In reading up on new cars, you might hear the term “vehicle X shares a platform with vehicle Y.” You might look at the two vehicles and think to yourself that there is no way that the two cars are related, save for the brand name. But there are varying degrees in which car models are related, and it warrants some clarification.
As long as there have been automobiles in production, there has been platform sharing. The term can be interpreted several different ways, and there are a number of different methods for model and platform sharing. At its best, the practice is used to lower production costs by reducing the specialization, but on the other end of the spectrum there are the badge engineered cars. Here is what we mean, and what it means to you, the consumer.
Through the 1950s, 60s, 70s, straight on through to today there have been cars that share platforms. In the 1960s, it seemed like General Motors had three to five different versions of every vehicle. The Firebird had the Camaro, the Cutlass had the GS, and so on. At least the front clips looked different, and each brand had their own unique engine until 1980, but much of the rest was the same.
These cars shared a lot of the frames, chassis and powertrains, with altered body work for each brand. These cars can be described as platform-engineered, which is better than badge-engineered. With badge-engineered cars, you take the exact same car, throw a new label on it and call it a day. It is an affront to you, the consumer. Think of the Chevrolet S-10 pickup and the GMC Sonoma. There are fewer differences than there are wheels on these damned things.
That is not the case with modern cars. Through the use of CAD design, automakers can build entire product lines that share as little or as much as required, but no longer means certain sacrifices and compromises are made to make one platform work for multiple vehicles.
When modern cars are said to share platform, it is a far cry from the vehicles being var too similar beneath the hood.
Volkswagen uses the MLB and MQB platforms for most of its vehicles across several brand product ranges. What is really shared in these vehicles is the firewall, engine placement, pedal box, and front wheel placement. No matter what kind of engine– gas, hybrid, diesel, etc. – it mounts the same way and in the same place. This allows the automaker greater diversity and simplifies the areas that can be simplified. It lowers production costs, reduces weight via simplification and allows automakers to more cost-effectively build the vehicles that you want.
For the Volkswagen Group, it can build the Audi A4, A5, Q5, A6, A7, A8 and forthcoming Porsche Macan all from the MLB platform. Unlike past badge-engineered American cars, these vehicles are far from being re-bodied and revised versions of the same vehicle. They are indeed quite different. Audi, as well as many other automakers, have found ways to share the parts that they CAN share, while allowing the rest of the vehicle to be as different as needed.
So the next time you read an article describing two vehicles as sharing the same platforms, remember that definition is vastly different from what it once was. “Shared platform” should no longer yield a fear of compromise, but an assurance that you are getting a vehicle without unnecessary over-engineering, and is specialized and tailored to the buyers’ needs.