Volkswagen Plans Its Biggest Technology Overhaul In Two Decades

By Blake Z. Rong | December 21, 2011
The next Audi A3 will be released next year, as a model that should be leaps and bounds ahead of its aging predecessor. But it’s not just the latest luxury compact in a crowded model lineup—it heralds a sweeping change across the entire Volkswagen and Audi lineup, one that could see parts sharing at an unprecedented level. With the A3, VW trots out the first car that will share components with as many as 40 other cars—axles, steering columns, even overall architecture. The cars would share parts across VW’s myriad brands such as Skoda, SEAT, Audi, and of course Volkswagen itself in models ranging from the subcompact Polo to the mid-sized Passat. These shared "platforms," as they're known, can be lengthened, widened, and enlarged to suit a variety of vehicles. VW would also build cars from different brands within the same factory, and this flexibility would make the production process quicker and less complicated, reducing production costs by 20 percent and assembly times by 30 percent. To match these ambitious plans, Volkswagen is trotting out some impressive figures: 5 billion Euros saved annually, 3.5 million cars to be built per year. The company is setting aside 62.4 billion Euros over the next five years to implement these upgrades across their factories, with the first upgrades going online at VW’s facilities in Wolfsburg, Zwickau and Ingolstadt, Germany.
It’s a risky gamble. If one of those components turns out to be faulty, VW would have to recall hundreds of thousand cars in one fell swoop, across different brands and global markets, at a level that would make even Toyota cringe. It would destroy Volkswagen’s carefully cultivated image for superior German engineering, which would take years to recover. And there’s always the lack of distinction between car brands when the cars themselves are fundamentally the exact same—those who remember GM’s lineup from the 1980s will be more reluctant to spring for an Audi when, cynically speaking, it’s just a tarted-up Volkswagen. But overall, VW’s executives remain optimistic. When pressed about the risk of recalls, production chief Hubert Waltl said, “Risks exist when you undertake far-reaching improvements, but the implementation process is manageable.” When asked how these changes would benefit the production process, development chief Ulrich Hackenberg claimed, "We're creating a system that enables us to produce vehicles based on this architecture at any factory." And lastly, when somebody asked head honcho Martin Winterkorn whether this would lead to dilution of the vaunted Audi brand, the CEO maintained that the cars would still be “completely different.” Only time will tell, it seems. Source: Automotive News

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