality will allow VW to better avoid cannibalization for this exact reason – it is more flexible, scalable and tailorable than the platforms before it. It’s big news.

  • avatar
    Hildy Johnson

    If we suppose for a moment that VW’s expected cost savings are not pure hyperbole, then one has to wonder: Why didn’t they wait for that platform to be ready and then base the new Jetta and US Passat on it? They might have been able to get similar cost savings without all the stripping, for which they received quite a lot of flak.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    So, has anyone ever made a ‘universal’ platform that didn’t weigh more than a dedicated design would have?

    • 0 avatar

      The Chrysler K-platform was pretty nearly “universal” and I don’t recall anything built on a K to be what I would consider heavy.

      Besides, wasn’t the K platform one of the first implementations of this strategy VW is implementing? It certainly led to Chrysler having a profitable 15+ year run before being raped and pillaged. VW’s ideas aren’t new, they’re just successfully implemented so rarely VW can make them newsworthy.

  • avatar

    How many of VAG current vehicles are based on some version of the Golf? They are all share the 2.0T engine as well. GM’s problem is they started with a crummy base then slapped different badges on it, plus in most cases they didn’t even try to make them look or function differently. Thus instead of just one lame car they have four versions of it for sale.

    I too wish true kit cars would make a come back… however I’m one those crazy people that thought the idea of a Pontiac Fiero with a Lambo kit (+ V8 in the back) was a downright awesome idea.

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