Has Volkswagen discovered the Holy Grail of carmakers?

VW

The automaker is expected to announce a record profit for 2012 of more than $30 billion later this month (Feb. 22), according to Bernstein Research, whose senior analyst, Max Warburton, observes: "VW looks to have unstoppable momentum - in China, the U.S., Europe and most of the rest of the world."

That momentum has been building for some time, even before the initial deployment last year of Hackenberg's brainchild.

Industry-leading levels of commonality - the proportion of parts that can be shared among different models - are nothing new to VW.

At a gathering in Japan five years ago, Renault and Nissan executives lifted the hoods on several VW Group vehicles side by side - including models from Skoda, Seat and Audi brands - and saw trouble.

"They had the same engines, the same clutches, the same ventilation - all identical parts," says an executive who attended the presentation. "It was a level of commonality that didn't exist at Renault-Nissan."

Late in 2011, as the outlook darkened for French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen, its board was given a similar demonstration, and a similar shock, at the company's high-security research center in Velizy, southwest of Paris. Technicians took apart the front ends of two different VW cars and swapped most of their components.

"They were a little dumbstruck by the realization that there was a whole new world out there - and their development was 10 years behind," recalls one participant.

SIX-YEAR GESTATION

After a six-year gestation, VW has just begun to implement its sophisticated and highly flexible platform with the deceptively simple label MQB, a German acronym for "modular transverse matrix." Virtually all of the group's small and medium front-wheel-drive family models, including the latest generations of the VW Golf and Audi A3, are being designed around MQB as their base.

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