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Automotive Industry

SUVs Are Redefining Car Production

Increasing demand is making automakers give a new chance to part sharing, which used to be considered harmful cost-cutting

The 2021 Fiat Pulse borrows the Argo’s doors but gives them a new look

SUVs have been selling like hotcakes for a long time now. While that might look like an irresistible business opportunity at a first glance, the truth is pretty much the opposite: the more competitors there are, the more difficult it gets for a new one to prosper. After all, no one wants to give up the piece of the cake they worked so hard for.

Nowadays, carmakers must keep their SUVs fresh and up to date while having little certainty of how well they are going to perform in the market. The only way they can keep their risk down is to make all the process more sustainable, that is, finding ways to lower their operational costs. Part sharing has become a valuable tool in that mission.

The WR-V was a short-lived SUV adaption based on the Honda Fit

Car platform sharing at first

The oldest relevant example in this topic is the “global cars” trend, which was famous in the 1980s. In short, it consisted of developing one car and taking it to as many regions as possible while keeping adaptions to a minimum; ideally, the latter would be restricted to plain and simple badge engineering, as it was en vogue around the world back then.

In the 1990s, the industry would toy with another interesting concept: a “car family” meant having one project spawn many body styles with the base lines conserved as much as possible — in general, they would only differ starting at the rear doors. In both cases, most examples were concentrated at the small and midsize market segments.

While the T-Cross has a separate project, the Volkswagen Nivus even shares external parts with the Polo

Why has it failed?

Both cases were considered excessive. The initial concept of global car ignores crucial differences between regions such as average income, style preferences, and technical requirements. The few examples effectively released had to get so many local adaptations that the original idea had disappeared by the time they had to get a new generation.

When it comes to car families, makers realized that bundling many cars into one image was counterproductive: their potential to attract different buyers was capped, their life cycles were all tied together, and any negative feedback given to one would be extended to the others. Not to mention that many cars just looked inexpressive that way.

Renault Russia created a low-cost version of the Arkana with similar style but different platform

Smart sharing nowadays

As the article shown below comments, pickup trucks are divided among work users, which requires minimal price, and urban drivers, who like amenities of all types. Automakers have managed to deal with that by taking advantage of the modularity of their projects; some of them are now designed to easily use some parts designed for other cars.

Lately, the same strategy has proved itself interesting for SUVs too, especially low-cost ones. While sharing mechanical components across the lineup is now a common resource, the models shown on this article’s pictures went further and borrowed specific style parts from others to reduce the initial investment for their development and production.

It is common for old-school SUVs such as the Chevrolet Trailblazer to borrow parts from pickup trucks such as the S10

How exactly it is done?

In theory, part sharing is convenient because each new project will have some tasks concluded from the beginning. The only reason companies used to limit that to mechanical and structural parts is that, with modern cars, it is usually too difficult to apply design-related components of one car to another without creating a visual disaster.

What has changed is that the industry is now creating some components from the beginning in a way that makes sharing easier. Doors, windshield, and roof have been reused with only small tweaks while lights and bumpers have been designed to be adaptable to multiple designs whether in case of facelifts or the application on another model.

The Jeep Commander was based on the Compass, but is much more than its LWB version

Do consumers benefit from that?

Considering theory once again, yes. Part sharing essentially does a part of the job beforehand, so each new project becomes cheaper to execute and could be concluded earlier. On the other hand, the final price of a car model is affected by several other variables, so any changes caused specifically by part sharing are likely to be minimal.

What can be actually helpful in that regard is that having the same part used in several car models increases its production, so spare ones should be easier to find for repairs. One of the reasons why maintenance costs go up as the car ages is that manufacturers shift their interest and start producing spare parts at high rates for newer ones.

The BMW X4 is one of the few luxury models to use a similar strategy, sharing parts with the X3

The rising demand for SUVs has made the automotive market so competitive that companies are revisiting some standards. From now on, part sharing is likely to become common especially among entry-level models. What other cases of that do you know? Feel free to share them and your opinions on the matter using the button below!

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Danillo Almeida

Danillo Almeida

Content writer and engineer-to-be who aspires to work in car design. If you like cars but not the stereotypes that surround them, give my articles a try.