Ulrich Hackenberg sits at the center of Volkswagen AG's quest to become the world's largest automaker by 2018. As the head of VW-brand product development, Hackenberg oversees plans to build more than 10 million vehicles a year for 10 brands on only three flexible architectures.
The plan promises to yield huge cost savings for the automaker by allowing several different models to use common engineering, while simultaneously reducing assembly times and complexity through module sharing. Under VW's existing modular strategy, different vehicles share 60 percent of their modules, a percentage that will grow to 70 percent.
Hackenberg, 60, is following on his earlier work at Audi, VW's premium division. While head of product development there from 2002 to early 2007, Hackenberg developed what has been named the Modular Longitudinal Toolkit (MLB), a revolutionary vehicle architecture that debuted on the A5 coupe in 2007 and is now used by four other Audi models.
The MLB scraps the definition of a platform as a piece of hardware. Instead, it is a virtual architecture that can accommodate many different vehicle sizes and, thus, higher production volumes than a standard platform. The system does so by combining modules for engines, transmissions or suspensions in endless variations within a virtual template.
For developing the MLB, Hackenberg was named the Automotive News Europe product development Eurostar for 2008. In February 2007, he also was promoted to the VW brand board of management as head of development. There he developed two architectures based on the Audi concept: the Modular Transverse Toolkit and the New Small Family architecture.
The Modular Transverse Toolkit, or MQB (German for Modularer Querbaukasten), will underpin nearly 6 million units a year and debut in 2012 on the Audi A3. The New Small Family, or NSF architecture, will debut next year with the production Up minicar.
Less time to build a car
After almost two decades of engineering at VW Group, Hackenberg says his primary goal is to make the company more efficient and cut costs.
“With the toolkit strategy, we aim to reduce one-time expenditure and unit costs by 20 percent each, and assembly hours by 30 percent,” Hackenberg said in an interview with ANE.
But a higher degree of standardization among the group's brands will not water down the unique characteristics of each product, Hackenberg insists.
“Modularization enables standardization, but allows a strong customization, which is what is seen and perceived by the customer,” he said.
In the middle term, the MLB architecture developed at Audi will underpin 15 different models at Audi, Bentley and Volkswagen, he said. But the MQB will become the core architecture of VW Group and underpin more than 40 models, including the Seat and Skoda brands, Hackenberg said.
“Our new toolkit strategy was designed from the beginning to also house alternative powertrains, such as hybrids and electric vehicles,” he added.
Hackenberg, a native of Herne in Germany's Ruhr Valley, obtained a doctorate in vehicle technology in 1985 from the Technical University of Aachen and subsequently joined Audi.
At Audi, he took charge of the vehicle mechanics team and, starting in 989, headed technical project management for the entire product range. From 1998 to 2002, he was head of body development at Volkswagen AG, with responsibility for passenger-car concept development. He rejoined Audi in 2002. In early 2007, Hackenberg got his current job and was given the task of expanding the toolkit strategy to all of group's mass-market vehicles.