A basic definition of a platform in automobiles, from a technical point of view, includes: underbody and suspensions (with axles) — where the underbody is made of front floor, underfloor, engine compartment and frame (reinforcement of underbody). Therefore, key mechanical components that define an automobile platform include:
Vehicle platform-sharing combined with advanced and flexible-manufacturing technology enables automakers to sharply reduce product development and changeover times, while modular design and assembly allow building a greater variety of vehicles from one basic set of engineered components. Many vendors refer to this as product or vehicle architecture. The concept of product architecture is the scheme by which the function of a product is allocated to physical components.
The use of a platform strategy provides several benefits:
The automobile platform strategy has become important in new product development and in the innovation process. The finished products have to be responsive to market needs and to demonstrate distinctiveness while — at the same time — they must be developed and produced at low cost. Adopting such a strategy affects the development process and also has an important impact on an automaker's organizational structure. A platform strategy also offers advantages for the globalization process of automobile firms.
Originally, a "platform" was a literally shared chassis from a previously-engineered vehicle, as in the case for the Volkswagen Beetle frame under the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. The first generic platform to be shared among a number of vehicles was the Ford Fox platform of the 1970s. In the 1980s, Chrysler's K-cars all wore a badge with the letter, "K", to indicate their shared platform. In later stages, the "K" platform was extended in wheelbase, as well as use for several of the Corporation's different models.
GM used similar strategies with its "J" platform that debuted in mid-1978 in-initially-four of GM's divisions. Subsequent to that, GM introduced its "A" bodies for the same four divisions using the same tread width/wheelbase of the "J" body platform, but with larger body work to make the cars seem larger, and with larger trunk compartments. They were popular through the 1980s, primarily. Even Cadillac started offering an "J" body model called the Cimarron, a much gussied up version of the other four brands' platform siblings. A similar strategy applied to what is known as the N-J-L platform, arguably the most prolific of GM's efforts on one platform. Once more, GM's four lower level divisions all offered various models on this platform throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s.
Today, platform sharing may be less noticeable, however, it is still very apparent. Vehicle architectures primarily consist of "under the skin" components, and shared platforms can show up in unusual places, like the Nissan FM platform-mates Nissan 350Z sports car and Infiniti FX SUV. Volkswagen A platform-mates like the Audi TT and Volkswagen Golf also share much of their mechanical components but seem visually entirely different. Volkswagen Group and Ford Motor Company have both had much success building many well differentiated vehicles from many marques, from the same platforms.