Volkswagen’s New Modular Parts Bin Is Like Legos For Building Cars

With more than 220 models sourced from more than 90 production facilities, the Volkswagen Group has a lot to gain from even the smallest manufacturing synergies. So the new MQB architecture that will underpin the majority of the company’s front-wheel-drive vehicles is a massively important program. MQB (the acronym stands for modular transverse matrix in German) is a scalable concept that can accommodate cars as small as the Polo subcompact and as large as the Passat mid-size sedan.

In the U.S., MQB will eventually form the bones of the Jetta, the Golf, the Tiguan, the Beetle, and the Eos, but the first vehicle to built using MQB won’t be a Volkswagen. The 2013 Audi A3, set to debut at the 2012 Geneva auto show will claim that title while the seventh-generation Golf due out around 2014 will be the first VW riding on the new architecture. MQB will also be the basis for the next Audi TT, along with several Seats and Skodas in Europe.

The switch from platform-based engineering to modular schemes isn’t exactly new. BMW has been using a similar concept for years, and for the Volkswagen Group, MQB is merely the most recent development. The company already uses MLB for longitudinal-engine cars like the Audi A4 and A6 and MSB for larger, rear-wheel-drive cars like the Porsche Panamera. It is also in the midst of developing a mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive architecture known as MSS. The only anomaly in Volkswagen’s modular future is the NSF (New Small Family) architecture used for the Volkswagen Up, which isn’t nearly as flexible.

MQB is so standardized that Volkswagen can even use a single stamping die to punch out floor pans for multiple vehicles. For cars with longer wheelbases, the manufacturing plant simply inserts a longer steel blank. Engineers expect the new architecture will reduce vehicle weight by about 110 pounds per car, thanks a reduction in the number of parts and material use. The seventh-generation Golf weighs as much as the fourth-generation car, they claim.  The MQB floor structure uses 85 percent high-strength steel and some sections of sheet metal are rolled to multiple thicknesses to minimize excess material. There are no plans to use significant amounts of aluminum in the first MQB cars , but the system will readily accommodate the lightweight metal.

The only fixed measurement in MQB is the distance from the front axle to the pedal axis. Overhangs, wheelbase, track widths, and wheel sizes can all be adjusted to suit the brand and the vehicle segment. Manufacturing is further simplified by commonizing engine mount locations and parts like dashboard brackets. All engines use in MQB cars will be tilted 12 degrees toward the rear of the car and the exhaust side always faces the back of the car. By standardizing the positioning and transmission-engine interface, Volkswagen has reduced its number of powertrain variations by 88 percent. The flexibility scheme doesn’t end with the chassis, either. The company has also planned new families of gas and diesel engines, plus a suite of add-on safety convenience technologies and modular infotainment systems.

Modular engines

The modular gas four-cylinders will have minimal impact on the American market as they only scale up to a maximum displacement of 1.6 liters. The larger turbocharged 2.0-liter and forthcoming turbocharged 1.8-liter (set to replace the 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine) are products of a separate engineering program. The modular diesel engines, known as EA288, will eventually come to the U.S., most likely starting with the next Golf. That engine will still displace 2.0 liters, but it will lose a bit of power and gain an exhaust aftertreatment system to meet America’s strict emissions standards.

Modular technologies

The suite of driver assistance and convenience features includes adaptive cruise control, fatigue detection, lane-keeping assist, variable-ratio steering, blind-spot monitoring, parking sensors, and an electronically controlled locking front differential. Volkswagen has even conceived modularity within these assemblies to create multiple products from one technology. In Europe, the company will offer two different adaptive cruise control systems: the cheaper version operates at speeds up to about 100 mph while the pricier choice uses a more sophisticated radar and can be enabled at speeds north of 140 mph.

Modular infotainment systems

The Volkswagen Group has also developed a common hardware set to form the backbone of its infotainment units. The systems are then built up into entry, standard, and high-end units with the more expensive systems adding larger, higher-resolution screens and technology like proximity sensors. Interfaces retain brand-specific attributes: Audi vehicles will continue to use the MMI rotary controller while Volkswagens are more dependent on touch screens.

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