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Volkswagen’s Modular Manufacturing Paves Way for Mass-Produced Electric Vehicles

The highlight of my recent trip to Volkswagen’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany was a brief drive of the outrageously cool Volkswagen XL1. The carbon-fiber diesel plug-in hybrid with scissor-doors, and 260-mpg efficiency, is a head-turner. It was easy to get seduced by the XL1—and to get distracted by a desire for VW to produce more than only 250 units for the Europe market. But I discovered a more profound electric car innovation during my time with Volkswagen engineers: the use of modular manufacturing to create a pathway for vast numbers of mainstream VW models to go electric.

The VW brand’s MQB platform, announced early this year, is essentially a flexible assembly kit that underpins the company most popular models—from Polo to Golf and up to Passat, including the Audi TT and A3. Volkswagen has used similar kits to bring cost efficiencies to other lines of its vehicles. But what’s remarkable about MQB is how it accounts for the likelihood that VW’s most popular cars will use a plug-in hybrid or battery electric powertrain—without costly redesign or compromising driver features.
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