Same platform, different cars are what automakers call platform siblings — here are some to see

Chicago Tribune

When the Chicago Auto Show opens on Saturday, the crowded floors can get overwhelming. If you’re visiting as an opportunity to look for your next vehicle, here’s a trick you can borrow from the automakers to make the experience more productive.

In any given brand’s show display, there’s a chance that at least a few of the models use the same “base,” or modular platform, which simplifies design and production. According to Ed Kim, Vice President of Industry Analytics at AutoPacific, modular platforms are good news for car shoppers.

“Because the automaker does not have to create a vehicle’s structure from the ground up each time they develop a new vehicle, this can greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to bring a vehicle from the initial idea to the showroom floor,” said Kim. “That means automakers can bring new and exciting models to market more quickly, as well as offering more varieties of vehicles on the same basic platform, giving the consumer more choice.”

Below, you’ll find some new and popular examples of vehicles on shared platforms, in a variety of categories. If you’re interested in one of these models, it’s worth checking out its sibling to see if that might be a better fit for you.

Crossovers: Hyundai Kona and Kia Niro

The 2017 Kia Niro debuted at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show and the Hyundai Kona launched the following year. These affordable subcompact crossovers are direct competitors, yet are actually the result of close collaboration since their brands are owned by the same parent company and are a great example of how modular platforms help provide more choices to consumers.

If you’ve checked out the Kona or Niro in the past, they’re worth another look thanks to new powertrain options. The Niro launched as a traditional hybrid, but in 2018, the plug-in hybrid Niro was released. For 2019, the Kona and Niro are both offered as fully electric vehicles. Because the Kona is available with a traditional gas powertrain, it can also be configured with all-wheel drive, which is not available with the Niro. Furthermore, though these vehicles have the same basic profile, their styling can easily play a role in your preference.

Pickup Trucks: Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra

The Silverado and Sierra are two popular full-size pickups from General Motors. Both have been completely redesigned for the 2019 model year and are well worth your attention at the Chicago Auto Show.

GM is one of the most prolific and long-running examples of an automaker using modular platforms to successfully build out a diverse lineup across several distinct brands. The Silverado and Sierra have more in common than not, including pricing, powertrain availability, performance, cargo and passenger space, and features.

Why bother, you might ask? It’s all about marketing. The Silverado is one of Chevy’s best-selling models and has plenty of mainstream appeal, while the slightly more upscale Sierra helps round out GMC’s lineup of work-oriented vehicles. Research shows that truck buyers are more loyal to a specific brand than shoppers in any other category, and these models both have dedicated fanbases.

Luxury Crossovers: Audi Q5 and Porsche Macan

Audi and Porsche, both owned by Volkswagen, have taken pains to ensure that these crossovers serve their brands in distinctive ways. It’s easy to see the similarities from the outside, but behind the wheel, the differences take over. Audi takes a relaxed approach while Porsche emphasizes performance. To that end, the Q5 is offered with two powertrains that match the Macan’s lower trims, though the latter versions are slightly more potent. Porsche bests Audi by offering up two additional engines for an advantage of nearly 100 horsepower.

Yet an interesting factor is that this is a case in which Porsche might not be as expensive as you think. Neither of these vehicles are cheap, but the Macan’s starting price is only about $5,000 more than the Q5’s, with similar specifications and features. There’s a lot to consider, but this decision will probably be driven by emotion rather than practicality.

Sports Cars: BMW ZR4 and Toyota Supra

The Toyota Supra is one of the most notable names in Japanese sports car culture, so Toyota’s decision to partner with BMW for the Supra’s revival is certainly a conversation starter. The 2019 Z4 Roadster was already on sale when the 2020 Supra Coupe was unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show, and they’re both worth a look in Chicago.

The Z4’s convertible top and Supra’s fixed roof are the most obvious differences, but far from the only ones. These sports cars’ shared platform and engine technology yield different performance specs, and in terms of styling, BMW goes for sophisticated luxury while Toyota leans a bit more flamboyant. These cars are a great example of the varied possibilities of modular platforms.

Large SUVs: Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator

The Ford Expedition is a good choice for a large SUV. The Lincoln Navigator is a good choice for a large luxury SUV. Both were just fully redesigned for 2018, and both are worth a look on the Chicago Auto Show floor. Ford Motor Company owns the Lincoln brand and developed the platform shared by these SUVs. As the final example, here’s a little exercise: Can you explain why the Lincoln costs $20,000 more than the Ford?

From a casual glance, almost certainly no, but he spec sheets help. The Navigator gets 450 horsepower, while the Expedition starts at 375 and tops out at 400. Lincoln includes leather upholstery, a nicer infotainment system, and more safety features, all of which cost extra in the Ford. All said and done, the top-tier Expedition costs more than the base Navigator and comes up 50 horsepower short. Still, that base price difference is tough to swallow when the Expedition is pretty nice to begin with, and you can buy a lot of upgrades for well under 20 grand.

Few consumers need the Expedition’s capacity; even fewer can justify the Navigator’s premium. But this extreme example isn’t here to point out the excesses of extra-large SUVs. Rather, it’s to illustrate what automakers can do with modular platforms.

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