The movement toward flexible, global vehicle architectures has been around for decades and a MIT Professional Education course that zeroes in on the subject matter is marking its 10th year.

Set to begin July 25, the week-long Product Platform and Product Family Design: From Strategy to Implementation program teaches attendees to navigate the huge complexities of cost-saving, flexible vehicle architectures engineered to underpin a variety of models in multiple sizes and configurations, while meeting widely varying consumer, pricing and regulatory demands around the world.

If that sounds way more complicated than designing vehicles used to be, that’s because it is, Tim Simpson says in discussing the tenets of the course and the state of flexible-platform engineering in the automotive industry.

“The decisions (you) need to make, the tradeoffs that you’re making, are much longer-term in paying out, and there are broader implications than what a lot of companies are used to dealing with,” he tells WardsAuto in a phone interview.

Simpson, a guest lecturer for the MIT course, says attendees once skewed mainly toward automotive types, but so far this year no one from that industry group has signed up. He thinks they should.

Automakers were among the early pioneers of the flexible-platform concept, the Penn State engineering professor acknowledges, but as the industry pulled in its horns during the 2009 recession, other sectors took the initiative and moved forward.

“Now the auto industry really has a chance to learn from these other industries that took their work, advanced it, applied it to their own (processes) and figured out how to be a little more agile and nimble,” he contends.

Automakers have been steadily on the march toward turning over their lineups to mass-volume, flexible architectures designed to reuse as many parts and components from one product to the another, even as vehicle sizes, wheelbases, configurations and market requirements change from one model to the next.

But not all the bugs are worked out when it comes to developing a holistic game plan and then deftly managing that through to production, so even the most advanced automakers could stand to take a fresh look at their strategies and processes, Simpson says.

Volkswagen became the poster child for the latest and most expansive flexible-architecture trend when it began rolling out its MQB platform that underpins such cars as the VW Golf and Audi A4 and is expected to be the basis for some 39 different models with a variety of dimensions, powertrains and body styles. In all the MQB is expected to be the basis for more than 6 million vehicles built annually worldwide by 2019. Around the turn of the century, some automakers had as many as 40 different platforms.

VW is not alone, however. Renault has its Common Module Family architecture that is expected to support more than a dozen Nissan and Renault models. Toyota’s latest Prius hybrid sedan is the first car derived from its flexible TNGA platform that will spawn models in seven segments. General Motors is planning to cull its lineup to four core vehicle platforms by 2025, from more than a dozen today.

Most other automakers are headed in a similar direction.