Stellantis defends Frankenstein BEV platform

Anticipated slower US adoption of all-electric vehicles may be driving compromise on STLA Large

Stellantis defends Frankenstein BEV platform
STLA Large has been engineered to allow fully ICE vehicles to be built on it

The first Tesla Roadster — the vehicle that kicked off the modern history of the e-mobility revolution — was famously built on the modified chassis of a Lotus Elise, an ICE sportscar. But Tesla was already in parallel pursuing the Whitestar project that ultimately delivered the Model S, which was designed and developed with an electric powertrain in mind.

Indeed, it became a stick with which to beat many legacy OEMs that their early BEV offerings were ICE products into which batteries had been shoehorned. "Remember, the XC40 and the C40 were built on a CMA architecture, which started its life as an ICE platform," Jim Rowan, CEO of Sweden's Volvo Cars, said just this morning.

"We redesigned it — we did a tremendously good job — but, nevertheless, you lose some efficiencies when you do that," Rowan says. "The EX30, the EX90, the EM90 were born electric cars."

So the fact that we have now come full circle and one of the world’s largest automakers has developed a BEV platform onto which fully ICE models can also be built, however awkwardly, is a significant inflection point.

For that is exactly what Stellantis, the sprawling conglomerate that encompasses France’s Peugeot and Citroen, Italy’s Fiat and the US’ Chrysler among a slew of marques, has done with its new STLA Large platform. Vehicles in the D and E segments based on STLA Large — one of four global BEV platforms Stellantis is developing — will target “the core of customer demand in prime global markets”, the firm says.

It will be deployed first in the North American market with vehicles from the Dodge and Jeep brands, followed by other marques including Alfa Romeo, Chrysler and Maserati. A total of eight vehicles will launched in the 2024-2026 period.

The STLA platform was unveiled in January

“The STLA Large platform is a native BEV platform and has no compromises,” Stellantis tells EV inFocus. But that is not the full story.

“STLA Large is BEV-native but its flexibility includes being a multi-energy platform. This includes ICE and hybrid propulsion systems,” the firm says. In other words, Stellantis will be able to produce ICE versions of future BEV offerings, built on a BEV platform.

“This technology provides us with the flexibility of installing multi-energy propulsion systems. We can install battery modules of simple shapes and larger sizes, which allows the best efficiency, including in terms of costs,” Stellantis continues. “In addition, the capability to also install hybrid propulsion systems allows us to diversify and extend our range/product offerings and cover multiple customers’ needs in different markets.”

Not a dedicated platform

And it stresses that, in Stellantis’ view, there is no impact on how the platform will perform when BEVs are developed on it, despite the design being engineered to also allow ICE versions. “This purpose-designed BEV platform is as efficient as a full BEV would be,” it says.

But not everyone is convinced. Developing a platform on which ICEs can also be built is “probably not best in class in terms of vehicle performance, but perhaps good enough for a mass OEM, and best in class from a cost perspective for an incumbent OEM”, says Stuart Pearson, head of global automotive research at bank BNP Paribas.

“The jury is out, and dedicated platforms will be needed eventually,” he continues.

Gian Antonio D'Addetta, a systems engineering innovation specialist at German engineering heavyweight Bosch, has a “similar feeling” that compromises will have been made.

US in mind

Both feel that Stellantis’ large US footprint and a view of slower BEV adoption among the customers its brands serve there have likely influenced the firm’s thinking. “We have a diverse, global customer base and we built a platform that will meet all our customer needs,” Stellantis says.

“Stellantis’ strategy has merit during the transition years, especially given its high US exposure,” agrees Pearson.

“When considering brands like Dodge, Ram, Chrysler, and Jeep in the North American market, it is important to take into account factors such as market demand, cost considerations, and brand strategy,” says D’Addetta.

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“I believe that the strategy team at Stellantis has likely conducted a comprehensive analysis of these factors to determine the viability of building both types of vehicles on the same platform.

“In my opinion, this strategy may be driven by the recognition that these large, heavy vehicles in the North American market often rely on older technology and may have a slower adoption of advanced technologies, particularly in terms of electrification, compared to other vehicle classes within Stellantis,” he concludes.

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