The business of platform sharing, and why it makes sense!

IMG_1453bDeveloping platforms might seem simple, but in reality, it is a complicated and expensive affair.

Hence, the C5 generation of the Chevrolet Corvette – which was unveiled in 1997 – was the first Corvette, since the first Corvette (1953) to get an all-new platform.

Car companies – even the biggest ones – make the best use of their platforms, hence it should come as no surprise that the VW Touareg shares its basic structure with the Audi Q7 and the Porsche Cayenne. I bet, that the new Bentley Bentayga also has a version of this platform under its pricey – and ugly – skin.

Want more examples? The Audi R8 and the Lamborghini Huracan are nearly the same car if you put them in an x-ray machine.

The scheming liars at VW (their emissions scandal along with their most recent response to it by their CEO is just shameful) aren’t the only ones who delve in this business. Another example is FCA, which offers the Fiat 500X and the Jeep Renegade currently. These vehicles might look very different, but they are in fact sharing a platform and drivetrain. The new Fiat 124 Spider was a joint venture with Mazda and their new MX-5, and while their engines and gearboxes are different, the bones are the same.

The car industry is filled with such examples, but it surprised me when some people started discrediting the first efforts by a new company, VLF, for offering cars that they didn’t develop from scratch.

IMG_1457bVLF, which is run by Gilbert Villarreal, Bob Lutz, and Henrik Fisker (these men need no introduction, they are well known automotive personalities), is a small, boutique, car company. Given their fresh start, and limited financial resources, it makes perfect sense for them to utilize tried, tested, and certified platforms, rather than spend over a $100-million to develop an all new one.

Hence their first offerings, the Destino and the Force 1 V10 are based on the Fisker Karma and the current Dodge Viper SRT.

Choosing an existing platform has other advantages too, such as being able to shop for the ideal vehicle, and then make it – hopefully – better. For those who like tailored clothing, the appeal of this is easy to understand – you can pick your material, pick your style, and then pick your atelier.

This is what Henrik Fisker attempted to do with his cars under the Fisker Coachbuild banner, and is doing it again with VLF – only this time, he has some backup.

In an email sent to me directly by Mr. Fisker, he explained that – “VLF’s future product strategy, as the smallest American luxury car maker, is based on platform sharing with other OEM’s.” He added; “This is becoming increasingly necessary in an industry where luxury car makers cannot be dependent on extremely high volume of sales, and larger OEM’s want to make low volume niche cars.”

Models offered by VLF will offer more than just some plastic surgery, as Fisker said that these cars will need to meet “their own standards and specifications” set by the company’s founders. Hence, the sleek and sexy Karma plug-in hybrid is now being offered with a supercharged 6.2L V8 (LS9) taken from the Corvette ZR-1; hence turning the eco-minded Karma into a super sedan.

IMG_1394bThe work VLF has to do to turn the Karma into a Destino is harder than it might seem, since as a registered manufacturer, they have to make extensive modifications to the chassis to accommodate the new drivetrain, and ensure that stuff like the airbags will still work, and that the car passes all regulatory approvals.

The Force 1 V10 takes things even further, as Fisker pointed out that this model adopts “various high technologies VLF is using, that are proprietary to VLF and are trade secrets.” Other technologies in the Force 1 V10 that have made public are: electronically controlled suspension, and the option of a six-speed automatic gearbox – something Dodge never offered with the Viper. With 745 hp on tap, the Force 1 V10 will also be a lot more muscular than a factory Viper (which was no slouch with 645 hp).

So, while some may dismiss the Force 1 V10 as nothing more than a Viper in new clothes, there is lots to justify its price tag, which at $268,000 is about three times as much as a standard Viper. Think of it this way, the price difference between a base Porsche 911, and a top-spec 911 Turbo S also has the same – multiply by three – ratio.

On the path to set up a new company, VLF has already spent about $10-million in the last two years. The three partners hope to recoup their investment by selling about 100 Destino’s this year, and make 50 units of the Force 1 V10. As for what the future holds, that only time will tell, but I hope there is a Force 1 V10 Speedster on the cards, which I’m sure Fisker had thought of well before my suggestion.IMG_1487b

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