Volkswagen’s Modularer Querbaukasten (MQB) has underpinned more than 40 million cars, and it will continue to be used for another 40m vehicles due by 2030.
“VW’s secrets for world domination”, read the headline when the Volkswagen Group revealed a new vehicle architecture in all its oily glory back in February 2012.
In the decade since, more than 40 million cars have been built across 70 different model lines sold by seven different brands. By the end of the 2020s, around another 40 million are expected to be built. World domination? In automotive terms, there can be no debate.
The idea for this architecture was both wonderfully simple and extremely complicated at the same time. Its name, Modularer Querbaukasten (MQB), hardly rolled off the tongue, although for non-German speakers, the English translation gave a clue of what it was: Modular Transverse Matrix.
The MQB was designed to underpin transverse-engined vehicles as small as superminis like the VW Polo and as large as three-row SUVs like the VW Atlas. Replacing the PQ25, PQ35 and PQ46 architectures in one fell swoop, it appeared first on the seventh-generation VW Golf (or perhaps the third-generation Audi A3 that was released around the same time; it depends who you ask).
“The idea of the MQB was genius,” says current VW boss Thomas Schäfer. “It created the whole platform thinking in the industry, and really pushed us around profitability across the board.”
At the time of its conception, the VW Group was in its aggressive growth phase. The ability to build so many cars of different shapes and sizes, across so many brands, in so many factories and in so many different countries was seen as key to unlocking and benefiting from the scale and size of the group.
“A vehicle architecture consists of basic sets of components, and a platform is a particular combination of those components,” explains Sam Fiorani, vice-president of global vehicle forecasting at Auto Forecast Solutions (AFS).
“The MQB architecture is divided into seven platforms, depending on the size of the vehicle and the price range. Because of this ubiquitous nature, the MQB has become very successful. Not only because it was the world’s top-selling architecture through 2020 but because of the hundreds of millions of dollars in cost savings thanks to consolidation of parts.”
Just how much the MQB models had in common was remarkable. Not only did they share common petrol and diesel engines, but the way they were mounted was also the same to allow for standard positioning of the exhaust, gearbox and driveshaft.
Of perhaps even greater significance was the one standard dimension shared between MQB models: the distance from the pedals to the front axle line. As our 2012 news story noted, “parts in this section (the powertrain, heating and ventilation, axle and steering system) account for 60% of the value creation in the car”.
Schäfer says: “We’ve had tremendous success with this, because you could switch vehicles between factories and you could really start up [production of a new model] well and on a bigger scale. With all the brands going through this, it was a real success model.”
With so much in common, it’s to VW’s credit that such distinction remains between many of the models built from MQB.
Yes, there are plenty of examples from those early days of the MQB where there was too much overlap (after all, there are only so many ways you can build a 4.4-metre-long, five-door family hatchback), but look at all the different models above and it’s quite remarkable to think that the Audi A3 Cabriolet has anything in common with the VW Arteon, Skoda Scala or Ford Tourneo Connect. (Yes, even Ford has a model built off MQB, as part of the recently initiated relationship between it and the VW Group.)
“Traditionally, when an auto maker would bring together multiple vehicles onto a single platform, each would lose a level of personality,” says Fiorani. “The MQB provided the tools necessary to keep costs down but enough space to make each model distinct.”
Audi, Cupra, Ford, Seat, Skoda, and VW have all built models on the MQB, as has Chinese brand Jetta. Factories in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America all build (or assemble) MQB cars. MQB production peaked at almost seven million cars in 2019, and even amid the chip crisis and other global supply-chain difficulties, some 5.5 million were built in 2022.
As well as the MQB, VW has the MSB and MLB architectures for its larger models, plus the NSF for the Up city car.
It’s now doing similar to the MQB with the MEB architecture for its core volume-selling electric cars, plus the J1 and PPE architectures for electric cars higher up the hierarchy.
The MEB is equally as ambitious, and the problems that VW had in developing it even with the MQB experience shows just how right the firm got it with the MQB, despite the complexity and scale of the ambition.
Creating an architecture for EVs is quite different from building one for ICE cars, says Schäfer. You need to balance scale and commonality with the ability to adapt quickly, because EV technology is changing so rapidly. Parts that previously you could happily commit to making in the millions for years on end might need to be changed at short notice.
“Now there’s the balance between speed and quick changes and scale,” says Schäfer. “That’s a real challenge going forward. Because you go for it flat out in the new world with EVs, you have quick changes, quick updates. You might have to change components within the platform.
“Is the advantage of the scale better or greater than the advantage of speed that needs to be seen? At the moment, I’d say we’re still good and volume that we can call upon is definitely a huge advantage for us, but going forward, speed will probably play even a greater role in the industry.”
On the distant horizon, a next-generation EV platform that will replace the MEB, J1 and PPE is already in the works, called the SSP.
Such is its longevity and global footprint, along with the speed of change in EVs, that the MQB is likely to outlast all of VW’s current EV platforms. We know it will still be around for many years yet, even after the SSP is introduced.
“The MQB is responsible for the rapid sales growth of the group over the last decade,” says Felipe Munoz, senior analyst at Jato Dynamics. “It’s a benchmark in the industry and an example for other manufacturers that still struggle to properly manage their numerous platforms. More than its fantastic marketing, its PR and the quality of its cars, the MQB is VW’s best achievement recently.”
Usually in the car industry, when one firm has a good idea, others soon follow. Yet it took the engineering might and even greater global scale of Toyota until 2021 to move ahead of MQB in the sales charts with its Toyota New Generation Architecture (TNGA).
“It isn’t surprising that third place is Renault and Nissan’s Common Module Family (CMF) that uses the same concept as the MQB and TNGA,” notes Fiorani.
Even in 2029, more than five million VW Group cars will be made on the MQB, forecasts AFS.
Its longevity is just as remarkable as the fact that it was so successfully created in the first place.
Every car built on the MQB platform
A1*, A3*, Q2, Q3, Q6, TT
Ateca, Formentor, Leon
Arona, Ateca, Ibiza, Leon*, Tarraco
Fabia, Kamiq, Karoq, Kodiaq*, Kushaq, Octavia*, Scala, Slavia, Superb*
Arteon, Atlas, Bora, Caddy*, CC*, Golf*, Golf SV, Gran Lavida, Jetta, Lamando, Lamando L, Lavida*, Magotan, Multivan, Nivus, Passat*, Polo, Polo Track, Sagitar, T-Cross*, T-Roc*, Tacqua, Taigo, Taigun, Talagon, Taos, Tavendor, Tayron*, Teramont, Tharu, Tiguan*, Tiguan Allspace, Touran, Viloran, Virtus
*Available in more than one bodystyle