It’s a time of austerity and we’re all affected, carmakers included. Maybe it’s no surprise there’s been an increase in cross-brand collaborations, with many cars launching that are almost identical under the skin.
This is also known as shared platforms, and while it may be financially beneficial for manufacturers and potentially for consumers too, I think it’s eroding the excitement around new car unveilings. Ultimately it’s making the badge more powerful than it’s ever been.
This week I’m in France covering the 2012 Paris Motor Show, bringing you details of the cars you’ll be able to buy in the next 12 months.
Spot the difference between VW Golf and Audi A3
One of those cars is the new VW Golf. But while a new Golf should be anticipated with distinct significance, I’m failing to get animated about the unveiling of this one in particular. Why? Because we’ve already seen it, driven it, and have even tested it in our lab!
How, you might ask? Well, under the surface, the latest generation of the Golf is the Audi A3 we’ve just put through our full test cycle. With Audi under the banner of the VW Group (also includes Seat, Skoda, Bentley, Porsche and Lamborghini) what’s been developed and rigorously tweaked to produce the latest A3 is now being utilised as the next phase of the Golf.
Strip away the famous VW badge and side-by-side the base of this new Golf could be easily mistaken for an A3 without its four-ring emblem. And the new Seat Leon, also being showcased for the first time at Paris, is the third point in this multi-brand triumvirate, using the same chassis and engine line-up (bar a few minor differences) as the Golf and A3.
It’s all part of a cost-saving exercise. If manufacturers share the monetary burden of new car development and manufacturing, it’s more financially viable to them and the savings made should (in theory) be passed on to you and me.
Shared-platform cars are rekindling badge power
It’s not the first time this has happened. In fact, historically, it can be back-dated decades. But more recently we’ve seen platform sharing growing in popularity. The Toyota Aygo, Peugeot 107 and Citroen C1 and more recently the VW Up, Seat Mii and Skoda CitiGo are examples of car trios that are essentially the same underpinnings glazed in slightly adapted headlight units and body sculpting.
If this results in a more affordable market for car buyers, it could be good for our wallets. But I’m starting to see cross-platform collaborations as a loss in identity, with brands slowly morphing into one soup of blandness. How can enthusiasts get excited about driving the latest Golf when they could slip into a Seat Leon for less money, and ultimately have the same experience?
What is more disconcerting is the power it puts in the hands of a badge alone. If all three of these cars are essentially the same underneath, the car buying decision will lie with which logo resonates with the buyer most. A money-conscious buyer will opt for the Leon; whereas a status-focussed buyer may go for the more desirable VW or Audi badge.
Take the Aygo, 107 and C1 for example. More buyers tend to opt for the Aygo because of the strong association Toyota has with reliability. But the fact is all three cars are built in the same factory, so dependability is purely embedded in the consumer psyche.
With more shared-platform cars do you think you’re being duped into paying more for a badge?