One way in which next-generation manufacturing is impacting the automotive industry is the movement toward modular architecture. These designs use common underpinnings for various models across a variety of vehicle segments, minimizing the variation between parts needed for these models. Volkswagen says their MQB architecture will eventually underpin roughly 40 models, ranging from subcompact hatchbacks like the Up! to larger sedans like the Passat, and a range of Volkswagens, Audis, Skodas, and Seats in between. While questions about cost overruns on the program (which was already estimated to cost Volkswagen $70 billion over four years) have cropped up in recent weeks, there are no signs that this trend will slow down, with GM and PSA Peugeot planning to base an array of future vehicles on the EMP2 (for Efficient Modular Platform), and Renault-Nissan developing the CMF (Common Family Platform). Even automakers outside of the mass market, like Jaguar, are developing their own scalable platforms.
While these modular platforms promise cost savings and efficiencies of design and manufacture, they also raise questions that management and legal departments across the industry should be aware of. These issues include:
Even as modular platform development is becoming the norm in the industry, manufacturers enjoying the benefits of those platforms—and suppliers working those manufacturers—need to be aware of the consequences of this shift in manufacturing strategy.