By on January 24, 2013

We at TTAC are very excited by modular platforms, and it has nothing to do with undiagnosed autism spectrum disorders or a lack of interest in the wider world outside autos. Modular platforms are the next great leap forward for auto makers; green cars help save cute animals, and thus get all the attention, but guess what underpins the Nissan Leaf? A version of Renault-Nissan’s B Platform, which underpins everything from the Cube to the Clio to the Sandero.

The driving force behind modular platforms is scale. Auto makers are competing in a global marketplace selling an extremely complex commodity product with high R&D costs and low profit margins. Modular platforms help by creating a standard platform and component kit across a number of model lines, making the car less complex to manufacture and allowing for the platform itself to be amortized across a number of model lines.

One could argue that BMW was one of the pioneers of modular platforms, building the 3, 5 and 7-Series in the familiar “one sausage, many lengths” format that we all know and love (or loathe, depending on how much you emotionally invest yourself in the brand). Recently, Volkswagen has taken modularity to  another level with their MQB platform. Different components can be added or removed depending on the vehicle’s footprint or engine size, but the distance between the front axle and the pedal box remains fixed. This allows VW an unprecedented amount of flexibility to build pretty much every transverse, front-wheel drive vehicle off of one platform, at any of its global factories that is configured to build MQB-based cars. The advantages as far as scale goes are unprecedented.

PSA, the struggling French automaker behind Peugeot and Citroen, has just released their own version of a modular platform, dubbed EMP2, as a means of capitalizing on that trend. From a product standpoint,  EMP2 will cover the C and D segment cars in the PSA range, which are fairly large for Europe, but account for about half of PSA’s sales.Crucially, EMP2 will not be applicable to B segment cars, while VW’s MQB platform will, a major oversight given that PSA relies on markets like Europe, Africa and South America, where B segment cars are most important.

Instead, EMP2 will be the building blocks for vehicles like the Citroen C5 mid-size sedan, the DS4 and DS5 premium hatchbacks and the Peugeot 308 and 508, which compete in the C and D segment respectively. EMP2 will also be used to build station wagons, SUVs (which PSA currently sources from other OEMs) MPV-type vehicles (minivan type cars that are smaller than North American minivans, a popular segment in Europe that PSA has traditionally been an innovation leader) such as the next generation Citroen C4 Picasso and the all-important light commercial vehicle segment.

PSA is touting weight savings of 154 lbs versus outgoing models, with a 22 percent reduction in CO2 emissions thanks to technologies like start-stop systems, electric power steering, lightweight construction materials and low rolling resistance tires. Other advanced features like electronic parking brakes, active aerodynamics and radar-guided cruise control were also touted in a short video released by PSA.

From a manufacturing standpoint, PSA appears to have emulated a number of VW’s innovations with EMP2, while making some interesting advancements. Much like MQB, EMP2 relies on a series of “plug and play” modules, with some interesting differentiations. For example, EMP2 offers two rear suspension options; a beam axle or a multilink independent system can be optioned, depending on whether PSA wants to keep costs down or to provide a superior driving experience. A high or low driving position and a short or long rear section can be substituted, allowing for an easy transition between a passenger car or something like an MPV or commercial vehicle that requires more cargo room and a higher seating position.

Where EMP2 appears to fall flat is in the front section – while MQB offers an exceptional degree of customization up front (with only the one fixed point) it appears that PSA has kept the front section fixed, with various powertrains able to be installed. Given the size and profitability delta between PSA and VW, it’s understandable that PSA would opt for a simpler, less expensive solution, though the importance of scale and flexibility suggests that VW will continue to have the upper hand with MQB. It’s likely that the fixed front section is one of the key stumbling blocks preventing EMP2 from being used as a B-segment platform, since the single fixed point of MQB allows for different wheelbases as well, something EMP2 is not capable of.

From a manufacturing standpoint, PSA has also given up much of the flexibility that Volkswagen enjoys with MQB, in exchange for what is ostensibly a cheaper and less complex architecture. PSA simply does not have the R&D budget and global scale to embark on something as ambitious as MQB, and therefore must make tradeoffs in certain areas. On the other hand, PSA doesn’t require such an overarching modular architecture like VW does, and can tailor its factories to produce popular models that align closely with local tastes (such as high-end crossovers and larger sedans in China, MPVs and C-Segment cars in Europe), whereas Volkswagen must manage multiple brands and product lines across a greater number of markets.

The first EMP2 products will be the Citroen Picasso MPV and the new C-segment Peugeot 308 – which will compete against the MQB-based Golf, as well as its Skoda and SEAT siblings. Worth noting is that both VW and PSA are debuting these products at a time when the mainstream car market is eroding in Europe. The real threat may come from the low-cost entries, specifically Renault’s Dacia line, which offers B and C segment sedans and hatchbacks, as well as compact SUVs and MPVs, at cut-rate prices, with little appreciable difference in quality. While high-content features like start-stop and radar-guided cruise control may be absent, the basic features that many motorists require, like air-conditioning and central locking are still available. And given Europe’s precarious economic state, the price – frequently under 10,000 euro – is right. Meanwhile, Renault, taking advantage of their own modular platform system, is making as much as 9 percent profit on the cars, margins that PSA can only dream of.



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30 Comments on “Analysis: PSA Debuts EMP2, Their Own Modular Platform System...”

  • avatar

    Yes! More posts like this. Current manufacturing news for us older Americans with factory-envy.

    Stripped of their hideous sheet metal and crushing rooflines, modern vehicles are still fascinating.

    BTW, it looks like BOF is being reincarnated as Body-On-Pallet.

  • avatar

    But will PSA survive long enough for the world to see a French car based on this new EMP2 platform? Or will PSA go bust, allowing a Chinese (why does it always have to be the Chinese?) manufacturer to pick up the pieces and launch the first EMP2-based vehicle?

  • avatar

    “The real threat may come from the low-cost entries, specifically Renault’s Dacia line, which offers … at cut-rate prices, with little appreciable difference in quality.”

    Derek, I’m afraid you need to drive a Dacia. Or at least look at one. I think looking from 20 feet could be enough to appreciate the differences in quality.

    • 0 avatar

      I saw the Duster at the 2010 Paris Show. Can’t say it was that much worse than the other French stuff…

      • 0 avatar

        Well, I haven’t driven a Dacia since the Duster was introduced two years ago, but I rode in a Logan MPV a few months back and I must say it was truly, truly awful.

        I have to admit that base-level Renaults here in Czech Republic are not that much better, but even the most basic Mégane (which costs well under €10.000 and I think it’s not even sold in Western Europe) is appreciably less tragic than Dacia.

        And Renault or PSA stuff that people in Western Europe actually buy is a world difference from any Dacia. And if you compare Dacias to virtually anything else but lowest-level French stuff, they are monstrously ugly.

        That’s why people end up buying VW stuff, which is much more expensive, but you doesn’t feel like you was just eaten by a rubber duck, looking at its intestines…

  • avatar

    How does this compare with Chrylser building most of their product line off of the basic K car platform in the 1980s-1990s? Did the Chrylser line have many parts in common, but not the same platform? On the surface, they seem very similiar.

  • avatar

    It all depends on how this is executed. VW has traditionally kept a very high value in their platforms meaning that even the cheapest models had an expensive feel to them because of the engineering. If PSA can do the same they might have a chance but if the midline models feel the same as the cheap ones this will be a failure.

    I wonder how long before it gets over here. I can see Chryco via FIAT getting it, GM not doing anything and with Ford, who knows? It all depends on how mgmt is post Mulally. It’s no accident that the companies that embrace these types of changes are run by engineers, not the marketers.

    • 0 avatar

      Great point, Dimwit. The problem for the 2nd and 3rd tier players is that during the financial downturn during 2008-2011 Volkswagen stepped on the investment gas pedal while everyone else backed off.

      IIRC, Volkswagen has invested something like $60 billion (that’s with a “B”, kids) in the MQB architecture – and that’s before anything rolled off the lines starting last spring.

      Really neat stuff and I’d love to read more about the details.

    • 0 avatar

      what do you mean “gets over here” ? GM Delta II is under all sorts of things. Ford C1 as well. and Ford CD4. and whatever’s under the Dart and the various Alfas and Fiats it shares it’s bones with.

      no one is going to go back to unique platforms for similar products. there will always be market/segment-specific architectures which are utilized on a small number of nameplates (full-sized pickups, specialty vehicles, holdover potential orphans and exotics) but that’s not where the profits and investment will be concentrated.

  • avatar

    I wonder if this platform can be extended to the E-segment. They are working on a future DS9, I imagine this would be the most cost-effective way to do it. If so, then this would be a great way for them to have some larger cars – imagine an E-segment sedan, a Crossover / SUV and potentially a minivan for both Peugeot and Citroën on this platform. Any SUV they could produce would be astronomically better than the ones they rebadged from Mitsubishi. If they shared this platform with Opel and hell, even Mitsubishi, they could achieve a pretty good economy of scale.

    Anyway, very interesting article, keep them coming!

  • avatar

    The Japanese started standardization back in the day with things as surprising as using a standard set of bolt sizes and the Industry has been refining the art ever since.
    If I am not mistaken Renault is the Euro mini-mini-van leader because they made a minivan using their compact Megan platform to create the Scenic and “creating” the genera.

    • 0 avatar

      correct. the Megane Scenic was the first C-sized MAV in Europe and was quite successful for Renault. as had been the Espace when it was originally introduced way back in the mid-80s.

  • avatar

    The clarification came pretty quickly — GM and PSA announced today that they will use PSA platforms for the joint development program. That should give EMP2 sufficient volume to be worthwhile.

  • avatar
    mulled whine

    when I first glanced at that pic, I thought they had just come up with a modern day Kubelwagen.

    Its pretty cool. I think they should sell it as is, and leave the bodywork off.

  • avatar

    BMW’s 3/5/7 have never to my knowledge shared common architecture.

    the 3 series has always been distinct from the 5/7 range. engines and switches and such were shared, but the other moving and non-moving bits have been different otherwise.

    I’m not sure that platform sharing is anything new in general though, as others have noted, but like anything, if done right, it’s noteworthy. or if done poorly for that matter. anyone who tries to operated without common global architecture for it’s vehicles is going to end up on the short end of a “merger of equals” or die a painful death.

  • avatar

    I wonder if the Accord platform is modular. They already underpin damn near everything bigger than a Civic.

    • 0 avatar

      i heard about that too. the Odyssey and pilot/mdx suvs are based on accord platform while crv and stream mpv are based on civic, the city/insight / crz are based on fit and various kei cars

  • avatar

    Is a C5 without Hydractive suspension really a Citroen?

    • 0 avatar

      Well, not really I suppose. But only the C5 I always had Hydractive. The C5 II is only available with Hydractive when you buy the Exclusive spec. Otherwise it is using a conventional spring setup. It too seems to be comfort oriented though. Luckily the Exclusive spec only costs a few thousand Euro more than the one sitting below, and adds other stuff too… the cost of the Hydractive system doesn’t seem to be so expensive.

  • avatar

    Just found this article after doing a search on B-platform and should say that the modular architecture now being rolled out across Renault and Nissan (first examples, Qashqai, Rogue, X-trail) is referred to as the Common Module Family, or CMF. There are two major versions, CMF1 and CMF2, with the former for D-seg and the latter for C-seg models, although there is some flex there.

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