How the Automotive Supply Base Is Being Transformed

Yes, there is still a need for some of yesterday’s tech in the auto industry today. But there is a greater need for tomorrow’s tech right now. And here’s what suppliers are doing to realize that

By Gary S. Vasilash

When people say that the auto industry is “undergoing the biggest transformation since its very beginnings,” they generally mean that the OEMs are having to vigorously change the product offerings that they are producing, putting plugs where they once had fuel filler ports, putting in drive motors where they once had engines, putting batteries in a place where there were once fuel tanks.

And that is just for the electric vehicle part of the change.

There are a variety of other factors that are driving change in automotive, such as the addition of automated driving capabilities and the need to address heightened expectations on the interiors of vehicles, whether this takes the form of things like comfort or infotainment.

By and large, the changes seem to be challenges for the OEMs.

Which is not entirely the case.

Let’s face it: most of what is assembled into a given vehicle is not produced by the OEM. It comes from suppliers.

So the transformation of the auto industry is having arguably a greater impact on the supply base as not only must it provide OEMs with what they want now, but what they will want in the future.

ZF ProAI automotive-grade supercomputer. (Image: ZF)

On this special edition of “Autoline After Hours” my colleague John McElroy and I talk with Martin Fischer, member of the Board of Management of ZF and president of ZF North America, and Phil Eyler, president and CEO of Gentherm.

ZF is one of the world’s largest automotive suppliers, and while historically—and currently—known for such products as its nine-speed transmissions, the company is undergoing a change as it focuses on domains including autonomous driving, electromobility, integrated safety, motion control, and digitalization and software.

Yes, the company has even developed an automotive supercomputer, the ProAI.

Then there’s Gentherm, which is a specialist in thermal electric devices. In 1996 the company launched its first heated and cooled car seat and in the subsequent years has taken a strong position in that market area.

Yet recently it has invested in technology for thermal management of electric vehicle batteries.

McElroy and I talk with Fischer and Eyler about how their companies are working through—and ahead of—demands—today’s and tomorrow’s—they are addressing as automotive suppliers.

Their approaches range from organizing skunkworks to create new products to taking existing technologies from other market segments, like medical, to apply to automotive applications.

You can see it all here.

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