You’ve been hearing an awful lot about VW’s new MQB platform – which underpins the new Volkswagen Golf and the latest Skoda Octavia among others – over the last couple of years. 

From the car buyer’s point of view, it is notably light and strong. And, ultimately, it means that there will be more model variants offered by the VW Group’s various brands.

In truth, though, MQB is more of a manufacturing marvel, which will allow VW to build more cars more quickly and more accurately using as few unique parts as possible. Moreover, VW will be using the same MQB factories all over the world. 

You could argue that MQB is one of the most industrially ambitious projects ever attempted by a car maker. But there again, it’s ambition lies in its inherent simplicity: using the same basic building blocks – from the basic structural architecture to the infotainment systems – to build cars locally for all the global markets.

Fresh from the Beijing motor show, I’ve just been to see a brand new MQB plant in Ningbo, Zhejiang. It was a two-hour flight from Beijing and another 90 minutes on a bus before we got to the new 300,000-vehicle capacity plant, which only started production last October. The reason for its remoteness became apparent later.

Run by Shanghai-Volkswagen (one of the two VW joint-venture companies in China: the other is FAW-VW), the Ningbo plant is currently producing the new Octavia and the Skoda Superb

The Superb is built on a variation of the old Golf Mk5 platform, so is not an MQB-based model. But within a couple of years, the VW Group should be close to building nearly all its VW, Skoda and Seat models on the MQB platform. (Only price-competitive models such as the next-generation Skoda Fabia will differ). When that happens, the full advantages of the MQB production system will really kick-in.

Such was the security at the plant, we were only allowed to take pictures at the entrance before having all photographic equipment confiscated and signing a fearsome non-disclosure agreement on pain of fines. We jumped aboard eight-seat electric golf carts to be quickly run through the pressing plant, component stores and finally the assembly line.

The reason for the secrecy and brevity of the tour was quite simply security. In the hyper-competitive world of Chinese car-making VW doesn’t want any local manufacturers to get clues about its cutting-edge technology. That also might explain the remoteness of the factory site. At the Beijing show, for example, Skoda’s new Chinese-market long wheelbase Yeti was locked up. I was quietly told it was to stop “local” car makers from taking “spy shots of the interior”.