Wheels: automotive platforms matter | News from local businesses

Competition between car manufacturers to design and implement innovative and profitable electric vehicles is intensifying. Volkswagen is banking on its MEB electric vehicle platform, which stands for Modularer E-Antriebs-Baukasten, or roughly translated from German, Modular Electric-Drive-Building Block.

Essentially, it places the batteries and drive components in a single chassis, allowing multiple body configurations to be based on a central mechanical design.

If this idea sounds familiar to you, it’s because VW is no stranger to a similar type of automotive development. In fact, the common crankcase, suspension, and drivetrain layout is the very concept Volkswagen used to put itself on the map, except that initially the common parts included a horizontally opposed air-cooled four-cylinder engine. in the original type 1, or Scarab.

The idea spread to the Type 2 Transporter commonly known as a bus or microbus and its variants, the Type 3 Notchback, Fastback and Squareback wagon, and the Type 4, or 411 and 412 models, as well as the Type 181, or Thing for only list the most popular models.

General Motors recently introduced the Ultium EV platform, similar in concept to Volkswagen’s MEB design. GM designed the batteries to be modular with cells that can be stacked vertically or horizontally, allowing for many body configurations using a singular base.

Perhaps unintentionally, GM also went back to a time when they were catching up with Volkswagen, or at least using their formula, to create a compact car with a familiar air-cooled rear engine, independent suspension and unibody construction, the original 1960. -64 Corvair.

Using a larger engine than VW, Chevrolet’s Corvair was able to deliver the kind of power and convenience that American car buyers expected, and this setup has been used throughout Corvair’s extensive lineup, from coupes to two-door and station wagons to minivans and pickup trucks.

The coupe and sedan were atypical American cars, swapping the ends for their trunk and engine compartments. Chevrolet’s Lakewood station wagon was a small wagon with limited interior cargo space due to the rear engine.

His Greenbriar minibus looked remarkably like a VW bus and most cargo vans of the time. It was a forward control configuration available with windows and seats for passengers or as a panel van with closed sides.

The Corvair line didn’t eclipse VW sales as GM bosses had hoped, but it wasn’t for lack of creativity. Besides the many body options and trim levels like the Monza – whose name would make a comeback on another compact Chevy car produced between 1975 and 1980 – the predominantly aluminum engines were available in different horsepower through the use of multiple carburetors. and even a turbocharged Spyder. version.

Sadly, a young Ralph Nader will use the Corvair to make his mark in the world when he focused on the car in the first chapter of his book “Unsafe at Any Speed”, highlighting the car manufacturers’ inadequate safety standards. Ironically, Chevrolet had already responded to Nader’s concerns about the redesigned Corvair rear suspension on 1964 and later models by the time his book debuted in 1965, but GM’s bad publicity and mismanaged response failed. helped the popularity of the Corvair.

Still, Chevrolet produced a second-generation model in 1965 with a sporty redesigned body and other improvements, but limited the choices to two-door coupes and convertibles and four-door sedans.

Ultimately, 1969 would be the end of the line for the Corvair. Despite the misconception that Nader’s book killed the Corvair, the truth is that a few factors conspired against him.

While “Unsafe at Any Speed” didn’t help, the unconventional car was expensive to produce and not as economical to use as hoped. The 1965 redesign failed to attract consumers who turned to the newly introduced and widely sold Ford Mustang, but conventionally designed.

Chevrolet was quick to introduce the Camaro in 1967 in response to the Mustang, leaving the Corvair to run through the rest of its production with little marketing support from the company. Time will tell if GM has better luck with its Ultium EV platform.

Eric and Michelle Meltzer own and operate Fryeburg Motors, a full-service licensed automotive sales and service facility located at 26 Portland St. in Fryeburg, Maine. More than a business, cars are a passion and they appreciate everything that rolls, rolls, floats or flies.

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