Automotive Platform Sharing: An Overview

Published: 30 Jun 2004

By Deepak Balu

What is Platform Sharing?

Platform sharing in automobiles refers to creating various dissimilar models from similar mechanical underpinnings. It is an art of creating several visibly different models from a common platform. It is like creating various pots from the same clay.

Similar mechanical underpinnings constitute the chassis, steering components, suspension components, brake components, underlying body components, and axles.

Differentiation is incorporated by varying appearance and performance components. On the exterior side, trim items such as lights and fascias are varied. Sheet metal is also used as a tool for differentiation. On the interior, seats, materials, finishing, and the instrument panel can differentiate vehicles. On the performance side, suspension spring rates, dampers, steering ratios, gear ratios, torque, power, and seating adjustments can differentiate models.

Advantages of Platform Sharing

Easy Inventory Management

With more similar or fewer disparate components, inventory management becomes simpler and hence more cost-efficient. Costs are reduced when more vehicles are built on one platform, freeing up resources to improve products. The inventory management burden is reduced because there are fewer part numbers to track.

No Need to Reinvent the Wheel

With fewer components due to sharing the same platform, development costs are reduced and can be redirected to improving the efficiency of remaining components. This leads to specialized and innovative products.

Vehicle makers' main incentive for platform sharing is that a greater variety of models can be produced at a fraction of the cost of manufacturing them individually. This wouldn't be the case if every model were to be designed from the scratch. Ford Motor Co. builds the Ford Explorer, Mercury Mountaineer, and Lincoln Aviator on the same platform, covering the mass-market, near-luxury, and luxury SUV segments. The Chrysler PT Cruiser is built on the Neon platform and the Toyota Matrix is built on the Corolla platform. These are examples of how development costs can be reduced by producing late models from old-model platforms.

Disadvantages of Platform Sharing

When many models are created out of a common platform, chances are that the extent of difference decreases as the number of models increases. So, care should be taken in not shrinking the differences too much. Over-use of a single platform leads to many look-alike models, which in turn makes it difficult for a vehicle manufacturer to position and price them as premium vehicles.

The extreme case could be referred to as "badge engineering", where the same vehicle is sold under different badges.

Platform sharing can be considered as two elements, with one element being constant and the other changing constantly to produce different models. In saying so, the significance lies in the extent of compatibility of the changes made to the differentiating element with the constant element. If the changes made are not compatible, then modifications need to be done to make the two compatible, which demands cost and undermines the basic purpose of sharing the platform.

Sharing the same platform could lead to bigger recalls and irrelevance of the platform. When a defect is left unidentified in the standard platform out of which several models are produced, the defect, having spread across models, leads to recalls on a large scale.

When a platform is left unchanged by not investing in platform development, it may in due course of time become outdated. When consumer preference and technology change, the platform can become irrelevant to current market demand.

Vehicle manufacturers, in addition to being more concerned with the attractive economics that platform sharing brings, should also be wary of the risks that come with overusing this strategy.

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