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Friday
Feb032012

VW Declares War With Its MQB Architecture

By Christopher A. Sawyer

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This Wednesday, Volkswagen introduced the technology that underlies the next generation Golf, and will allow the company to produce any of its transverse-engined cars — from the Polo to the Passat — from a common set of components and on the same assembly line. The strategy is, in a word, stunning and moves VW closer to its goal of becoming the world’s largest and most efficient automaker.

The MQB, as it is called, includes two new engine families that remove a lot of variation within the VW engine lineup. All engines, whether gasoline or diesel, will mount into the same slot at the same angle, and variations like electric drive or hybrid propulsion systems will slip easily into place. The MQB standardizes a set of dimensions critical to efficient volume production, and makes it possible for any plant building a transverse-engined VW Group vehicle worldwide to assemble any member of the family, from an Audi to a Skoda, using a common build sequence. The changes will allow VW to flex its global build capacity much more efficiently without having to build new plant and equipment, and build each vehicle worldwide to the same set of rigorous quality standards; an area where VW has often come up short.

Interestingly, VW seems to have figured out that certain dimensions, like the length from the accelerator pedal to the center of the front wheel can be the same on any transverse front-drive car, while other dimensions — wheelbase, track width, wheel sizes, etc. — can be different, and yet have these vehicles still go down the same assembly line. Further, now that both gasoline and diesel engines are angled at the same degree and have their ancillaries mounted in the same way, it’s quite easy to slot one or the other into place. Plus, there’s the added benefit of reducing the package size for these items, thus liberating more interior room. Done correctly, this makes it possible to build a vehicle with the same overall footprint as its predecessor, but that possesses far greater interior room. Balance this tradeoff, however, and you can build a slightly roomier car within a smaller footprint and at a much lighter weight.

Powertrains

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VW’s new modular gasoline (MOB) and diesel (MDB) program cuts engine and gearbox variants by a stunning 88%. It also shifts the front wheels forward by 40 mm (1.57 in.), increasing cabin room and improving the “dash-to-axle” ratio that is so important to a vehicle’s styling.

The EA211 gasoline engine family is exclusively turbocharged and direct fuel injected (VW calls that TSI), and comes in two sizes: 1.2-liter and 1.4-liter. (Other size engines undoubtedly will follow.) It retains the 82-mm bore spacing of VW’s current (EA111) small fours, but changes everything else. The EA211 now leans back towards the firewall at the same 12-degree angle as the diesels. Further, the exhaust has been shifted to the back and the intake to the front, just like the diesels. Mounting length has been reduced by 50 mm (1.97 in.), making the front cabin roomier. Switching from a cast iron to die-cast aluminum crankcase shaves 22 kg. (48.8 lb.), while integrating the exhaust manifold into the cylinder head allowed engineers to use dual-loop cooling for faster interior warm-up and, on TSI models (the VW Up!, among others, uses non-turbocharged versions of this modular design), a dedicated loop for cooling the intercooler and turbo housing. The latter is driven by an electric pump and goes on only when needed. It also means the turbocharger housing is an integral member of this module, making it slimmer and smaller than it would be otherwise.

Part of the smaller engine size comes from VW shifting from chain-driven overhead cams to belt-driven ones. The low-friction single-stage toothed belt is only 20-mm (0.79-in.) wide, and runs through load-reducing belt wheels on the camshaft ends. VW is claiming the belts will not need replacing as they have a service life equal to that of the car. The valves use roller cam followers for reduced friction, and ancillaries like the water pump, air conditioning compressor and alternator are directly mounted to the block face and driven by a single-stage serpentine belt drive. In many ways, this is VW only now catching up to the rest of the industry.

The intake camshaft is adjustable over 50 degrees of crankshaft angle for more torque, especially in the lower rev ranges, and improved emissions and fuel economy. The 1.4-liter direct-injection turbo (TSI) unit also gets adjustable exhaust cam timing. Interestingly, VW has borrowed a page from diesel practice and uses a five-hole injector that runs at pressures up to 200 bar (2,900 lb/in2) while delivering up to three individual injections per cylinder via a stainless steel fuel distribution bar. Part of the reason for this is to reduce wall wetting, the excess fuel sprayed into the combustion chamber that clings to the cylinder walls. This has been a problem in past TSI designs, which has lead to the deposition of carbon in the cylinders. As this activated carbon gets baked and cooled, it adsorbs and desorbs fuel, reducing power and fuel economy. This design should reduce, but not eliminate, this tendency which is caused by the buildup of static charge in flowing fuel that makes it attractive to metallic surfaces.

The TSI motors have another trick up their sleeves: cylinder deactivation. It can shut down the second and third cylinders under low- and medium-load states to reduce fuel consumption. Active between 1,250 - 4,000 rpm and up to 73 lb-ft of torque output, the switchover to four cylinders from two takes anywhere from 13 - 36 milliseconds, depending on engine speed. Because it works best under constant-load conditions, like at constant freeway speeds, the system recognizes irregular throttle inputs and deactivates the system until a more homogeneous throttle profile is regained. Turbocharging and direct fuel injection make cylinder deactivation possible on a low cylinder-count motor like this without excess complication. The entire system weighs just 3 kg (6.6 lb).

 

What does this get you? Torquey engines with the ability to cruise on two cylinders for greatest fuel economy, and decent — but not exceptional — power. Both the 1.2 and 1.4 will come in two versions. Output is:

Displacement (liters)

Horsepower

Torque (lb-ft)

1.2

84.5

122

1.2

103

129

1.4

121

147

1.4

138

184

 

The EA288 diesels come in two sizes: 1.6 or 2.0 liters. As VW says, except for the cylinder spacing and bore/stroke ratio, everything about these engines is new. For example, the fuel injection, cylinder pressure sensor, turbocharger and intercooler are all located within a single, modular fuel injection module. Not only is the new engine Euro 6 emissions compliant, this design is much more compact, and can be tested as a complete subassembly before installation.

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Depending on the emission standards at point of sale, the EA288 can use one of three types of exhaust gas recirculation, each modularly constructed. In addition, larger cars, those above the Golf, have urea injection added. Thus the diesel can use an oxidation catalyst, diesel particulate filter and NOx storage catalyst with urea injection separately or together.

Interestingly, the EA288 is the first VW diesel to use twin counter-rotating balance shafts to cut noise, vibration and harshness. In addition, the oil and vacuum pumps mounted in the oil pan are driven by toothed belts instead of chains for the same reason. VW is hoping these changes will make the diesel an even more premium driving experience. As expected, these oil burners make a lot of torque:

Displacement (liters)

Horsepower

Torque (lb-ft)

1.6

88.5

184

2.0

188

280

 

Structure

VW claims the floor structure of the MQB is 18 kg (40 lb) lighter and has about 85% high strength steel content. Using these hot-formed (the parts are stamped while the steel is hot) pieces also improves crash response, and makes it possible for future iterations to replace steel panels with lighter aluminum. The component system also includes the underbody structures for EVs and hybrid models.

The front and rear seating systems, load bearing structure of the dash and air conditioning system also have been lightened. This has taken a minimum of 10 kg (22 lb) off the weight of the interior. A further 3 kg (6.6 lb) was saved as a result of optimizing the electrical system. This may not seem like a lot, but the result of these weight savings in structure, interior and electrical has permitted VW engineers to reduce the weight of the running gear by over 6 kg (13.2 lb). Rather than continuing the upward weight spiral, the MQB will pull at least 40 kg (88.2 lb) out of the vehicle for better performance, handling, fuel economy and lower emissions.

Modular Build

This is where it gets interesting, especially as it relates to VW’s plans to become the world’s largest automaker. Comprehensive standardization of components and technologies will reduce cost and improve production time. It also will allow a massive growth in the variety of vehicle types that can be built using this methodology. And, because the total factory will be standardized, it will be possible to go to any VW plant building the MQB and see the same processes, build sequences and work steps.

This will allow the Golf, Tiguan and Passat to be built on the same assembly line. It also will permit VW to build variations, like a mid-size SUV or van, coupe, sports off-roader or any other variant off these pieces in a single plant. In places like China, cars like the Audi A3 can now come off the same line as the VW Golf. The possibilities are nearly endless, and the effects on cost — especially as the volumes of individual modules will go up even if they are spread among more variants — could be staggering. So staggering that low-volume niche products the company would like to build, but can’t under the current build regime, will not only be possible, they will be profitable. With such large potential production volumes, it may behoove a supplier to set up an automated facility to build the requisite parts at the lowest possible price, further reducing costs.

Technology

This effect on suppliers also makes itself felt in terms of the technology offered on the MQB vehicles. With lower per unit costs it should be possible to flow technologies like camera-based road sign detection, fatigue detection, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and others into volume cars like the Golf.

The MQB will debut an electronically controlled front differential lock. It is a multi-plate system located between the differential and right drive shaft. The electronic pump reads road conditions and provides the right pressure necessary to prevent wheel slip in low-friction situations, torque vectoring by adding drive torque to the wheel on the inside or outside of a corner to keep the car neutral in a turn, and make the car more agile in high-speed bends. It will be coupled to a new electronic steering system that includes progressive steering. At low speeds or in parking situations, the steering is “faster” and more responsive. Similar systems can be found on high-end luxury cars, like BMW’s 5 Series.

This commonality will extend to infotainment systems as well. VW will offer a large range of touchscreens in either 5-in. or 8-in. formats. These new units will use a proximity sensor that indicates whether the driver or front seat passenger wants to use the system, and react accordingly. This should make it possible to allow the passenger to access functions the driver can’t due to distraction concerns. And, for the first time, the driver will be able to adjust and read information from the driver assistance systems individually on the large display. VW promises the new touchscreens will offer the look and feel of devices like the iPhone and iPad.

VW has spent many years and lots of money rationalizing its production, technology, powertrain, structure and other modules into units that can be spread throughout the company. Though many of these ideas are not new to the industry, the fact that VW has rationalized on such a large scale and across the globe gives it an advantage others will be hard-pressed to follow quickly.

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