Katelyn Drake, Analyst, Americas Vehicle Forecasts
18 June 2019
18 June 2019
In an effort to remain financially competitive, automakers are seeking ways to reduce complexity across their vehicles, while simultaneously trying to maintain a broad portfolio of offerings. At times, these changes come in the form of reducing the number of available options on a particular model. For example, Honda announced plans in May 2019 to reduce the number of available trim options for its models to one-third of its current global total by 2025, all in an effort to cut costs and increase efficiency. Similarly, we expect that both Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz will cut certain engine options, equipment packages and model variations in the near future in a bid to improve profit margins. While such moves may diminish the number of options available to consumers on any given model, the end result is typically the standardisation of popular optional technologies.
However, the most common means of vehicle complexity reduction comes in the form of platform consolidation, a strategy actively pursued by virtually all automakers. Platform consolidation is certainly nothing new – most OEMs have stated that they aim to reduce the number of platforms in their portfolios for decades now. The process of actually accomplishing this goal takes years, though, and the development of new, flexible platforms requires a high level of initial investment.
“Ford utilised 15 different platforms to underpin its vehicles produced in North America”
Ford Group provides an excellent case study of this process. In 2010, Ford utilised 15 different platforms to underpin its vehicles produced in North America. Each platform was the basis for an average of 2.2 vehicles in the region, with anywhere from 1 to 5 vehicles sitting on each platform. Since then, the number of platforms utilised by the automaker in North America has declined steadily, while the number of vehicles on each platform has risen. This means that by 2026, Ford should have only 6 platforms in the region. On average, 3.7 vehicles will sit on each platform (ranging from 1 to 8 vehicles per platform). This increased platform efficiency will ultimately allow Ford to save money and reduce parts complexity, while creating greater flexibility. For example, the C2 platform, which will underpin a total of 8 vehicles by 2026, will enable Ford to build vehicles as diverse as the upcoming all-electric Mustang-based crossover (likely to be known as the ‘Mach E’) and the Ford Transit Connect on the same production line at the Hermosillo plant in Mexico.
In order to make this platform reduction more effective, Ford has also added 5 vehicle architectures to its toolkit. While platforms form the ‘footprint’ of a vehicle, a vehicle’s architecture encompasses other components such as the powertrain, suspension system or even the infotainment system. According to Ford, the strategy of utilising both platforms and architectures will enable it to have roughly 70% reuse of vehicle components, as opposed to 30% or so when utilising a platform-only strategy.
The 5 architectures in Ford’s plan include a front-wheel-drive unibody, a rear-wheel-drive unibody, a Commercial Van unibody, a body-on-frame and a battery electric architecture. These architectures will work across platforms, enabling Ford to create a variety of combinations of platforms and architectures for its vehicles. The Ford Mach E, for instance, is a combination of the C2 platform and Ford’s battery electric architecture, while the Ford Escape is the marriage of the C2 platform with the front-wheel-drive architecture. From there, Ford uses the remaining 30% of vehicle components to help differentiate between vehicles that use the same platform and architecture combination, as is the case with the Ford Escape and upcoming Baby Bronco. By giving the Ford Escape softer lines and making the Baby Bronco appear more rugged, Ford is able to target different customer groups with largely similar vehicles that are both essentially ICE-powered Compact SUVs.
Ford is not the only automaker to utilise a module-based system for its vehicles. Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi introduced a set of platforms called the Common Module Family (CMF) for similar cost-saving purposes. The CMF platform encompasses models like the Nissan Sentra, Nissan NV200, Infiniti QX50 and Nissan Rogue, and is designed around four different modules: an engine compartment, a cockpit, a front underbody and a rear underbody. Likewise, General Motors is in the process of moving its vehicles to a family of platforms known as Vehicle Set Strategy (VSS). The four VSS platforms will include common components for items like HVAC systems, electrical architectures and suspensions, with a focus on three main module areas – the engine compartment, the passenger compartment and the cargo area. VSS allows for some variation within each set, depending on regional market demands and the needs of different sizes and types of vehicles, enabling General Motors to remain flexible, while cutting costs and engineering time. Other popular examples of module-based systems includes BMW’s CLAR family of platforms, Volkswagen’s MQB platform and Toyota’s TNGA.
” It is also likely that more automakers will join forces to develop shared platforms”
Looking beyond 2026, we expect to see further investment in flexible platform families and architectures, leading to more parts commonality in vehicles on the road, as well as further standardisation of features in order to eliminate the complex web of options and trims currently available on many models. It is also likely that more automakers will join forces to develop shared platforms, along the lines of the recent announcement by Toyota and Subaru of a planned collaboration on a new electric vehicle platform dubbed ‘e-TNGA’. These various strategies are aimed at minimising complexity, increasing cost savings, improving manufacturing flexibility and reducing the time needed to refresh a vehicle.