Recently, as we reported, it was revealed by Ford’s higher level of management that Lincoln was working on a dedicated platform codenamed “D6”. This new platform will command overall an investment of several billion dollars and is meant to underpin a number of vehicles starting around the 2019 model year, thanks to its “flexible” engineering. Indeed, this modern technique is now common across a few European manufacturers: we can think of the Volkswagen Group’s modular MQB platform, and Peugeot’s Efficient Modular Platform program.
For manufacturers, being able to turn one platform and dedicated set of tools into many different vehicles represents reduced research and development costs, less investment over the lifespan of their line-up, and the possibility to come up with new vehicles with little to no extra investment. Actually, fans of all things Ford already got a taste of that idea when Ford released its ground-breaking family of “modular” engines: contrary to popular beliefs it did not mean that a specific engine could be modified to add or remove cylinders or key components, it meant that a number of different independent engines in different configurations and displacement were possible along one assembly chain and common core engineering.
It is also the opposite of, say, General Motor’s platform policy where integration is vertical instead of horizontal or complete: when a given platform is developed it is for a given size and application, which is then shared vertically between GM’s different brands. For instance, the Epsilon II platform currently underpins with few adjustments the Chevrolet Malibu and Impala, Buick Lacrosse and Cadillac XTS.
At this time, we know very little about the D6 platform, except that it is expected to offer both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive models. Still, for reference, we thought it would be interesting to see how these flexible platforms work for other manufacturers.
For instance, Peugeot’s EMP2 (Efficient Modular Platform 2) project, presented in 2013, offers a choice between three different front track width, five different wheelbases, two different heights -to be able to plan cars as well as crossovers- and an infinity of rear modules including different suspension layouts. It can also accommodate front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive.
But, paradoxically, this infinity of combinations revolves around a core of standardized elements which allow all vehicles to share benefits that would have been too expensive to implement across the line-up. In the case of EMP2, the common front-end assembly means improved and standardized engine placement and safety features which in turn result in a reduced front overhang. In terms of exterior design, front-wheel-drive cars often suffer from excessive front overhang due to the bulk of the engine-drivetrain-transmission assembly, so this feature will give more room to designers to work their magic.
Also, it means that developing a technical feature for this modular platform will allow for it to be offered across the line-up at no extra development cost, which in turns means you can recoup your investment quicker. For instance, the EMP2 platform features standardized “by-wire” brakes which remove all hydraulic linkage between the pedal and the brake calipers and allow for the fitting of an electric parking brake. And that technology, which was once reserved for high-end models such as the Infiniti Q50, will be available on all vehicles based on that platform, even subcompacts.
Finally, Peugeot hopes with this platform to better control its engines’ emissions: indeed, engines being already somewhat standardized, instead of having to tune each engine for each car it powers, the entire package can now be considered as a whole to maximize fuel economy. Think of what Mazda is doing on one model with its SkyActiv technology, but on a much greater scale.
The real pioneer when it comes to flexible platforms though remains Volkswagen, which introduced its MB (which is the acronym to the German version of “Modular Matrix”) strategy in early 2012. For the Volkswagen Group, one of the largest in the world, economies of scale are a big deal: its portfolio counts four mass-produced brands (Volkswagen and Audi, as well as Czech budget brand Škoda and Spanish sporty brand SEAT) and as many as 220 different models overall!
Consequently, the firm came up first with the MLB platform, made for its front-engined, all-wheel-drive ready vehicles using a longitudinal engine. In short, it covers cars which are primarily designed as rear-wheel-drive, requiring the engine to be placed in the alignment of the car and of the driveshaft which connects the rear-wheels. It also green-lighted the MSB project, which is handled by Porsche and will underpin the Group’s premium brands such as Porsche, Bentley or Lamborghini.
But on a larger scale yet, Volkswagen decided to standardize models which shared the most common characteristics in terms of packaging and engineering: its front-wheel-drive and transverse mass market automobiles. It means that, for instance, the pint-sized Up! sub-compact and the full-size Passat will share the same common elements regardless of their size difference. And while such differences in application will require the MQB platform to be stretched and widened at will, all vehicles will still use the same engineering hardpoints: for instance, in that case, the Up! and the Passat share the same assembly and measurements between the gas pedal and the center of the front wheels. All the other benefits we saw above for the EMP2 also apply to the MQB program.
What can we expect from Lincoln’s D6 platform?
That is the biggest mystery here, as very few details have been revealed. Will the platform’s flexibility go as far as that of the EMP2 and MQB programs? Or will it revolve around a definite number of models? So far, we only know that the platform will accommodate at least different wheelbases as well as front- and all-wheel-drive. For most of an extra 2.5 billion dollars being invested into Lincoln’s product planning, you would think though that this platform would be pretty advanced and offer knowledge to be used by Ford across its global operations.
One thing we know is that another new platform has already been announced, one that is to underpin a rear-wheel-drive crossover and maybe sedan. That would suggest that in the future Lincoln’s line-up would be based on a Lincoln-specific flexible platform meant to realize the bulk of sales, while a dedicated but corporate platform would open the door to range-topping models.
In my opinion, an important element of this equation will be the release of specifications for the next-generation Lincoln MKS, which is expected anytime soon. This should give us a good idea of Lincoln’s current research and development, and might prompt its management to reveal more information about the next products to be released.
(featured picture: 2003 Lincoln Navigator’s U platform)
- Exclusive: Ford to overhaul Lincoln, this time with big bucks, at Reuters.com
- EMP2, PSA Peugeot Citroen’s new global modular platform, at PSA-Peugeot-Citroen.com
- 7 questions on MQB, at Volkswagen.com
- Explained: the VW Group’s MQB platform, at TopGear.com