Some of the best minds in modern technology migrate to the automotive industry every year. From software to design, aerodynamics to aesthetics, the art and science of building cars is something that is in a constant state of flux. There have been innovations and additions made to vehicles, but there hasn’t been a game-changing shift in decades. Volkswagen and engineer Ulrich Hackenberg are working on changing that with their vision of a “global car”.
It’s a concept that has been discussed for decades but has been too ambitious to implement. VW as been riding a string of victories over the past decade through acquisitions and amazing profits that have poised them to make a $70 billion investment into the concept that will change everything and it has other manufacturers secretly terrified.
The biggest challenge in a global automotive market is designing in ways that will fit the requirements and trends of a diverse world. Cars that fit in America and sell well might not be able to crack the market in Europe. Asia is the fastest growing market and requires unique specifications to make it work, even having completely different needs in different parts of the continent. A global car, one that is built with a modular design and identical parts, has always been an elusive dream.
Hackenberg’s idea is to have a unified parts and design structure that crosses geographic requirements, eclectic models, and even between the wide range of VW brands. This “mega-platform” concept would mean huge cost savings on parts orders as well as production itself. A clutch is a clutch is a clutch, basically. According to Reuters, it’s been a long time coming:
After a six-year gestation, VW has just begun to implement its sophisticated and highly flexible platform with the deceptively simple label MQB, a German acronym for “modular transverse matrix.” Virtually all of the group’s small and medium front-wheel-drive family models, including the latest generations of the VW Golf and Audi A3, are being designed around MQB as their base.
The company has been both the most aggressive of the major brands while suffering fewer setbacks such as recalls and natural disasters over the last decade. This has helped them to be in the position to take the riskiest move a car manufacturer has made in decades. The benefits would be tremendous if it succeeds. Just from a sheer cost of parts perspective, it would be huge. They could get quotes from parts makers to the tune of tens of millions rather than the millions of parts that their competitors order. Estimates peg this as translating into as much as $20 billion in cost savings per year.