- Published in Vehicle Development.
People carriers are good business for OEMs. They take no longer to develop than sedans, have higher margins and typically have longer lifecycles, making costs much easier to amortise.
It’s a mature segment now but European consumers were slow to buy into the concept. So when, in the early 1990s, Volkswagen and Ford wanted a competitor to Renault’s pioneering Espace, they developed the Sharan/ Galaxy people carriers together.
It was an ambitious programme. Only the powertrains were taken from other models, everything else was developed from scratch. But it worked: since the launch in 1995, VW has sold more than 607,000.
Sharing technologies with other models in its range meant Ford was able to develop the replacement for the Galaxy on its own. Now VW has done the same with the Sharan.
The targets were pretty simple. “We wanted a comfortable, quiet vehicle for families that’s also good to drive,” says Dr Hans-Joachim Bohn, project director. “And we wanted sliding doors, lots of storage space and a very flexible seating system. Of course, we wanted low fuel consumption and emissions – this is a target for every car in 2010.”
Just as Ford’s Galaxy was developed with the S-Max MPV and Mondeo sedan, the Sharan has a lot in common with the Tiguan compact SUV and the Passat sedan.
The Tiguan’s architecture was designed with the flexibility to deliver bigger models later. Much of the front structure was carried over unchanged for the Sharan, together with some of the underbody pressings.
The result is a huge 2,919mm wheelbase; an increase of 75mm on the old model and far in excess of the Passat’s 2,709mm. Designing the body-in-white around that basic dimension takes a lot of steel – 13% of it is hot-formed to keep weight down and improve stiffness.
It saves about 13kg in total, and is used to make the A- and B-pillars and, as a tailored blank, much of the roof frame. Design optimisation of some of the lightly stressed outer panels led to downgauging, which saved another 11kg.
The body still weighs 389kg, but VW claims its 22,400Nm/° torsional rigidity is best-in-class. “Competitors are at the same level as the old Sharan – we’re now 50% stiffer,” says Bohn.
An inherently stiff shell is essential in achieving crash safety, NVH and ride and handling targets. It also compensates for the large appertures required for the sliding rear doors.
These were in the concept from the start. Bohn said customer clinics showed they were valued by families with small children because they make getting in and out simpler and give parents better access to children’s seatbelts.
Functionality and aesthetics are less of a compromise than they used to be – these doors look like conventional closures, not like a panel van’s. The guide channels are neatly integrated into the rear bodysides. VW developed the sliding mechanism with supplier Edscha.