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16 February 2012

Last week we had a unique opportunity to go to Wolfsburg, Germany to learn a little bit about Volkswagen Group’s new Golf 7 MQB component architecture. Volkswagen Group brands (Volkswagen, Audi, Lamborghini, Seat, Skoda, Bentley, Bugatti, Porsche and more) comprise more than 200 individual models of cars. The complexity involved in trying to reduce costs and the number of components, meeting exceedingly strict emission and safety standards all the while reducing waste and consumption is obviously quite huge. MQB not only represents a new car specific part platform, but also an all-new modular engine program and modular production program. With MQB VW can build any vehicle from Polo to Mid-size SUV utilizing the same assembly line. Likewise, if a factory supports MQB, then producing an Audi, Seat or Skoda product at the same facility is also a possibility. This gives VW Group brands the ultimate flexibility to build market specific trim variations and response to regional needs far quicker while reducing the overall complexity involved in supporting so many products.

The chart below shows the matrix of new modular “kits” as Volkswagen refers to them:

mqb6 001

New Small Family (NSF) represents the new generation of small “city” cars like the Up!. MQB represents an all-new component platform designed to span a range of vehicles from the A0-class (Polo), A-class (Golf, A3, Altea) and B-class (Passat, third-row mid-size SUV and CC) utilizing a transverse engine configuration. Volkswagen has been tasked with the development of the MQB architecture. MLB represents the new longitudinal engine component architecture and stretches from the B-class (Audi A4), C-class (Audi A6) and D-class (Audi A8, Phaeton, Bentley Continental, etc., etc.). Audi is responsible for MLB. Lastly, Porsche is responsible for the MSB (modular standard) matrix largely comprising the sports cars in the group brands.

The Transition

In the past, the “traditional” way to build a car and utilize some form of component sharing was called platform sharing. We saw a lot of this in the early 80’s with a number of cars sharing a common chassis with different (and sometimes not so different) sheet metal. The chart below shows the progression of component sharing at Volkswagen over the last twenty years.

mqb6

In the past, sharing of various components was limited more strictly to the engines, transmissions, suspensions and a handful of electrical, HVAC and other sub-systems. Since the Golf V, Volkswagen has been in a transition and restructuring mode, working towards full integration of MQB. The new Audi A3 which will be introduced at the Geneva Auto Show this March, will be the first official MQB component vehicle introduced. We will see the Golf 7 follow this September at the Paris Auto Show. Wolfsburg has been tooling up for Golf 7/MQB for over a year now and some parts of the factory have been off-limits to the public during this ramp-up phase to keep any details on the Golf 7 under wraps.

As part of the program, Volkswagen teased us with a Golf 7 chassis as shown in the photos below:

MQB Golf 7 chassis front (above) and rear (below)

While not much is given away looking at a raw chassis, we *can* see that the wheelbase has grown a bit while front and rear overhangs are shorter (particularly the front). MQB allows for a tremendous amount of flexibility. Essentially the only fixed part of the vehicle is the pedal box area (and only in length front to rear). Otherwise every other part of the chassis can be stretched in length and/or width as seen in this graphic:

The blue area above is the fixed dimension (again only front to back – width is flexible) with the rest of the areas all permitting a wide variety of sizes and configurations. To put it in to perspective, the MQB platform can support everything from a mid-size three-row SUV to a mid-engine RWD sports car using the same overall modular components.

Trimming the Fat

Volkswagen engineers are quite proud of the fact that they were able to reduce overall weight of the MQB platform vehicle by 40 kg – 60 kg (88 lbs. – 132 lbs.). The chart below shows where the various weight savings came from:

MQB also allows the flexibility for material substitution in various key components to further reduce weight. For example aluminum stampings can be used instead of steel units depending on the needs of a given product. Volkswagen says nearly 25% of the fuel economy savings comes from weight reduction. In conjunction with the next generation of engines and transmissions for this platform, MQB should yield even better fuel economy benefits.

Luxury Features

MQB has the ability to support a wide variety of electronics features more often found on more expensive luxury models. How many of these make to the U.S. market remain to be seen both for cost and legal/compliancy regulation issues. That said, MQB can support them all, so the features could be added at any time. Look for most of these to make their first appearance in the all-new Audi A3.

Infotainment Systems

Because MQB must straddle a wider number of transverse engine models, meeting the needs of the different brands presents challenges. In the case of in-car entertainment systems for example, Audi utilizes MMI with a rotary knob adjustment system. Volkswagen instead is going to feature a touch screen system. In both examples the main ECU controlling the system has to be prepared to deal with both interface systems. In the more specific case of Volkswagen, expect to see three different main head units pictured below:

All radios feature touch screen controls. The two higher-end units feature touch controls and proximity sensors that detect when a hand is coming close to the screen and start to react and change the displayed information based on which part of the screen you are about to touch. Combined with a new high-resolution 8″ screen, this feature works extremely well and looks fantastic. Basic touch-gestures like swiping will also be supported as well. Expect better BlueTooth integration, better map integration and updating, 3D navigation and even the future possibility to control apps from your phone via the touch screen.

MQB Engines

Final details have yet to be released on the specific lineup of future engines for the U.S. market, but we can start to piece together a pretty solid road map.

Volkswagen is currently building an all-new engine plant in northern Mexico that will produce the new EA888 direct injection 1.8l turbo-charged 4-cylinder. Already introduced in the European Audi A4, the new 1.8TSI is a modular engine that shares components with a new version of the EA888 2.0TSI. Since both engines share common components, it will be possible to also produce the 2.0TFSI at the new plant in Mexico.

The new 1.8TFSI will replace the 2.5l inline-5 cylinder across the existing VW lineup as the new base engine. This new engine has some interesting design characteristics like an exhaust manifold integrated fully into the head with liquid cooling. We expect horsepower to range between 150hp to 180hp depending on the application. We also expect fuel economy to be significantly better as well. The 1.8TSI is currently available in the European Audi A4 where it gets 42mpg highway cycle. Combine that with the torque characteristics of the turbocharged engine and VW should have a winner on its hands.

The 2.0TSI will continue to be available, but our understanding is that Volkswagen is looking to consolidate the 2.0TSI into one model that can range from 200hp to 280hp (as opposed to the current multiple versions available). Most rumors seem to indicate that the next GTI will have around 230hp. We’ve driven the GTI 35 in Europe which also has 230hp and found the engine to be very strong, pulling hard out of corners, yet devoid of torque steer or other idiosyncrasies common with front wheel drive high-horsepower cars. MQB will have an additional trick up its sleeve with the addition of a new locking differential for the front wheels (more on that in a moment).

On the TDI front, VW has an all-new EA288 series available in 1.6l and 2.0l turbocharged four-cylinder diesel unit. The 1.6l TDI is good for 88hp and will be utilized mostly in European markets. The 2.0TDI will have 188hp and torque upwards of 280 lb. ft. The new EA288 modular diesel family has a number of shared components, giving VW the flexibility to adapt to a variety of models and market specific requirements. For example there are three standard exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) depending on emission requirements in a specific market. The intercooler is now a water unit that is integrated into the intake manifold with a reduced volume of air. All of these things add up to improved emissions and economy benefits.

As for the V6 engine strategy, our take is that Volkswagen is still exploring different potential solutions. We have confirmed that the existing VR6 engine can fit in MQB. However, we had discussions with Dr. Hackenburg (VW Board Member responsible for development) at the Detroit Auto Show and he offered some insight into where they are headed with a V6 strategy. He mentioned that most of the competitors in the market are moving towards forced induction (super or turbocharging) in their V6 engines. Volkswagen has been exploring this (rumors we’ve heard include a 2.8l VR6 Turbo) and the group obviously includes the 3.0l supercharged V6 used by Audi in longitudinal applications. However Dr. Hackenburg also mentioned that they are looking at using the 2.5l inline-5 turbo *instead* of a six-cylinder. This would offer all the power of a V6 and more (280hp to 350hp) but with better fuel economy. Volkswagen is also under pressure to try and localize production as much as possible here in North America (to save costs) and with the existing normally-aspirated 2.5 inline-5 being produced in Mexico, that line could be converted over to produce the turbocharged version. At the point this was written, a final decision has not been made yet.

Finally, there will be hybrid and full-electric engine options for MQB as well. We’ll see the first Hybrid utilizing the 1.4lTSI in the current Jetta later this year. Overall MQB has been designed to accept a wide variety of engine options to meet the demands of all the different models and markets. The engines themselves have adopted a modular strategy to further reduce costs and simplify production.

For the performance enthusiasts – a locking differential

Volkswagen has been working with Haldex for a number of years to develop an electronically controlled mechanical locking differential which Volkswagen refers to as VAQ. Similar in concept to the Haldex coupling used in Volkswagen’s 4motion AWD models, VAQ utilizes a multi plate coupler that electronically modulates power to either the left or right front wheels as needed. This torque vectoring effect results in power going to the wheel that needs it most. In dry situations, for example, at extreme cornering attitude where the inside front wheel has lost traction, power is diverted to the outside wheel instead (as long as the inside wheel is still slipping). Engineers that have driven this system extensively say that you can literally feel the front end pulling itself around the curve.

Volkswagen has spent a number of years fine tuning this system and has used it on their Scirocco 24hr of Nurburgring race cars. The chart above shows the 8.5 second improvement of the natural gas powered Scirocco around the Nurburgring Nordschleife with the VAQ system. You can also see that exit speeds out of corners is substantially better and that drivers more often maintain 100% full throttle mid-corner instead of having to modulate power because of traction issues. Volkswagen isn’t saying what the price tag will be for such a system and they confirmed it will be optional on the European Golf 7 GTI. As always, we’ll be lobbying Volkswagen of America hard to offer the system here as well.

Modular Manufacturing

The modular kit strategy also carries over to manufacturing as well. Factories that support MQB, can support building nearly any MQB vehicle on the same line. This means that there is flexibility to build a Golf followed by a Passat all on the same assembly line. The modular strategy has also carried through into even the smallest details. As you can see in the chart below showing the Kaluga Russian plant, there were four different dash mount brackets being used in existing models. With MQB there will be only one reducing the number of parts needed, simplifying engineering and reducing the training time and tools necessary to install the dash.

Overall, the Volkswagen Group modular kit strategy is a huge step forward on nearly every level of production and flexibility. MQB will be supported fully in the North American market which means Volkswagen (and Audi) could build any transverse model from Polo to A3 to Golf to Passat to Mid-Size SUV. The first full MQB vehicle to be launched worldwide will be the Audi A3 at the Geneva Auto Show next month, followed by the Golf 7 at the Paris Auto Show this September.

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