By Gary S. Vasilash
One of the aspects of the industry’s transition to electric vehicles that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention is that suppliers are responsible for large portions of a vehicle, so as there is the move from internal combustion engines to electric motors, as there is an increase in the importance of software, suppliers need to undergo a transition. . .or they will find themselves under water in short order.
However, making the switch isn’t like throwing a switch.
There are existing competencies within an organization—the things that allowed it to be selected as a supplier in the first place.
But now those competencies, while not completely irrelevant—let’s not lose sight of the fact that internal combustion engines aren’t going away for several more years—are less important within a supplier’s portfolio.
And there is the abiding issue of having the financial wherewithal to make the change, both from the standpoints of people and installed base of capital equipment.
Regardless of what list of the top suppliers you consult, you’ll find ZF right up there.
Martin Fischer heads up ZF’s operations in North America.
He describes what ZF is now as “a technology supplier to the mobility industry.”
Were you to ask someone in the industry about what ZF is just a few years ago, they’d probably answer, “The company that makes those impressive eight-speed automatic transmissions.”
While the company continues to produce those eight-speeds, Fischer says on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” that they’re not going to be making more investments in eight-speeds.
There are other things on the agenda.
Fischer says the focus today is on technologies related to autonomous driving, electric drive systems and components, and integrated safety, technologies that are both physical and digital.
To help the company move to new places, Fischer says they first started out with small teams that developed products, then integrated those people into the larger company so that everyone becomes involved.
The classic portfolio that ZF has had is undergoing a significant change, with everything from controllers that it is collaborating with NVIDIA on to electric motors to steer-by-wire systems and more. Not the sort of things that one might imagine a “classic” supplier would have the wherewithal to do–at automotive scale and quality.
What ZF is doing is essentially a masterclass in maintaining relevance in a changing industry.
Talking to Fischer are “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Lindsay Brooke of Automotive Engineering, and me.
You can see the show here.