Past experience has made many of us sceptical about different brands sharing a common platform. The idea was discredited for me in the 70s when British Leyland touted Austin/Morris models as Wolseleys, MGs and Rileys with a bit of badging, a few interior tweaks, and in some cases an extra carburettor.
The problem with Badge Engineering is that it promises something but does not deliver. The individual car brands, by virtue of their history, raise certain expectations in the customer, such as exhilaration, comfort, refinement, practicality, convenience or longevity. So how can a common platform ever satisfy the different demands of individual marques?
Brand Engineering is the challenge of making a vehicle based on shared components live up to the brand values of each particular marque. Unlike Badge Engineering which applies a cynical veneer to an existing finished product, Brand Engineering analyses what makes that particular brand different then delivers the minimum number of engineering changes to the existing hardware to satisfy the standards of that brand.
Cutting through the marketing, different brands have different priorities. Some are famous for ride comfort, some for steering precision, some for engine response, and so on. The reasons why it is now practical for a common platform to meet these diverse demands are twofold: better understanding of the engineering and greater use of software to control the major systems.
Thanks to improved analytical techniques using high speed computers, engineers can understand the complex interactions of vehicle systems better than ever before. They can identify the key parameters that influence how a vehicle feels, sounds or responds and tune those accordingly: for example, designing the intake system to sound quiet when cruising yet sporty under load, or matching the suspension bushes to the steering characteristics to give the required combination of quick initial response with stability when cornering.
The increased use of software to control vehicle systems is the second great enabler of platform sharing. Electronic throttles can be set to open aggressively or more gently, just by changing the values of certain parameters. Electric power steering allows the effort required and the speed of response to be varied with vehicle speed and the angle of the steering wheel. Electronic suspension control enables the ride and handling to be optimised for different road types or vehicle states. Dynamic Stability systems can be set to intervene earlier or later during extreme manoeuvres. No wonder some engineers refer to the arrival of ‘Brand-by-Wire’.
The challenge now for the engineer is to adequately understand the attributes customers expect from a particular brand and calibrate the systems to deliver them. The challenge for the product planner is not to stretch the portfolio too much by going a ‘brand too far’ and straining the credibility of the approach. And the challenge for the supply chain is to develop systems with sufficient breadth of ability to satisfy a wider range of applications, though some would argue that they are already ahead of the game in this, and that their innovations are forcing the pace of change.