By on June 15, 2013

(Note: This story is not for the TL;NR crowd. If you need it in one short sentence: If your car company isn’t working on a kit architecture, kiss them good-bye.)

Call it coincidence, but immediately after TTAC flogged GM for having missed the kit architecture train, and for being chained to the antique platform model well into the next decade and possibly beyond, GM launched operation pushback. It could not be tolerated that the supposedly “New GM” was painted as a company with out-of-touch technology, so Selim Bingol rallied his troops.

The first skirmishes were fought by GM partisans dropped behind the lines of the story. Their comments seemingly were taken from a common sheet of talking points:

(This story intentionally appears on a weekend. This type of partisan usually works 9-5.)

  • Standardization bad, because when you screw up, you screw up big.
  • Ain’t this simply Badge Engineering again?
  • What’s that “kit” stuff anyway, isn’t it just a short word for “platform?”
  • If it comes from biassed TTAC, it can’t be believed anyway, so move on, nothing to see. Must be a slow newsday.

Later in the newsday, bigger guns were rolled out. Bloomberg checked its notes taken during a March video interview with GM’s product development chief Mary Barra, and ran a lengthy story , heavy on women’s issues and glass ceilings, but also on platforms other than platform heels:

“That means building cars using “platforms”—industry-speak for the basic structure and parts that can be tweaked and repurposed for multiple vehicles. The idea is to use as few platforms as possible, which speeds up development and lowers costs. VW is pushing to reduce its 15 platforms to five by 2019, with more than 55 percent of its vehicles based on just one of those platforms. VW says this will cut its costs by 20 percent.

In 2010, GM had 30 platforms. Barra says the company is on track to reduce that to fewer than 10 by 2020, which should help reduce development costs by $1 billion a year.”

Platforms? Uh-uh. Talking points at work. Message: GM and VW both reduce their platforms, so what’s the point? The story ignores, intentionally or recklessly, that modular architectures are no platforms.

10 platforms by 2020? Uh-uh. GM’s slides, shown during the Global Business Conference Call on June 12, show a target of 17 platforms by 2018, and I doubt that number will suddenly shrink to 10 platforms only two years later. Trust me, if 10 platforms by 2020 would indeed be the target, it would have been on the slides in big bold letters.


As far as Volkswagen’s allegedly 15 existing platforms are concerned (that count appears to come from Wikipedia), they won’t be replaced by five new platforms. As far as Volkswagen is concerned, platforms are dead. Future Volkswagen Group cars will be built based on four, not five, kits, not platforms. Said Volkswagen last year:

“Within the Group, the MQB developed under the auspices of the Volkswagen brand is supplemented by the Modular Longitudinal System (MLB) from Audi, the Modular Standard System (MSB) with Porsche as the competence center and finally the ‘New Small Family’ – the most compact vehicle model series with the Volkswagen up!, SEAT Mii and ŠKODA Citigo.”

These four kits cover everything from a tiny up! to a big Bentley. There even are whispers of a huge universal kit that builds on the four available now. Porsche cleverly claimed the logical name “Modularer Standardbaukasten” (Modular Standard Kit) as theirs, even if it is used to build the definitely non-standard exotic parts of Volkswagen’s empire, Porsches, Bentleys, possibly Bugattis and Lamborghinis, and the more esoteric nameplates of Volkswagen and Audi.

On the same June 13th our platform story ran, Bloomberg activated its Tokyo crew to check on Toyota. Toyota currently is a bit buttoned-up when it comes to its modular architecture, but it definitely is in the works. If you ask them, you receive, polite as they are, a “we are still working on it.” With nothing new from Toyota, Bloomberg’s reporters Ma Jie and Masatsugu Horie recalled that they were invited to an eyes-only, no cameras, on-background session in March with Toyota’s Mitsuhisa Kato. Kato is Toyota’s Hackenberg. He is the Chief of all Chief Engineers, he heads Toyota’s R&D Group, and is known to share Hackenberg’s love for modules.

During the March session, when journalists were sufficiently dozing after hearing about organizational changes, 9 meter wide wind tunnels, and the need to produce to local tastes, Toyota had talked about new “car manufacturing technologies.” Tentatively named “Toyota New Global Architecture,” TNGA for short, Toyota did set their system in the same context as Volkswagen’s MQB/MLB, Nissan’s upcoming CMF Common Module Family, and Mazda’s SKYACTIV architecture.

Reminded of what they heard in March, Bloomberg now condensed the off the record session to the message that Toyota is reducing the number of parts. Lede of the story: “Toyota Motor Corp. has decided it no longer needs 50 kinds of airbags to protect drivers’ knees. Ten, the company says, ought to suffice.”

Both Bloomberg stories ran a day later in Automotive News, sadly unchanged. AN could have added a bit more professionalism.

First MQB car: Audi A3

Folks at Toyota feel misunderstood, but they are currently unwilling to lift the kimono. Privately, they say that a reduction of the total parts count is one of the many consequences of a modular approach, but this definitely is not the approach in itself.

On the same 13th, publicity-wise a dark Thursday for modular systems, even Reuters joined the fray  and warned:

“VW’s modular platforms, allowing for a greater proportion of parts to be shared among different brands and models, help as the company sets out to become the world’s top automaker by 2018.

Yet, they also make VW more vulnerable if one part turns out to be flawed.”


MQB explained

So what are those kits and modular concepts anyway?

And why are they definitely not a platform with a new fancy name?

Simply put, you build on a platform, but you build with a kit.

Any questions? Alright, in that case:

A common platform usually means what the name says: Common underbody, suspensions, steering, and engine placement. On that, a multitude of different cars can be built, or a multitude of similar cars – a platform does not protect from a lack of creativity.

Nissan CMF schematic

A kit architecture on the other hand breaks the car down further into functional building blocks. There is no more common underbody. Different building blocks can be mated together, in theory allowing the creation of a nearly unlimited number of different cars. Nissan’s CMF  does this quite literally. They divide the car into four sections – engine compartment, cockpit, front underbody and rear underbody and a common architecture for electronic components.  Then, they make different modules to account for weight etc. Others probably will have more, and more esoteric modules.

But won’t that stifle creativity and lead to even more appliances? Just like the kit architectures, the English alphabet uses just a small box of modules, called the 26 characters. With them, and a few punctuation marks, anything can be written, from the bible to porn, from a summons to a love letter, from Jalopnik to TTAC.

Lego dimensions - Picture courtesy Wikipedia

The most important part of these kits are their interfaces. What sets Lego blocks apart from the wooden blocks of centuries past is a common interconnection standard that allows them to snap together without tools, or effort.

From what I have seen so far of the kit architectures of Volkswagen, Nissan, and Toyota, the common interconnection standard is the key concept of all three. For a fourteen year old kid who grew up with object oriented languages and who thinks in methods and properties, these kit architectures and their difference from platforms of old will come naturally. Old dinosaurs will believe they are “just another computer language,” a mistake Bernstein Research made when they called MQB just another PQ35.

Don’t expect revolutionary, super elegant solutions. Modular systems evolve, sacrificing “pure” solutions on the altar of efficiency, just like C++  or VB.NET evolved from the dark ages of Gosub lore, and just like Smalltalk remained just talk – to stay within the allegory of algorithms.

Picture courtesy

Object oriented programming has changed the landscape of computer programming, and has led to rapid development of gadgets that pervade our lives. Similarly, the object oriented kit architectures already change how cars are designed, and made. A modern assembly line long has been able to produce many different cars on the same line, necessary for the build-to-order mass customization popular in Japan and Europe. The batch-oriented way in which cars are made and sold in America has not forced this object-oriented thinking.

“Claims that VW can save up to 20% of the cost of producing a car are simply nonsensical,” says the Bernstein report. Funnily enough, the people I talked to at Nissan and Toyota use a similar, even higher number. Both talked of savings potentials “between 20 and 30 percent.” The savings will not just be “a bit on R&D,” and “a bit on supplier relationship management,” and a few other bits as Bernstein thinks.

Modular architectures will bring huge savings in terms of time to market, engineering, testing, regulatory compliance, manufacturing, and even marketing. To go from PQ35 to MQB involves a major change for a Volkswagen plant, it basically has to be rebuilt. Subsequent interruptions during model changes however will be hardly noticeable. Modular approaches allow addressing small niches in a profitable way – you never know whether a fringe craze will turn into a seminal trend.

As a result of the criticism, automakers with modular architectures in the field or in development have become a bit gun shy when it comes to savings, not because they don’t believe that all the work invested will bring nice pay-offs, most likely more because they don’t want to be caught making those forward-looking statements and answer irate stockholders in class action suits.

When I talked to Volkswagen on Friday about the topic, I had not even raised the question of savings when Volkswagen spokesman Petro Zollino already asked me to understand that “as he is responsible for research and development, Dr. Hackenberg will not comment on key financial data.” Nonetheless, Zollino said Volkswagen is “convinced that we have built an excellent foundation for our future with these kits.”

I have seen a lot of hype at Volkswagen, and over the years, I helped to produce a good deal myself. On the job, I developed a pretty good nose for it. My nose says: MQB is no hype.  In German, “MQB” stands for “Modularer Querbaukasten,” which simply means “modular crosswise  construction kit”  – Meccano, or rather Fischertechnik to build cars with a transverse engine. If there is hype, then in the highfalutin English translation of MQB into “Modular Transverse Matrix.”

The kit architectures could influence car making at least as much as object-oriented languages influenced modern computing. Perhaps, the kits could revolutionize car making more than the assembly line. Hey, you never know.

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77 Comments on “MQB FUD: Burdened By Legacy Platforms, GM Fights Off The Kits – And what are those kits anyway?...”

  • avatar

    I’m hearing Chrysler is considering using Jenga and Ford is moving to Lincoln Logs.

  • avatar

    It makes sense that VW, Nissan, and Toyota are at the forefront of the kits seeing how they have had the most success with platform flexibility.

    I’ll have to see MQB in action before I’m really convinced.

    • 0 avatar

      You’ve already seen MQB in action, albeit in the longitudinal sense, with the Audi A4, S4, A4 Avant, allroad, RS4, A5, S5, A5 Sportback, Q5, SQ5, A6, S6, RS6, A6 Avant, S6 Avant, RS6 Avant, A7, S7, RS7, A8, A8L, and S8.

      The kit architecture was developed at Audi and championed by Martin Winterkorn. No surprise that he then moved up to head of the corporation. So far I would say it’s been a big success for Audi: they’ve been able to roll out variants far more quickly than before, move profitably into niche models (A5 Sportback and A7) and keep overall reliability in check.

      There was a problem with a batch of water pumps on the 3.2V6 and 3.0TFSI engines and a problem with a batch of the new electronic steering systems on recent 2013 models, but to Audi’s credit, they were much quicker to acknowledge those problems and move quickly to fix them than they ever have in the past.

      The biggest criticism has been of Audi design becoming too much “same sausage, different length”, but Audi has already stated they plan to remedy that starting with the new design language slated to debut on the new Q7 this September.

      In the five years of production MLB models I would say that the benefits have far outweighed any potential downsides. So long as some of the returns are funneled back into reliability as they seem to be with Audi’s MLB product, I see MQB to be a big win for VW.

      • 0 avatar

        I guess my question then is how the VW/Audi kit system compares to what Nissan/Renault/Dacia or Toyota already have going?

        The FM “platform” from way back in 2001 seems at least as modular as the MLB “kit”.

    • 0 avatar

      How is Toyota at the forefront? All Bertel has in this article is a quote that “they are working on it,” an anecdote about how their chief of R&D loves modules, and an off-the-record footnote that basically amounts to “we are working on it.”

      Toyota may be on board at some publicly unknown state of progress, but I don’t see how they are at the forefront.

  • avatar

    And thus a new era of automobile globalization dawns upon us.

    Funny that GM would struggle with making the most out of one platform, in the 70’s-80’s they were pretty good at it…though the actual cars and quality were another matter.

  • avatar

    FYI, I think I was the first person to ask the question “How is this different from a platform?” in the comment section of the last article. I’m definitely not a GM partisan or shill. (Never actually owned a GM product (unless you count a Chevy Prism) or even a Ford or Chrysler, and my current car is a much-loved VW B5 Passat. If you’d like you can see my handle and extensive posting history on Get over the persecution complex and inflated sense of importance already…

    Perhaps this question keeps getting asked not because there are legions of GM PR flacks deployed to comment here, but rather because this is the first TTAC article I know of that has actually bothered to try and answer this question in some detail. (And clumsily, at that…) The other articles about these kits have mostly just said they were different from platforms, and that’s that. That slide from Nissan was a great help.

    I do have one more question… with so many of the dimensions on MQB variable, how does this make design and production dramatically easier? Is the front-axle-to-firewall distance of THAT much importance in car design? (I’m a computer guy, not an automotive engineer, so I admit my ignorance here.)

    P.S. OOP has not really lived up to it’s promises; how much it has actually made programming easier over other methods is still up in vigorous debate. You can have the now-ubiquitous message passing with any reasonably modular programming architecture; OOP isn’t necessary for that.

    • 0 avatar

      Keep in mind that MQB is not just a design or architecture – its benefits are spread over everything from logistics to assembly line training and support.

      Volkswagen has a presentation where they give a small example of where MQB becomes very useful. The example they provide is that of the assembly and parts required to mount a dashboard to the A-pillar and front of the cabin. Whereas in the past there would be dozens of parts, requiring dozens of different stampings, assembly training and techniques, checkout, logistics, etc., there is now one. They also now have a common engine bay arrangement whereas in the past there were multiple variants depending on the model, what displacement and technology (TDI or gas); Now all engines are angled identical, packaged in the bay identical and are themselves modular which makes assembly easier as well.

      Those are two small examples, but the sum of these incremental changes is substantial in the whole of the vehicle. When it comes to assembly Volkswagen can now make lines more flexible than before. The speed with which they are expanding the Puebla, Mexico plant to build MQB Golfs (and my guess, to also migrate the existing Jetta to MQB in the very near future) is a testament to the streamlined process this brings to the table. The expansion was officially announced in March of this year (though no doubt in planning for far longer than that) and should be online in March of next year.

      Front-axle to firewall probably has more to do with the types of powerplants than anything else: the transverse engines have a completely unique packaging from the longitudinal ones found in Audis (apart from the TT, A3 and A1) and the platforms look to be engineering and geared toward engines as the standards-bearer more than anything else. As I mentioned earlier, consolidating the gasoline and TDI engines to common packaging was a major win that simplifies a lot. That’s the core commonality that then drives the rest of the packaging and allows for everything else to be plug and play like lego bricks.

    • 0 avatar

      The goal of OOP is not to “make programming easier”, but to foster code reusability and substitution through the use of interface design and the minimization of external dependencies. Testability, robustness, resiliency and ease of maintenance/adaptation are all benefits of OO programming, when part of a complete strategy that is rigorously applied.

      It’s interesting to see these same principles applied to car manufacturing. How it applies is that OOP strives to make every component a “black box”, all that matters is what you tell it and what you expect it to do. So we might, for example, have a “power train box” that has fixed dimensions, hard points and control inputs and outputs.

      One of the big questions is how to deal with change. New features and requirements can’t all be known at the beginning. How OOP deals with this is that multiple interfaces are used. For example, one interface might provide basic arithmetic functions. Later when, trig functions are needed, you don’t redefine the existing interface, you create a trig interface and new components implement both these interfaces. That way the old code that depends on the arithmetic functions doesn’t break (or have to be changed).

      The art in all this is proper interface design which is hard to do right for anything except the simplest interfaces. I would expect that with physical hardware (which also contains software!), it’s even harder!

      There’s no question that OOP works when done right. Objects model the real world very effectively and the isolation (and hiding) of the niggly bits to within those objects makes thorough testing much, much easier. Anyone who has been around code for any time should know that thorough testing is incredibly important.

  • avatar

    Great article. Should answer most of the questions regarding “kit” vs. “platform”.
    Let’s see how it works out in real life.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. Bertel did a great job in this article but I have to add that I thought this whole kit vs platform thing was already well understood by anyone with even a modicum of interest in automotive design concepts.

  • avatar

    Nice work Mr Schmitt. The analogy to object oriented code and the re-usability of foundation class libraries is a valid one. Cars have been following their own version of “Moore’s law” becoming cheaper (inflation adjusted), more reliable, better equipped and more powerful with every generation. Just as new semiconductor technology is required every decade for computing to progress, car manufacturing needs periodic leaps of design philosophy and process to keep the progress coming. These invariable include leveraging standardization and economies of scale and the kit revolution is just another phase of this trend.

    • 0 avatar

      Great point there, Carguy. Fact of the matter is that the worst cars of today are at least as good as, if not better than, the best cars of a decade ago. The auto industry has moved into a phase where if you cannot get the basics down (design, assembly, reliability), then you shouldn’t even wake up and go to work in the morning. So where is differentiation going to come from if you can no longer really be the ‘quality’ or ‘safety’ or ‘comfort’ leader like in years past?

      It’s going to come in the form of fashion, creature comfort, exploiting niche markets successfully and infotainment. This means that automakers will need the ability to roll out an increasing number of variants more quickly, move through product improvement cycles faster (no more 10 year old ‘platforms’), push high end technologies down lower into the model lineup faster, research and deploy alternative powertrain options faster and keep price points consistent.

      It’s a tall order, and the old model ain’t gonna allow companies to be as competitive. Using the new MQB A3 as an example Audi has pushed a lot of the technology previously reserved for the A6-A8 models down into the lower end of the spectrum. That’s the real benefit at the end of the day: Volkswagen group members will be able to make their products far more appealing and feature packed than the competition.

  • avatar

    I get it, man, VW good, American bad. I’ll try to repeat ad nauseum so you can consider the indoctrination complete. I know you can write insightful analysis, but that has become the exception. I’ve tried to avoid hitting the read more icon, and even harder to stop logging in to your perpetual picking at the scab, but reflex overwhelmed good sense. That should be familiar.

    • 0 avatar

      Ah, the UAW has arrived. During the weekend. Double time!

    • 0 avatar

      GM != American.

      I mean, I see no mention of Ford or Chrysler in there – do you?

      Of course, that might well be because Ford is going to 5 global and 4 regional platforms *by next year*, with not a lot more right now.

      Is that enough “kit” vs. “platform”? I dunno. But it sure does explain why Mr. Schmitt didn’t mention it and why “American” and “GM” are not synonyms.

      (I suggest that maybe if GM execs weren’t going on record claiming to be on track for goals their own presentations don’t agree with, nobody would have to call them on it?

      And since half the article is a reply to *Bloomberg News*, maybe you should take it up with Bloomberg?)

  • avatar

    When Peugeot flails about and grabs at EMP2 as its path back to the black, it seems like the handwriting is on the wall. It seemed that this was nearly there as an idea when Ford had the factory that could produce anything with the 3.0 or 3.5 V6 and the 6-speed auto – stretch this, scale that, have a Fusion, have a Flex, have a Freestyle – but I didn’t see much reporting of whether they took it to the logical conclusion (I didn’t think they did).

    Now, my friend who was in Chrysler engineering, he suggested a Zen-like attitude at Chrysler: They don’t make platforms or kit architectures or anything like that anymore, because the paymaster-of-the-decade will give them something that already exists, and they’ve gotten really good putting their stuff on top of somebody else’s bone structure.

    Does the modular architecture, at least as executed by VW, Nissan, et al, mean the end of body-on-frame? In other words, has anyone made a truck on it that sells well?

    • 0 avatar

      “has anyone made a truck on it that sells well?”

      Well, for a work truck, not yet, though the longitudinal kit that underlies the RWD Bentley is potentially usable for that purpose, since you just can’t get around putting the payload over the drive wheels in a work truck. The FWD kit could lend itself economically to an El Camino/Ranchero type vehicle with a lighter load limit, if anyone wanted to build such a beast.

    • 0 avatar

      IOW is Amarok built on MLB or predates it?

  • avatar
    George B

    Bertel, thanks for providing more information about kit architecture. So GM has to create a new platform to fix the Malibu wheelbase screw-up while Volkswagen can more easily make a longer Passat for US rear-facing child seats and a shorter Passat for small parking spaces in Europe?

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      Epsilon already has 2 wheelbases to “fix” the Malibu “fcuk up” if so desired.

      And VW already has what seem to be 2 different wheelbases for Passat. USM and rest of the world.

      • 0 avatar

        Make that 3 wheels bases as the Impala is in between the Malibu and LaCrosse.

        Is VW on the only top five in sales with a small convertible? I know the Japanese(aside from the MX-5) and Korens do not.

  • avatar

    Very nice overview and well set out.

    Just one thing for USA readers you want to add Erector Set to that paragraph as the English Mechano and German F-T are not well known on this side of the pond…. Also sadly the erector set whent to that toy shop in the sky some time ago as a mainstream product though it might still be seen in boutique toy shops when I wanted to give one to my godson for his 8th birthday I had to haunt eBay so perhaps for kids today it is a Lego and tinker toy world. I doubt that I would have studied engineering if I had not been given an Erector Set

    • 0 avatar

      If you still want one I have recently seen a number of Erector sets being sold in Barnes and Noble bookstores.

    • 0 avatar

      Like everything else, Erector’s products have morphed and proliferated beyond any boomer’s ability to conceive or embrace.

      I grew up endlessly fascinated with the hand-me-down-remnants of an early 50’s set. Walking into a Hobby Lobby or School House now makes me feel like a reanimated dodo:

      • 0 avatar

        My godson was 8 about 10 years ago and my reflection on finding him a set was from that time… looks like Mechano has bought the name and as was said they are providing them mostly themed to film and video game sets to appeal to todays youth…. I am glad to say that my godson just finished his first year at engineering school and I think the old fashioned erector set may have had a small effect on his choice… that said he has yet to decide on his specialization. Last I heard he was favoring robotics. but I know I changed my mind several times my first 2 years of study.

    • 0 avatar

      See Tetrix, Matrix and VEX if you want the modern day version of an Erector Set. It incorporates computers into the equation and is what is being used to spark future engineers. As a engineer you owe it to yourself and your 8yo godson to visit an organization with the goal of creating future engineers.

  • avatar

    GM seems to have a solution for that: Move everything to the awkwardly proportioned and ridiculous overhangs of the Delta II. It would be nice to see transverse mounted drive-trains move to having the transmission in front of the engine. It might even allow them to build front ends that don’t look like MAC trucks.

    But seriously, it seems like if anyone is going to be in trouble in the next decade when it comes to commonality, it would be FIAT, with their ridiculous niche branding and all too unique cars that barely sell to begin with.

    • 0 avatar

      Your point on the GM Delta II and overhangs is well taken – and highlights a big problem with the platform (top hat) approach versus the modular architecture, which gives designers much more flexibility in track, wheelbase, etc. The Cadillac XTS is a great example of what could be a really nice car – were it not for the horribly awkward proportions, especially in the tail.

      MQB allows Audi to do things like the 3-door, 5-door and now sedan A3 – all without making the sedan look like the hatch with a notch, or the wagon look like the sedan with a hatch. The sedan is slightly wider and has a different wheelbase from the 3-door.

      What I should clarify and say is this: it allows Audi to do this much more quickly and at a much lower cost than in the past.

    • 0 avatar

      If you think the Delta ll is disproportional wait until the D2XX goes higher and taller with the CUV’s joining the platform.

  • avatar

    Exemplary display of 2nd language proficiency. Much idiomatic quicksand deftly avoided. Bin sehr neidisch.

    The car stuff is meh. As these revolutions in production granularity roll over all that was, aren’t we seeing ever increasing complaints from competent critics (TTAC) about decontenting and the loss of legendary quality?

  • avatar

    Bertel this is excellent journalism, simply because if this succeeds it will change the automotive landscape as you point out. Since the beginning of the MQB series I have been comparing it in my mind to software development, but much like software there is still a use for the archaic technologies of unmanaged C/C++, COBOL, and mainframes. Even if GM was up on modularization, there will still be room for things like the Y-body Corvette. The theory behind MQB simply leads to more efficient Camcordization. The bulk of models moving forward will be impacted by this trend, only a matter of time before Japanese, American, and even Chinese automakers will follow suit.

    I also would be interested in hearing Ghosn’s thoughts on the subject :)

    • 0 avatar

      “I also would be interested in hearing Ghosn’s thoughts on the subject ”

      One of the components of his kit architecture appears to be the CVT, which pops up in, and is applied to, different platforms throughout.

      I’m not a fan of CVT and I do not believe that CVTs are better than automatic step-transmissions. Cheaper? Yes! Better? No!

      So modularization is indeed an application of technology that allows manufacturers to make more vehicles quicker, better and cheaper, by slapping blocks together, similar to what other industries like motorcoaches, RVs and mobile homes are already doing, but I’m not sure that I like the idea of a 4-cylinder econocar drive train inside my four door pickup truck. However, I do like the kit approach of the SRT8 drive train in anything from sedans to SUVs and pickup trucks.

      To me that’s one hell of a kit to pick and choose from.

  • avatar

    I still don’t understand the difference between a modular kit architecture like MQB and a flexible conventional platform like Toyota MC platform which underpins everything from corolla to highlander.

    • 0 avatar

      b787: A platform is an all or nothing template for a vehicle – sort of like a cookie cutter. Car manufacturers can use them to standardize and reduce their part bin size but if they reduce them too much they won’t have much in the way of product diversity. For example: GM could put the Chevy SS, Corvette, Camaro and CTS/ATS on the same platform but that would be problematic from a marketing perspective.

      Modular kits are take the platform and break it down into components or building blocks. This still delivers standardization and a lower part count but it allows for much more freedom when designing products. For example, GM could share the front axle design of the CTS/ATS and the Camaro and maybe even some aspects of the passenger compartment but still keep enough of the product unique.

      Kits are a neat trick that delivers both standardization and product diversity but it requires a lot of planning, engineering and coordination between product designers.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s a pretty good explanation of the benefits and drawbacks of the modular approach, but my point was that many modern platforms are very flexible already (difference in size between highlander and corolla is significant), so I’m wondering if there is anything really new about MQB, since some other automkers are already using similar approach, but without the marketing.

        • 0 avatar

          I think that Volkswagen has taken things to a whole different level than any other manufacturer. Case in point – while Nissan or Toyota may have their own ‘kit’, there are still far more fixed points that each product using that kit will have to conform to versus what Volkswagen is offering its various brands.

          Another example of where MQB/MLB flexibility comes into play is with materials. While a Golf and an A3 may fundamentally share the same MQB architecture, all that really does is signify a common engine family and engine placement. MQB gives Audi the ability to incorporate a lot more aluminum into their spec than does the Golf. The overall kit architecture was designed to permit Audi to join and assemble with more aluminum without compromising Volkswagen’s need to use lower cost materials. A lot of time and effort was spent on developing new assembly methods and consequently, modular component designs to accomodate these different needs.

          Experimentation with this started on the MK II Audi TT back in 2008, where they took the PQ35 and Audi reworked it substantially to include a lot more aluminum, magnesium and some other composites into the structure to lighten it.

          So again, going back to the ‘kit’ idea – think of the parts bin as including some steel crossmembers for a VW Golf, Tiguan, future Passat, etc. and also including some aluminium crossmembers for the A3, Q3, etc. The only real common dimensions are related to engine placement – everything else is configurable to the brand requirements.

  • avatar

    Just two observations after reading the article

    1. The computer analogy part hurt to read so bad. Of course I am biased, I program in Python and Haskel, but nonetheless things change and OOP was perhaps a bit oversold.

    2. The SPOF concern was not adequately addressed by Bertel (although some decent reposte were made in comments on the previous article). Sometimes it pays to ignore FUD talking points, but perhaps we could have a discussion here.

    P.S. When Bertel gets serious, I like it.

  • avatar

    My understanding of this is not so well informed, but here goes: In a platform, all dimensions & hard points are designed from bumper to bumper, bespoke for that platform. None of the dimensions and features are shared with any other platform. MQB isolates the firewall-to-front-axle design and makes it standard across the board, in all models. That leaves engines, noses, passenger compartments, rear suspensions and trunks to be plugged in as desired. These modules are essentially predesigned, so they need only be sized to fit the desired result.

    It sounds smart to me. Think of how much tightly packed content is in that fixed, common module, with engine, suspension, HVAC and everything else attached to the dash, plus the crash safety architecture underlaying that. Once that’s common, reliable and easily manufacturable, your new models are more than halfway done before they’re begun. Future generations of mechanics and modifiers may give thanks for the ease of swapping engines with common attachment points, too, if electronics don’t put new roadblocks in their way. But it will surely prevent truly odd designs, like the New Beetle’s vast dash top. That’s part of the new standard zone, so it had to conform.

  • avatar

    Sorry, still not buying that “kit” is anything but a new term for “platform.” The emphasis on adaptable modules is no different from what any other global automaker is already doing. Kia in West Point, surely one of the most modern auto factories in the world, makes extensive use of modules in manufacturing three cars on the same line. A high degree of component standardization is no doubt a key reason that this is possible, as well as sophisticated production techniques. But even so, Kia cannot get around the fundamental requirements of building these models; they all require their own unique tooling to get the job done. VW seems to have ignored this entirely.

    Outside of drivetrain development, stampings and castings are the #1 investment cost in new car lines. Even if MQB and the other “kit” architectures are as flexible as you assert, they still don’t remove the need to produce unique tooling for every model. Fully scalable modules still need their own die sets for each size, even if the “hard work” of design has already been done (and I have a strong feeling that in the real world, each scalable module will require more work than a mere upsizing or downsizing for a new car model). This, of course, is merely a discussion of underbody stampings, and not the sheetmetal stampings or upper-body stampings that go into actual cars, and not rolling stripped-down propaganda pieces for auto shows. It goes without saying that VW will still have to maintain a huge number of sheetmetal stampings, for obvious reasons: body panels from a Polo will not fit a Golf or a Jetta, and so on and so forth. Nobody’s mentioned anything about drivetrains, either. IS VW going to trim drivetrain options as part of this consolidation drive, or are they going to remain varied enough to be competitive? Engines represent another arena where flexibility is limited. Sure, VW may be able to standardize modules to the point where engine swapping is relatively easy, but that doesn’t mean drivetrains themselves will be made from Lego-like components. Every engine option will still require dozens of unique castings and small parts.

    The bottom line is that scaleability and flexibility are great, but they aren’t the same thing as interchangeability. In that respect, they’re no different from platforms. I think you’re looking at the silence from the Japanese in the wrong way; they know this isn’t a “revolution,” and they’re smart enough to not trumpet it that way. I understand that the main focus (obsession?) of this website is GM, VW, and certain Japanese manufacturers, but I’d sure like to hear what Ford, Fiat, Honda, Hyundai-Kia, BMW, and Daimler think of this “kit” business. I’m guessing their response would be something along the lines of, “We do that already.”

    • 0 avatar

      I have been sitting in Japanese off-the-record modular architecture sessions for more than a year. Trust me, they are at it, but they keep details close to their skinny chests. Volkswagen was likewise obtuse until the A3 and Golf 7 hit the market. Come car, come details.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, but how will these new kit architectures compare to the existing platforms, like MC platform which seems to be pretty modular already, since they build everything from the Golf-sized Auris to the Touareg-sized Highlander on it?

        • 0 avatar


          I think what you may be missing is the eye to the future: sure, Toyota is building the Auris through the Highlander on MC, but that doesn’t mean it is the optimal solution, nor that Toyota can be as creative as they would like with that method.

          What VW and Audi are touting with MQB and MLB is that of massive increases in flexibility of design and also assembly. It will open the door to more product differentiation on the outside, reduce timelines, increase their reach into new niche markets, experiment with new powertrains and suspension options and if done properly, increase standardization which will hopefully yield fewer defects and greater reliability. Remember, it is very risky and costly to introduce a new model – so you better get it right. In a lot of ways MQB lowers the barrier and gives VW/Audi more room for experimentation.

          Audi’s product line expansion has been profitably fueled by their ability to cost effectively introduce niche models like the A5 Sportback and A7. They would not have been able to accomplish this under their old platform strategy.

          Likewise, the odd proportions of the Tiguan are due directly to the need to use the hardpoints on a Golf PQ35 chassis. Once the Tiguan moves to MQB in the near future the design will be able to better evolve and if the Golf 7 is any indication, Volkswagen will be able to cram a lot more into the package to make it more competitive in the US market.

          • 0 avatar

            It would be nice to know what are the hardpoints of existing semi-modular platforms and how many parts are shared between different models build on them, but automakers generally don’t reveal that data. I guess we will have to wait until they develop their own modular platforms at which point they will tell the public all about what was lacking from the previous architecture.

          • 0 avatar

            I had to read this article again.. Let me say that it’s actually quite impressive of VW to have this kind of technology. It’s going to really put a hurt on the other companies for years until they catch up, IMHO.

            It’s wrong to think about a single point of failure. Its going to make the platform much more reliable. Already Audi is way ahead of VW in relability according to CR and this is in part why I would guess.

            What can happen is that each ‘module’ can be iteratively improved until its very solid. Then when you put them together you are going to have a very reliable car.

            I have noticed that alot of reliability problems come from ‘hacks’ that is to say quick and dirty ‘responses’ to the market.

            Ford whats better gas mileage – shoehorn various ecoboost engines into various cars and hope for the best. Want better gas mileage for your economy car – shoehorn a bunch of CVTs into your cars and hope for the best.

            Likewise what I see with other companies is an inability to adapt their platforms to the market. I love the Dodge Challenger – but Dodge knows its too big and too heavy to be a sports car.

            But they can’t fix it because its on the wrong platform. So they market it as a cruiser. But we all know they would like to have a lightweight/smaller sports car version.

            So I think this kind of thing can pay dividends in both reliablity and adapatability for years to come. That brown AWD diesel wagon with a stickshift.. That can happen now..

    • 0 avatar

      Fiat basically has developed only two volume platforms (Mini and Compact) in the past decade, everything else is inherited from GM. Given Marchionne’s reluctance to invest in new model development, I suspect they may not have any grand plans in this area.

      BMW and Daimler are not volume producers as such. But I, too, would be interested in understanding the approaches of Ford and Hyundai in this area.

      • 0 avatar

        “Everything else” in this context I suppose is (at least currently) limited to the B segment platform *co-developed* by Fiat and GM (mostly by Fiat as I understand it) used by the Fiat Grande Punto/Punto Evo/Punto and the Opel/Vauxhall Corsa. The GM Premium platform (co-developed by Alfa Romeo and used by the Alfa Romeo 159/Brera/Spider) and Epsilon platform (used by the Fiat Croma) are no longer in use by Fiat.

        But indeed, I too am curious about Fiat’s “kit” plans and whether it actually has any. From what I’ve understood Fiat intends to build its cars mainly on the Mini (A segment cars), SUSW (B segment cars), CUSW (C and D segment cars) and E-EVO (E segment cars) platforms.

        • 0 avatar

          Even in the face of the shrunken European product lineup, you might also want to remember some products branded as Chrysler, Dodge or Jeep. Which of course are largely on Daimler-developed platforms even today.

          SUSW is an iteration of the old GM-Fiat Small platform, CUSW is an iteration of the Compact … and E-EVO is a low-volume hand-built platform for Maseratis and similar. (The “USW” bit just means “US Wide” signifying a platform with a wider track for the US market. Contrast this to the kit approach described by Bertel above …)

          • 0 avatar

            Oh, yes, the products from the Chrysler side – I totally forgot about those (and to be honest I know next to nothing about their underpinnings).

            In any case, with the Fiat-Chrysler merger the Fiat and Chrysler platform variants are likely to be consolidated, but there don’t seem to be any kits on the horizon.

  • avatar

    This kit business is difficult to grasp for the layman, perhaps because it is mainly about parts of cars consumers rarely see or think much about. I have read the article several times and looked up other sources on the web too, trying to get my head around MQB. (Is there a geek award for doing this on a weekend?)

    Some thoughts:

    1. This kit system must be demanding for the company, requiring planning and communication and standardisation between people and units in designing the kit parts, and in designing and building the individual car. You can’t have kit parts come together at the assembly line and not fit because of some tiny variation. While this is true for standard parts too, can they do all this for so many brands and models without messing up?

    2. How can the people who design the kit have the foresight to see all the different needs of car models not yet designed? Can kits become a straightjacket for car design? I notice how Volvo S60 and S80 look so similar (OK, they share a platform, not a kit) that they are hard to tell apart.

    3. I noticed Golf 7 comes with different rear suspensions. The more the customer pays, the better his Golf drives. This is a result of the kit strategy, making it easy to swap bits, right?

    4. If a single Volkswagen factory really can make dozens of different models and VAG brands on one assembly line thanks to kits, this opens for VAG expansion in faraway places and behind tariff barriers, such as in developing countries where VAG must assemble their cars in-country due to import duties. Right?

    5. If most of the car is “variable” anyway, how can kits save so much money?

    6. I understand that kits are not just a standard parts bin, but a way of standardising parts not yet designed by enforcing a protocol for how they can interconnect. Correct? It sounds like magic. How can they do this in advance of making cars? Or is making a car from Lego easier than it sounds?

    7. If kit design can save 20-30% of cost, why didn’t someone think of it before?

    8. What is the downside to kits? There must be a downside.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    It’s not hard to see the companies that are achieving globally started in the 60s-70s gearing up for global models.

    GM is late to the starting block, back in the 60s-70s GM catered for individual markets with 2 in Europe one in Australia and Ford wasn’t much better.

    It’s what I call Detroit being Detroit and what can GM do? It still is behind the 8 balls after being rescued by the US government.

    Hyundai/Kia, which are recent new comers to the starting block has created a great global product lineup. Why can’t the US manufacturers do the same?

    Ford wants Ford’s one model global plan and the US to adopt UNECE regs.

    As I have stated in the past the US market is becoming smaller proportionally every day. It must change the way it views the world.

    The US’s Big 3 manufacturers need to global world. Just look at your vehicles, how many are indigenous? Whilst the US has an insular and protective approach towards the global market it will struggle.

    I hope the reprieve the US currently has is long lasting, as it will be the last. Tax payers will get sick of welfare to vehicle manufacturers and unions.

  • avatar

    The key to either a platform or kit is how long it will be used.
    I guess I don’t get it, but I see very little difference in the “kit” versus the modular sub-assemblies they have today.

    Regarding the kit..
    Since you still need to develop and stamp out the rest of the car, I do not see a large time saving.
    If you want to change your “kit” design for continuous improvement you are very boxed in, literally.
    The only advantage I see is making low volume models.

    Regarding the platform…
    If you can maintain modular front suspension/engine and rear suspensions, you only need to stamp out the uni-body frame. Stamping out a dedicated uni-body frame may be more efficient that welding kits together.

    So I do not see anything revolutionary as kits are almost platforms. Now when they make those skateboard platforms with custom bolt-on bodies, we can talk about something game changing.

  • avatar

    I wonder, if kits are just like Legos to make platforms, why hasn’t it been done before?

    • 0 avatar

      It has starting over 50 years ago, see the Ford Falcon which begat 18 different variations in track width and wheel base throughout its tenure. One common cowl and front frame rail structure with a couple of different spring towers and control arm lengths to vary the front track width, a couple of different center floor pan stampings, a couple of different rear pan stampings and a couple of different rear axle widths. No it wasn’t designed to do that from the get go but it did become a modular or kit type system. It ranged from compact to intermediate, plain Jane sedan to sporty car.

      The Fox platform was similarly modular spanning compacts to midsize, sedans to personal luxury to sporty including a number of different wheel bases and a couple of different track widths with common interior archetecture.

      GM’s GMT trucks were also suitably modular or kit like with frames built from different sub assemblies. A 2wd and a 4wd front section and a number of different rear sections to be able to produce everything from a short bed 2wd to a long bed crew cab 4wd to a Tahoe or Suburban w/o dedicated frames for each.

      Even the lowly K car was a modular platform.

    • 0 avatar

      Because it requires a level of precision which only zee Germans can employ?

      I kid, but only a little.

  • avatar

    I would be very interested to see where Honda is with the Kit architecture. Reports suggest that the Accord-Civic-CRV will move to a single platform for 2017.

    Think about that. 40% of Honda’s global volume would fall under 1 platform by 2017 with a target of 50% parts commonality between them.

    Honda makes no mention of “kit”.

  • avatar

    I recall a fascinating interview with a GM engineer a few years back where he defined a platform as follows:

    1. Common build order
    2. Common connection techniques
    3. Common electronic architecture
    4. And one other point I don’t recall

    Any components and complications that fit within those requirements qualifies as the same platform. And all work together to define a car that can be produced by the same methods on the same assembly line even though its specifications are quite different.

    Structure is only one part – a substantial one, but far, far from the whole enchilada. It sounds like GM has had its eye on the ball with the rest of those parameters for some time. Remember, for instance, that electronics are now something like a third the value of the car – if your electronic architecture is standarized, you’ve won a third of the battle.

    What VW is talking about with the MBQ system is only the structures part of the equation. So while this is big, it’s not everything.

  • avatar

    A very well put together article, Bertel. Thanks.

    As one other commenter said, it prompted further investigation. I found the best articles were in the English language version of Dad Auto, the VW house magazine.

    They took a staff writer around Wolfsburg in a US Cushman golf cart, and as he said, he couldn’t make heads nor tails of it (MQB), so ended up concentrating on a giant welder after being impressed by a hot roll steel stamper.

    So what I got from that article and others from VW is that all the modules have to line up within 1/10 th of a millimetre, the investment was enormous, the flow of production changes compared to the previous system, workers ride on adjacent moving conveyor belts as they screw pieces on each car, and it was a giant exercise requiring everyone to cooperate to put the system in place, and everyone is very proud of it. Oh yes, also, each MQB car must have the same windshield angle. Sounds like a production engineer’s wet dream.

    I’m a mechanical engineer myself, so spent a few hours trying to work out just what the major advantage is to all of this, and why it would save so much (claimed) money.

    When the staff writer doesn’t understand the system and cannot really relate its advantages, I am left to ponder, ah yes, modularity, that’s the ticket! Hardly earthshaking, though, which is causing all the scratched heads out there.

    I think it really boils down to overhauling the production facilities, and ensuring you can knock off a dozen different cars on the same production line.

    There are many different ways of going about manufacturing a car. Engineers are equally smart everywhere, Germany has no monopoly in that regard, so no one manufacturing system is the one and only correct one.

    Your article on the Toyota Yaris factory near the tsunami zone (prior to that event) impressed me. That method requires no massive investment, and is extremely clever.

    Tell me again, what is ROI Toyota vs VW?

    • 0 avatar

      “There are many different ways of going about manufacturing a car. Engineers are equally smart everywhere, Germany has no monopoly in that regard, so no one manufacturing system is the one and only correct one.”

      The difference though is that in some companies engineers get a little more say. For all we know engineers at GM and Fiat et al could think kits are a really good idea – but they can’t get everyone on board.

      VW has everyone on board – and are already the most valuable car company in the world – by a long shot.

  • avatar

    ” A modern assembly line long has been able to produce many different cars on the same line, necessary for the build-to-order mass customization popular in Japan and Europe. The batch-oriented way in which cars are made and sold in America has not forced this object-oriented thinking.”

    Wait, what?
    Are you saying that in Europe and Japan options can be chosen ala carte like the good old days here in the USA?
    I would like that very much.

    I ordered my ’82 Citation that way. The dealer even inquired if the factory would do an exterior/interior color combo that was not listed, and they did.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, that’s true. But you won’t notice looking around in Europe, for example.
      The vast majority of cars is ordered in dull colors like black, silver-metallic combined with an equally dull black interior. The most basic engine will do in most cases.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        Is that you DenverMike? Using one of your aliases?

        Geez….It’s good to see the majority of vehicles in the US are indigenous, well only pickups and a muscle car or two.


    • 0 avatar

      Go to, dig in, and find a configurator (not so hard even if you don’t know a little German, since the layouts are “like a carmaker website”, and “Konfiguration” isn’t too much different from English).

      Many more options than the US market, but not quite ala carte – at some level it’s not worth it to OFFER complete ala carte.

      (Mandatory internet car fanboy moment: Why not E220 CDI in the US market?

      Oh, right. Because nobody would buy one.)

  • avatar

    Great stuff even for a non-carguy. As your alien visitor from the energy world, I must advise you that from every standpoint I can see, it looks like world crude oil prices are poised to go down. Maybe by quite a bit. A complete business cycle in that business is about 30 years in length.

  • avatar

    None of VWAG’s offerings have been at all impressive to me in the past 10 years. The XL1 would be interesting, if it cost 40K, not 140K…

    Meanwhile, the cars that are interesting to me, would not fit in a modular architecture, because they are from the bottom redesigned for their purpose: Namely the Prius and the FRS/BRZ twins.

    Not expecting anything great from MQB/MLB/etcB. Similarly to tolerance stackup causing problems in assembled mechanical systems, the standardization stackup forced by shared components will doom VW to the dustbin of history.

    Also, object oriented programming did not revolutionalize the software industry. It made a small dent, failed at its mission of code reuse, and then the dust settled. Functional, procedural, scripting, generic (templated), and other language types are doing just fine. OO is great for UI and bloatmiddleware. Not so much for where expressive power, efficiency, or extensibility matter.

    • 0 avatar

      The BRZ is a parts-bin car. Lexus rear diff, Impreza suspension, etcetera.

      Yes, it’s a poor basis for kit or platform architecture. The layout and the choice to use the Subaru boxer mean that possible turbo packaging is unacceptably tight (for an OEM. Aftermarket manufacturers don’t have the same longevity/safety/ease-of-assembly targets), steering rack placement is compromised and you still can’t use a fancy double-wishbone suspension, because there’s no space.

      Whereas the “platform” MX-5 has none of those issues, and is only handicapped by the (previous) need to keep it one rung below the RX8.

      Then again, Toyota and BMW are planning to use the platform for a bevy of future products.

    • 0 avatar

      … you are aware that “procedural” and “scripting” (etc.) language types are not *opposed to or incompatible with* object orientation, right?

      (What you mean with “expressive power” or “extensibility” are beyond me, and efficiency is a matter of how you write, not “having objects or not”…)

  • avatar

    well, so much for TTAC ‘always being concerned about cascading failures’.

    Guess we’ll have to go with Bertel’s faith that VW will test the hell out of common components rather than subjecting them to current industry design standards of care. “To stay with the control arm example, you can test 50 different control arms a little bit, or you can test one control arm a hell of a lot.” which he said here:

    guess that we’ll also just have to go with Bertel’s gut on this one that 20% savings are real, too, despite the idea that saving t-w-e-n-t-y percent on the manufacture of an automobile is a fairly big nut to swallow. where’s the back-up? TTAC has reported in the past that savings are more like 2%-5%.

    You know, it’s not like I’m even really trying here to be a jerk, but some on this site get their panties in bunch over accusations of bias and then leave the barn door wide open with ‘gut’ feelings and completely unreferenced counterpoint articles noted on this very same site from just a few weeks ago.

    • 0 avatar


      I’m not certain of where you’re coming from or going with this, but over the course of several articles now Bertel has referenced the Japanese manufacturers who are working on similar kits who have stated that the 20% figure is NOT unrealistic.

      I don’t know where you’re getting this whole ‘gut’ feeling on things, but I’m guessing that Bertel has two things going for him:

      1. He has better access to the people who are in the know than does Bernstein;
      2. He has a better nose for bull**** than most journalists
      3. MQB has already been vetted and tested in the form of MLB from Audi from 2008. One of the reasons why their margins are the best in the industry is MLB and it has allowed Audi to ratchet up investment in everything from facilities to R&D and content. So, I’d say that it’s been a pretty successful move thus far.

    • 0 avatar

      The 20% has been quoted as a target by VW, Bertel didn’t make it up.

      But 20% of what? 2-5% of what? The potential 20% savings is of manufacturing costs, not of total costs including materials and other components.

      If manufacturing costs are 25% of the total cost, then a 20% savings on manufacturing costs equates to a 5% overall savings. (I expect the manufacturing cost is actually lower than that as a proportion.)

      • 0 avatar

        5% overall savings is still *huge*, though.

        Leave prices the same and that’s a 5% increase in margin.

        Or drop prices to keep your margin the same and increase volume by taking price-sensitive comparison shoppers.

  • avatar


    VW Good
    GM Bad

    I don’t necessarily buy the fact that because GM won’t shrink it’s portfolio of fundamental platforms/kits to the number of VW that they will cease to exist. They don’t need to exactly crib each other’s methods to survive as the two companies product porfolios don’t overlap in a lot of areas. If they can move the volume on those platforms (like the GMTs, which VW only wishes it could), they will be profitable.

    That being said, all companies are putting forth huge efforts into production harmonization, if VW manages to build cars 20% cheaper than GM, it won’t be entirely because of their ‘kits’.

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