Volkswagen's MQB platform is more than just a chassis, it's a manufacturing philosophy that they hope will make them the biggest carmaker in the world. You'll see it in action in the upcoming Golf and in numerous vehicles afterwards. Here's how it works.
When I first heard about Volkswagen's new MQB platform, I didn't care for it. I thought the standardization of all new VW models would only result in even more boring cars (part of the beigekrieg!) and lower manufacturing costs. Well, on my visit to Wolfsburg, the Germans were kind enough to point out how wrong I was.
The MQB idea is actually quite brilliant, and they will be using it for the next twelve years of VAG products, so take a good look at it. The evolution goes something like this:
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The MQB is just one of the assembly kits Volkswagen is going to use going forward. There's also the NSF for small cars like the Up! or the Škoda Citigo, MLB for longitudinal engine layout in larger cars like Audis and the MSB for cars like the Porsche Panamera. The 911 obviously uses a unique construction method (for now), just like the XL1.
The idea of the modular construction started with the realization that there were so many different setups and part variations used within the VW Group's portfolio that when something went wrong with one of their cars, they had to find out which bits were used in that exact specification. Long gone engineers had to be called, blueprints had to be dug up from the archives.
Diesel engines leaned backwards, gasoline engines forward, meaning that completely different parts were designed for each version. And it was the same with air conditioning units, the suspension or even the tiniest part you never see anyway.
Sure, there were many common parts before as well, but things like the metal piece holding the dash in its place was different in a Passat, a Tiguan SUV, a Škoda Octavia, Fabia, or even in a Polo. This led to inefficient manufacturing for the carmaker and expensive maintenance for the car owner. So came enlightenment:
Sixty percent of a car is defined by the area between the front axle and the firewall. By making that modular, efficiency could be boosted significantly.
With the MQB construction, all engines now tilt 12" backwards. That means the same exhaust lines and additional parts can be used no matter what tune the engine has. It also makes the powerplant more compact, saving weight and overhang. Standardized engines are important for VW because they use not just gasoline and diesel, but electric, compressed natural gas, LPG and Ethanol systems as well in different markets. Everything has to fit. Volkswagen also offers a lifetime timing belt with the newest engines made out of a material they wouldn't disclose to us.
The modules also allow parts to make their way from the premium cars to the compacts without additional costs. Think of air conditioning units or ECUs, or passive safety systems. If the same goes into a Polo as into a Passat with only a software change, volume goes higher and costs go down. Everybody wins. And when it comes to the possibility of recalls with a much larger number of involved cars, Volkswagen is pretty relaxed. Because they will test each modular part in every model individually, they say there will be a much smaller chance of putting something faulty into production.
Volkswagen already has a bunch of MQB capable factories and is working on getting the rest of the assembly lines ready for the new technology. Meanwhile, mid-life facelifts will allow them to use some of the modules in existing models. This modular family was designed to last for 12 (+-1) years. Volkswagen predicts to become the largest manufacturer in just four.
The big question remains whether this massive standardization will kill the character of upcoming VW products or not, but the people in Wolfsburg are certain that it's all down to the tuning of the parts, so using common pieces won't compromise that. We will see, but from where I'm standing, this makes a lot of sense.
While we see a lot of standardization in the industry, Volkswagen has so many brands it makes this more viable. GM became the largest car company in the world with a huge portfolio of brands sharing similar platforms, although it didn't work out so well for them.
Here's hoping VW isn't too clever for it's own good.
Photo credit: Volkswagen AG