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Other than Toyota and GM, the major global OEMs will be driving about 80% of their business volume on two to four vehicle platforms by 2021, according to analysis by IHS Automotive. (Chart: IHS)

OEMs planning major platform consolidations by 2021, says IHS

The industry outlook for 2021 underscores increasing engineering efficiency, with OEMs relying on fewer vehicle architectures in global markets, according to an IHS Automotive analyst.

“Other than Toyota and General Motors, the rest of the major global OEMs will be driving about 80% of their business volume on two to four platforms between now and 2021,” Mark Fulthorpe, IHS Automotive’s Director of Global Light Vehicle Production Forecast, said in an interview with Automotive Engineering following the industry analysis firm's 2014 fall media briefing in Southfield, MI.

Fulthorpe expects Toyota and GM to spring multiple vehicle nameplates from seven platforms throughout the next decade. When those platforms are no longer viable in mature markets, the platforms are used in South America, China and other emerging markets.

“Toyota and GM have more exposure to legacy platform engineering than the other major OEMs. But the Toyota and GM approach is certainly a cost-effective way because a lot of the development costs have already been amortized,” Fulthorpe said. He added that IHS analysts expect GM and Toyota "will move toward a broader industry trend of using flexible, modular platforms that will be used in both mature and emerging markets.”

The modular platform strategy continues to gain momentum, with  new ground-up designs incorporating the requirement to be able to build the vehicle and have it entirely suitable for first-world automotive markets—while also be adaptable for use in emerging markets, he explained.

Recent examples of the strategy include Volkswagen’s Modular Transverse Matrix (also known by its German acronym MQB) which enables a range of vehicle classes to tap various standardized component parameters. The MQB launches in the North American market via the 2015 Golf, Golf GTI as well as the e-Golf that goes on sale in the last quarter of 2014. Future plans call for the MQB to be used in the U.S. on VW and Audi models with transverse mounted engines, such as the Jetta, A3 and A4, Passat, and an upcoming midsize SUV.

At the Renault-Nissan Alliance, the Common Module Family (CMF) enables Renault and Nissan to build a range of vehicles from the same parts pool on a modular architecture. Small vehicles are based on the CMF-A platform, mid-size vehicles from the CMF-B platform, and larger vehicles from the CMF-C/D platform. According to Christian Mardrus, Alliance Executive Vice President for Renault-Nissan B.V and the Alliance CEO Office, “Seventy percent of our vehicles are expected to fall within the CMF scope by 2020.”

That ability to stretch or shorten vehicle dimensions, (i.e. wheelbase, track width, height) as well as share parts among vehicle classes, are key hallmarks of a modular platform.

“The real estate that sits between the base of the A-pillar going forward to the center of the front axle is typically where the vehicle’s most expensive parts reside," Fulthorpe noted, "so that’s the primary area where automakers will seek to commonize parts," such as those used in powertrain, infotainment, and safety technologies.

A modular platform also lends itself to more packaging options for installing technology to address changing market demands and satisfy new safety, emissions, and other government requirements.

Stricter fuel economy mandates could push the proliferation of idle stop-start systems. In 2012, U.S. sales of vehicles fitted with an idle stop/start system tallied 4%. The percentage of U.S.-sold vehicles equipped with a stop/start system is forecast to reach 38% in 2018 and 57% in 2020, according to Devin Lindsay, IHS Automotive’s Principal Analyst, North American Powertrain Forecast.

But that dramatic uptick in stop/start system applications is subject to change. “If there’s any forecast that can definitely change, this is the one because so much is based on consumer acceptance,” said Lindsay.

One thing unlikely to change anytime soon: Finding ways to streamline the product development process. Said Fulthorpe: “OEMs are looking to achieve greater platform efficiency, and reducing the number of unique platforms reduces complexity and lifetime costs.”

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