Automotive provider ZF depends on electrical energy – ‘Do not observe tendencies’

Has the German car industry missed the transition to e-mobility? At least when you look at electric vehicle sales numbers around the world, Chinese manufacturers and Tesla are currently ahead. But major players in the domestic auto industry, such as supplier ZF, have been developing key components for electronic cars for years and manufacturing them for customers all over the world. At the beginning of 2021, ZF established the Electric Powertrain Technology Division, with which the group also wants to secure long-term large orders in the increasingly electric mobility world.

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Read more after the announcement

Even if the combustion engine and the electric worlds will continue to exist side by side for years to come, the potential end potential of the combustion engine already rests on ZF’s long-term transition and switch to long-term e-mobility was an important part of the planning. Stefan von Schckmann, ZF board member responsible for e-mobility, explains that the industrial giant, with more than 150,000 employees, takes a prudent and strategic approach: “It’s a process that we orchestrate in a very coordinated and disciplined way. ZF has launched a transformation program that uses different scenarios to conquer extremism in order to Forecasting what could happen to our company. If everything in the global scenario becomes electric, the software reflects it accordingly and ZF can align itself accordingly.”

Pressure as an opportunity for change

Although some areas of classic business will become less important with the increase in electrification, von Schuckmann sees the pressure associated with change as an opportunity. However, ZF should not follow trends, because in order to participate as a supplier you have to transform yourself faster than the car manufacturers so that you can always provide the right solutions for e-mobility at the right time.

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Read more after the announcement

E-mobility in Europe and China is moving at a rapid pace, but at the moment markets around the world are developing completely differently. Therefore ZF remains open to technology in order to be able to respond to developments in each region. This approach is confirmed in the context of the transformation process, says von Schekmann.

In any case, a business with classic components will not collapse. There are system solutions and software in electric vehicles that are also used in combustion engines. Braking, steering, damping, and passive and active safety technology are among the company’s multi-engine specialties. ZF also offers electrical system solutions especially for electronic vehicles, including pulse-controlled electronic actuators or inverters in the field of electric drive technology. ZF also enters into close cooperation with semiconductor manufacturers so that it can provide suitable solutions here as well. The only thing the company doesn’t offer is batteries that are important for electric cars.

Stefan von Schekmann, ZF board member responsible for e-mobility, sees the push for change as an opportunity for his company.

The example of transmission production, which is the company’s traditional mainstay, shows that system change and shifting have an impact on ZF’s core business. ZF currently still has a large backlog of transmissions, especially for the new 4th generation 8-horsepower transmission, which is currently being manufactured. This is a modular solution for conventional drives, mild hybrids and plug-in hybrids. However, the company will not develop any other generations of transmission. Von Schuckmann has not set a specific end date for transmission production, which will mainly depend on the market. But maybe only for this decade.

More significant development potential in e-mobility

Although forward-looking solutions for e-cars have already been developed, von Schuckmann still sees great development potential in e-mobility. Much more needs to be done to make products more sustainable across the entire value chain, says the manager. For example, electric motors could become more environmentally friendly by dispensing with rare earth elements. It also sees a lot of catching up in terms of charging infrastructure and charging speed. “We still have a long way to go to make electric cars more efficient. We will see a lot more here in the coming years. Using silicon carbide semiconductor technology, you will also power the efficient screwdriver much more.”

Read more after the announcement

Read more after the announcement

Inverter innovations are currently being prepared for the next generation of electric motors, which will be ready for serial production by 2025. It also sees great potential in terms of the power density of electric motors. These are getting smaller and lighter in weight, while at the same time increasing their performance. Control software is named as another important area of ​​development. Basically, von Schuckmann expects electric cars to not only improve, but also become cheaper. In addition to economies of scale in battery production, the costs of other components will also decrease thanks to the advances in mass production. In terms of price, the manager expects that e-cars with combustion engines, which are still highly supported today, will be competitive in a few years.

What role could hydrogen engines play in ZF’s electric transformation? “We are also developing hydrogen solutions. However, these solutions will be used first in the commercial vehicle sector.” Based on customer inquiries in the market, it is currently clear that battery electric solutions will prevail here mainly in domestic transportation and on medium-distance roads. ZF believes hydrogen will prevail over long distances. However, much will also depend on the development of tank infrastructure, says von Schckmann.

Mario Homen / SP-X

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