In a recent interview with German automotive trade publication Automobil Industrie, Michael Macht, member of the Board of Management of Volkswagen AG (responsible for production), said he expected cost savings of up to 20 percent and assembly-time reductions of up to 30 percent with the introduction of Volkswagen’s new MQB platform, which will start in 2012.
MQB stands for the German “Modularer Querbaukasten” and can be loosely translated as “Modular Transverse Matrix”. In essence, MQB or Modular Transverse Matrix is a modular product architecture that uses a set of common components to design a wide variety of transverse, front-engined, front-wheel-drive models ranging from Minis to large family cars.
According to Macht, the new MQB platform will not only utilize common components across Volkswagen’s different brands and product lines; it will also standardize manufacturing sequences across product lines and global manufacturing locations: “A main element in this standardized approach is it will not be limited to common components such as floor pans, steering assemblies, axles, electronics, seat frames or air conditioning units,” Macht says.
The introduction of MQB is expected to bring the Volkswagen Group one step closer to its goal of becoming the world’s number-one automotive manufacturer, overtaking Toyota and General Motors.
Although similar approaches to standardization and modularization have been adopted by competitors of Volkswagen, historically the industry has struggled to leverage the potential. Orchestrating modular product architecture across a global enterprise is quite an undertaking, requiring rigorous analysis and logic in defining an architecture that fits different product lines. It takes dedication, clout and determination rolling it out across 62 global manufacturing locations, as is the case with the Volkswagen Group.
Building a vehicle architecture which accommodates Volkswagen’s diverse products—from VW Polo and Skoda Fabia at the smaller end, up to the next VW Passat and Seat Bolero—while also allowing for variations (in the wheelbase, track width and overall height and seating position) is no small feat and speaks to the quality of German engineering.
But it also speaks to the maturity of technology which allows the sharing of information and processes across model ranges, brands, and locations. And here is where competitors and industry peers will find the best leverage to catch up with Volkswagen: Over the last decade product lifecycle management (PLM) technology has matured to a degree that enables runners-up to “build” commonality concepts across product lines with “out-of-the-box” solutions.
One example is StreetScooter, a much publicized German electric car concept that is developed in what its makers call a “disruptive network approach” that brings a network of more than 50 partners together to build a car which breaks through cost barriers and speeds up technological innovation.
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From the outset, StreetScooter has been designed in a way that will support a modular set of variants, from the number of seats to the purpose of the vehicle (delivery vehicles versus convertible sports car). By leveraging a rigorous approach to modularity, Achim Kampker, CEO of StreetScooter, claims that StreetScooter is an economically viable alternative, with no compromise in terms of safety.