Electric cars from Audi, Porsche: Explaining platform magic

It would be unthinkable for any automaker but Porsche to introduce a new car with a flat-6 engine hung out behind the rear axle. At this week’s 2018 LA Auto Show, the 2020 Porsche 911 duly made its debut in the hallowed configuration that has persisted since 1964.

But with underpinnings specific only to one model, the new 911 is a major outlier in the global auto industry. Far more common is what’s known as “platform sharing,” in which several models and often several brands use common underpinnings with different bodies and interiors. With luck, buyers never know about or see the shared components.

Audi e-tron GT Concept, 2018 LA Auto Show

Shared platforms are crucial to the flurry of new battery-electric vehicles announced by Audi and Porsche. Porsche intends by 2025 to provide electric variants of all of its models except the 911 (which will get a hybrid); and Audi itself plans 12 fully electric vehicles by 2025, including, likely, multiple models for the brand built on Volkswagen’s mass-production-oriented MEB platform. While the new 911’s global debut drew oceans of coverage, the sleek Audi e-tron GT electric sedan “concept car” that also debuted in LA demonstrated the reality: almost no vehicle is developed these days on a unique architecture.

The VW Group, which owns Audi and Porsche, is one of the world’s four largest carmakers. It also may be the most frank about its strategy of sharing single platforms or architectures among multiple models. Its compact MQB front-wheel-drive architecture, for instance, will ultimately underpin dozens of vehicles from four brands that comprise 4 million units a year.

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