Deep Dive: Porsche takes control of full-size car development at VW Group

Contrary to the initial fears that a Volkswagen-owned Porsche would be reduced to selling rebadged VWs and Audis (a fear somewhat realized in the upcoming Cajun), it now seems Porsche has moved to the top of VW Group’s engineering food chain. In addition to sports cars, it will also engineer the basic components for a wide range of full-size cars, including the 2016 Audi A8.

The integration of Porsche and Suzuki makes a very good starting point for the overdue revision of Volkswagen Group’s brand structure, which currently consists of three bundles packed more or less at random: VW/Bentley/Bugatti/Skoda, Audi/Seat/Lamborghini, and Scania/MAN. In the future, we can expect the brands to be grouped by the sort of architecture they use, with each of the major brands (VW, Audi, Porsche) in charge of developing that architecture. VW, for instance, will create the architecture for front-wheel-drive (transverse-engine) cars, whereas Audi will build an architecture for its lineup of sedans that feature a longitudinally placed engine.

The big winner, though, is Porsche. Not only has it scored development of most of VW Group’s sports cars, but it will also be engineering the architecture for the following large sedans:

  • Panamera replacement, Panamera derivatives, long-wheelbase Panamera (2011)
  • Bentley Continental GT, GTC, and Flying Spur replacements, other versions (2014)
  • Next-generation Bentley Mulsanne/Azure/Brooklands
  • Full-size Lamborghini coupé/sedan (2017)
  • New “small” Bentley positioned below Conti GT family, including derivatives (2015)
  • Audi A8 replacement, Audi A9 coupe and convertible (2016)
  • Bugatti Galibier, next VW Phaeton (unless VW chooses to derive this model from the Audi A7)

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.

One of the cornerstones of MSB is a new family of engines. In the past, Ingolstadt was in charge of almost all V-engines. In the future, however, VW Group’s petrol-fed V-6s and V-8s will likely be developed by Porsche. The new lineup expected to come onstream in 2012/13, in sync with the face-lifted Panamera and Cayenne, is set to replace the normally aspirated units with turbocharged ones:

  • 3.0-liter turbo V-6; 420 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque. Supersedes the current V-8.
  • 3.6-liter V-6; 500 hp and 500 lb-ft. Replaces current turbo V-8.
  • 4.8-liter turbo V-8; 600 hp and 590 lb-ft. New top-of-the-line engine.

The other brands using the MSB architecture will get their own versions of these powerplants. How different will they be? Insiders predict unique turbocharging applications, intake and exhaust systems, combustion principles, displacements and torque characteristics. For instance, Audi should for the next A8 obtain an array of conceived-to-order petrol units featuring plenty of low-end grunt, staggered boost action for ultrasmooth power delivery, and tweaked fuel injection for added refinement and reduced noise.

In a peacemaking move, Porsche has handed over all engineering work that’s not directly related to sports cars and large sedans to Audi. This concerns in particular the next Cayenne, which will again be twinned with Q7/Touareg. The basic elements come in two sizes: large for Cayenne and friends, compact for Q5 and Cajun (which, by the way, will definitely also appear in two-door form). To get weight out, Audi plans to switch from a steel body to an aluminum structure, which should cut curb weight by some 900 pounds. While the turbo-diesel V-12 will bite the dust (it fails to meet future emissions standards), the V-8 TDI will eventually put in an appearance in the Cayenne.

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