Volkswagen AG is pushing the global-platform concept to a level unprecedented in the auto industry, introducing a modular platform this summer that eventually will be the basis of miocrocars, sedans, crossovers and SUVs for its four largest brands.
While automakers now share platforms across brands and sometimes even segments, the VW initiative that starts this summer is far more ambitious than anything seen so far.
By 2017, some analysts estimate, the MQB platform that debuts in the Audi A3 eventually will be used in 4 million units a year -- close to half of VW's annual production. VW says the plan will cut costs, slash production time and make the company far more nimble in adapting to market trends.
The MQB platform standardizes the engine positioning and the distance between the front axle and pedal box. The width, length and wheelbase can expand or contract according to model.
"It makes sense from both a cost standpoint and speed to market," said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at auto research firm LMC Automotive.
"But it's a little bit of uncharted waters."
Along with the opportunities comes significant risk. It's an untested concept at this scale and could become a liability in the event of a massive recall, some analysts say.
By 2017, according to VW, the MQB platform will underpin more than 40 Audi, VW, Skoda and Seat models. The Audi A3 and VW Golf, the first cars built off the MQB, go on sale in Europe this year and in the United States in 2013.
All automakers are searching for ways to reduce manufacturing costs and boost profits as they scale up globally. VW, the world's No. 2 automaker in terms of sales, felt it needed a bold approach because of the sheer scale of its global 200-model lineup, a VW spokesman said.
"In order to control the naturally growing complexity in engineering and production, it is important to create the best available solution once and use it for as many models as technically possible," the spokesman said.