ZF: Not Waiting for the Future

An announcement about a company establishing a new division tends to be rather, well, not particularly interesting to anyone outside of the company or related to someone who will work there.

An announcement about a company establishing a new division tends to be rather, well, not particularly interesting to anyone outside of the company or related to someone who will work there.

But today we received one that is different.

ZF, the company that is widely known for its chassis, driveline and safety technology, the company that acquired TRW Automotive last May, announced that it will take all of its electromobility-related activities—which are extensive—and create a new division, E-Mobility.

Now you might wonder why this is of any especial interest.

And this is why: Because of the rationale behind this new division.

S

ZF CEO Dr. Stefan Sommer stated: “By combining all activities associated with the electrification of cars and commercial vehicles under one roof, we are acknowledging the enormous importance of these advanced technologies, which are already shaping the future.”

Which is sort of what one might expect to hear from an executive who is behind such a move. That’s not it.

Here’s where it gets interesting—and significant.

Sommer: “Electromobility is coming—and in view of current controversies over car emissions, perhaps even sooner than we first thought.”

“Even sooner than we thought.”

This is not if.  This is when.

ZF is headquartered in Friedrichshafen, Germany, about 425 miles south of Wolfsburg, home of Volkswagen. You’ve got to believe that the network of all German OEMs and suppliers is so active right now that distance is irrelevant.

Last week, after a meeting of the Volkswagen Brand Board of Management, CEO Dr. Herbert Diess stated that Volkswagen would start putting especial interest and effort in a vehicle electrification program, including plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles with a range on the order of 186.4 miles, 48-volt systems, an electric “toolkit” or standardized electric system, and a next-generation Phaeton that will be an electric vehicle.

Z

One could argue (I would) that VW needs to work hard at developing an even-greater EV competency given the diesel mess. This is as much a political move as it is a technical one.

But in the case of ZF, here is a supplier company—a company whose other divisions are Car Powertrain Technology, Car Chassis Technology, Commercial Vehicle Technology and Industrial Technology, and Active & Passive Safety Technology—that is proactively getting ahead of the curve.

Yes, that’s the thing.

Realize that it’s not as if ZF isn’t already working hard at electrification. The E-Mobility division will be predicated on the existing Electronic Systems and Electric Drive Technology business units.

But here’s a company that hasn’t prospered for the last 100 years (it celebrated its centennial this year) by thinking that it needs to keep doing what it has always done, just better, faster and cheaper.

No, Sommer and his colleagues are aware of what is happening at any given point in time, and what they expect will happen at future points in time—and acting on it.

“With our new division,” Sommer said, “we’ll be able to participate in the global trend toward electrified drivelines and offer our customers the products and systems they need to comply with increasingly stringent international regulations.”

The electrified future is going to happen sooner rather than later. And OEMs and suppliers alike need to position themselves to be a part of it or face the consequences of being left way behind.

ZF’s action is one part bold, one part common sense.

And it is become one of the companies in this industry that we admire the most.