Before you envision a nightmarish lineup of Panameras wearing Audi, Lamborghini, and Bentley badges, it's important to keep in mind that VW Group's version of parts sharing is rather more sophisticated than old-fashioned badge engineering. The architecture that Porsche will develop is not a platform in the traditional sense, but rather a set of components (engines, transmissions, electronics, structural elements) that can be mixed and matched to create many variations. Porsche will be like a grocer, making sure there's plenty of fresh produce available, whereas Audi, Bentley, and Lamborghini will be chefs, cooking these ingredients however they like. This is the same strategy that Audi used in the past to derive the A3 from the Golf's architecture, only this time we're talking three-star instead of one-star cuisine.
Still, it's surprising that Audi in particular would defer the engineering of its flagship A8. The reason lies in layout: Audi's architecture, code-named "MLB" (essentially "modular longitudinal"), is like most of the brand's current products in that it's essentially front-wheel drive with an option for all-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive. That's OK for the A4/A5/A6/A7, but perhaps less so for the next A8, which should no longer be nose-heavy and ponderous. Porsche's architecture, called "MSB" (roughly "modular standard") will offer a better balanced, mid-front-engine layout.
There's also financial motivation. Porsche's MSB needs a high-volume product to achieve sufficient economies of scale. Without help from Ingolstadt, about 40,000 vehicles would be built on the architecture, short of the 50,000 to 100,000 target. Furthermore, the Porsche architecture will be fully compatible with Audi's MLB, meaning that Audi could incorporate many of its own parts.
A few key features of MSB:
- Rear-wheel drive, but designed to accommodate all-wheel drive as well.
- Employs a mix of materials instead of an aluminum spaceframe architecture.
- Offers high flexibility in terms of wheelbase, width, length, height, roof and door shapes, and overhangs.
- Vehicles on the architecture will share basic electronics.
- A low steering-column angle and seating position ensures sporty packaging.