We’re wearing the same chassis!

Platform sharing has remade the auto industry but confused consumers.

I’m told that ladies get embarrassed when they turn up at parties in the same outfit. Oddly enough, automobiles encounter the same phenomenon. Platform sharing is the practice of building car parts—bodies, axles, suspensions, and powertrains—and distributing them in different models. The result is a road full of autos that, even from up close, earn a double-take from consumers. Manufacturers try to tweak these lookalikes with distinctive headlamps, trim, seats, grills and other bells and whistles. Does the visual distinction work?

The Ford Focus and Mazda 2 share the same body, as does the Toyota Camry and Lexus ES. Some Fords, Volvos and Land Rovers also have the same platform. The Jaguar XJ8 and Hyundai Sonata look very familiar, not to mention the Jeep Compass and Dodge Caliber.

The concept of platform sharing may not dawn on consumers right away, not while we buy so many products on appearance alone. I was once told a story about a woman whose mechanic ordered a Toyota part to fix her Lexus:  she was stymied when he explained how the vehicles were so closely related. Think of the difference in cost between those vehicles!

A great article on platform sharing was penned in a 2003 article of Car and Driver. Manufacturers save billions in development and production, but the trend has also affected the originality of their products. Bottom line:  if you have trouble judging between seemingly related cars, then the real value has to be discerned from engine performance, safety standards, handling, brakes, cargo capacity, comfort, sturdiness, and electronics. This could make us smarter buyers. On the other hand, we love to buy products based on looks alone.

Have you spotted similarities in sports cars or sedans? Post your comments below!

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