28 November 2002 | David Arminas
Car makers are increasingly dependent on cars made from interchangeable parts to ensure they maintain sales in a fragmenting market, according to a leading industry academic.
Professor Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, of the Centre of Automotive Research at the University of Applied Sciences in Recklinghausen, Germany, told delegates at this year's Automotive Wales conference that modular car design is taking over from the common-platform strategy.
Car makers are moving away from platform deals where a supplier makes a similar floorplan, chassis or body shell for a range of a manufacturer's models.
"Car buyers now demand many different products and body styles," Dudenhoeffer said.
Modular design means cockpits, doors, roofs and other areas are interchangeable, allowing for more versions of a single model.
"This means suppliers will be more involved in the design work," he said.
Mike Farnworth, general manager of purchasing at BMW Group in the UK, told delegates that since it started outsourcing an increasing number of tasks in 1980, the group's share of responsibility for product development had declined from roughly 70 to 50 per cent.
BMW Group's participation in production activity has fallen from 40 to 30 per cent.
"On balance, the modular approach is more prevalent within BMW Group, particularly on the Mini product.
"The challenge for purchasers is to recognise the increasingly complex nature of the supply chain and the requirement for project management," he said.
Ford is also moving towards modular design, said Richard Parry-Jones, head of Ford's largest engineering organisation.
"Modularisation is becoming more interesting [because it] can create more product development opportunities than we could with the platform approach," Parry-Jones said.