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Platform Politics

Japanese automakers vary on their definitons of what constitutes a vehicle platform.

Toyota defines platforms in terms of powertrain and suspension, which puts the full-hybrid Prius in a class by itself, for the time being.
Japanese carmakers historically have been less willing than their European and American counterparts to cast their vehicles in ‘platform’ terms. One big reason: Industry leader Toyota, with more than a 40 percent market share excluding minis, did not embrace the concept until the mid 1990s, when management began a major assault on an increasingly bloated cost structure.

As things stand today, Toyota defines platform in terms of ‘suspension and engine’ in addition to vehicle size, wheelbase and cabin space. Also considered is whether or not the vehicle is a ‘hybrid’. Thus the Prius, for the time being at least, is built on a separate platform.

Similarly, Nissan defines platform as the ‘base of the vehicle’ including the powertrain and suspension. Guillaume Gerondeau, Nissan vice president of product strategy and planning division, explains that other criteria include “common processes, common components and common design. Platforms are not restricted by size, thus underbody dimensions can vary by model.”

Honda, while not having a fixed definition of platform, usually includes the bulkhead, main suspension components and floor up to the rear seats. Like Nissan, Honda is not constricted by size. Thus, the U.S. Accord, though built on the same platform as the Japanese model, is a larger car than its home-market version.

Meanwhile, Mazda defines platform as ‘common architecture’ — a ‘set of technologies’ which allows the company to meet variant regional and segmental market demands. Against this backdrop, average platform life in Japan is 8-10 years, double the life of a standard model, while the cost to develop a new platform is estimated at $364 million- $455 million. Analysts claim that the amount includes a new powertrain set along with tooling costs in the assembly plant. A brief rundown of the platform strategies of Japan’s Big Three follows:

Toyota plans to reduce platform numbers though it is not yet clear what the final total will be. Senior managing director Takeshi Uchiyamada says the company plans to reduce global platforms to fewer than 15. Thus a good guess would be 12, reflecting the number of executive chief engineers employed in the automaker’s restructured product development organization.

Last July, Toyota reorganized its product development group with the adoption of an ‘executive chief engineer’ structure building upon the company’s long-established ‘chief engineer’ format. Under the new structure, 12 executive chief engineers oversee some 50 chief engineers and project general managers in charge of specific vehicle programs. Effectively, these 12 individuals are ‘platform’ managers.

The new structure, which is similar to Honda’s Representative of Automobile Development or RAD organization, aims to improve efficiency and bring greater focus to the automaker’s product development activities.

Most likely not included among the 12 platforms are four or five planned for Toyota’s luxury Lexus channel which, in summer 2005, will be introduced in Japan. Also not included are platforms assigned to Daihatsu and Hino, Toyota’s small car and truck subsidiaries.

Against this backdrop, a partial breakdown of Toyota’s future platform lineup (based on dimensional and powertrain similarity) follows:

  • Vitz including Vitz, Fun Cargo, ist, Platz, Bb and Will Cypha (Japan); and Yaris (France)
  • Corolla including Corolla sedan (Japan, U.S., Canada, U.K., elsewhere); Fielder, Runx, Allex, Spacio and Rav4 (Japan); and Matrix and GMVoltz (U.S.)
  • Prius (Japan)
  • Camry including Camry sedan (Japan, U.S., Australia); Brevis, Progres, Allion, Windom, Verosa and Harrier/RX330 (Japan); Camry ‘Solara’, Avalon and Sienna (U.S.); and Avensis (U.K.)
  • Crown (Japan) including Crown ‘Majesta’, Crown ‘Royal ‘and Crown ‘Athlete’
  • Estima (Japan) including Alphard
  • Ipsum (Japan) including Wish, Gaia and possibly Voxy and Noah
  • Tundra and Sequoia (U.S.)
  • Land Cruiser (Japan) including Land Cruiser 70, Land Cruiser 100, Land Cruiser ‘Prado’ and Hilux Surf
Nissan is in the process of reducing its main platform lineup to five. These are B, C (‘FF-S’ for front-wheel-drive/small), E (‘FF-L’ for front wheel-drive/large and ‘FR-L’ for rear-wheeldrive/ large) and frame.

In addition, the company has around six truck platforms for such models as the Elgrand, Safari and Nissan pickup (all produced by Nissan Shatai Co. in Japan), and the Serena and Liberty (produced by Nissan).

Eventually, Nissan and Renault intend to share more than half the main platforms — in particular: B, C (FF-S) and E (FF-L). However, no Renault model currently employs a Nissan platform although the new Clio, due out in 2004, is expected to be built on Nissan’s B platform. Models built on main platforms include:

  • B: March and Cube (Japan); and Micra (U.K.)
  • FF-S: Sunny, Wingroad, Bluebird Sylphy and X-Trail (Japan); Sentra (Mexico), Almera and Primera (U.K.); and Tino (Spain)
  • FF-L: Presage, Murano, Pathfinder and Tiana (Japan); and Altima, Maxima and Quest (U.S.)
  • FR-L: Skyline, Stagea, Fairlady/Z350 and FX45 (Japan); Cima/Q45, Cedric and Gloria will likely switch to this platform when they undergo their next model change.
  • Frame: Pathfinder Armada/QX56, Titan and Xterra (U.S.)
Honda has five main platforms (minicar, B, C, CD and light truck) as well as three specialty car platforms for such models as the NSX, S2000 and Insight. Of the five main platforms, two are exclusive to North America (CD and light truck); one is exclusive to Japan (minicar); and two are global (B and CD), thus produced in multiple countries. The automaker has no plans to increase or decrease main platforms and advises that ‘commonality’ between different models built on a platform is only 20-40 percent (30-40 percent between cars and 20 percent between cars and SUVs). Models built on main platforms include:

  • CD: Accord (Japan, U.S., Mexico, Thailand, China); Inspire and Japanese Odyssey (Japan); Acura TL (U.S.); and ASM concept van (still not in production)
  • light truck: Pilot, Acura MDX, U.S. Odyssey (2004 model), and new SUT or Sport-Utility Truck (U.S. or Canada)
  • C: Civic (Japan, U.S., U.K., Thailand); Civic Hybrid, Stream, HR-V and Acura RSX (Japan); CR-V (Japan, U.K., Thailand); and Element (U.S.)
  • B: Fit, Mobiliio and Spike (Japan); and Fit Aria and Jazz (Thailand)
  • Minicar: Life (Japan).
This article was provided exclusively to Automotive Industries by J•REPORTS, a new information service offering in-depth coverage of automotive technology based in Tokyo. For additional information about this and other studies and prices, contact

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