Home Cover Story ZF sharpens tech front in India

ZF sharpens tech front in India

ZF sharpens tech front in India

Automotive tier supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG is investing in a business park at Pune. It is also leveraging its technological prowess for a better tomorrow.


Founded in the year 1915 to supply gears to Count Zeppelin’s airship, ZF Friedrichshafen AG turned to the manufacture of passenger and commercial vehicle transmissions in 1919. Clocking sales of Euro 17 billion in 2013, ZF is ranked ninth among global tier suppliers. With an R&D spend of Euro 838 million, ZF is a system supplier to most automakers the world over. Having a structured portfolio that is spread across four business verticals – Powertrain technology, Chassis technology, Commercial vehicle technology and Industrial technology, and a 50:50 joint venture (ZF Lenksysteme GmbH) with Robert Bosch GmbH, ZF is leveraging its technological prowess for a better tomorrow. With a strong presence in India through 10 manufacturing sites, the company is investing in a business park near Pune. Spread over 21 acres at Chakan, the business park will go on stream in the first quarter of 2015 calendar year. Leading to the integration of automotive manufacturing capabilities, the business park is expected to play a pivotal role in ZF’s automotive activities in the region. Backing this investment is the company’s outlook for 2014. It is about doubling sales, linked with the 2014 outlook for Asia-Pacific, which predicts 20 per cent growth. Asia Pacific contributed Euro 3 billion in 2013, a shade less than what North America contributed to ZF’s global earnings at Euro 3.1 billion. Europe was the biggest contributor at 10 billion according to Rudi von Meister, the newly appointed President of Asia-Pacific region. Stressing that the company has significant expectations towards growth from Asia-Pacific, Rudi von Meister announced that 50 per cent of sales by 2025 are estimated to come from outside of Europe.


Markets like India bring their own set of challenges. Challenges, which Piyush Munot, Director for India Operations, ZF Friedrichshafen AG, would describe as the need to understand local stars that are going global. “The challenge is to understand their needs,” he added. Focus areas of new developments according to Piyush include reduction of CO2 and increase fuel efficiency; also hybrids and electrics. Drawing attention towards a rising trend to buy modules by OEMs, Piyush opined that volume bundling in platforms, or modular kits in commercial vehicles are emerging out of a strong dependency on fewer platforms. This, in an environment where markets are volatile, and devoid of any regional isolation, which adds value to the ability of ZF to offer local solutions; and drive localisation without sacrificing quality and efficiency.

Some of the recent solutions born out of this thinking include a column mounted electric power steering of Tata Nano. Designed for the demands of micro and subcompact cars, the electric power steering has a column mounted servo unit. Requiring less space, the steering system offers the driver a speed dependent power steering, adjusting the steering support to the particular vehicle’s speed. If the velocity exceeds 80 kmph, the power assist is reduced to enhance straight line driveability. Planning to take the column mounted (brushless motor) electric power steering technology (EPSc) to other markets in the world, ZF will also arm the Tata Bolt and Zest with tilt adjustable, collapsible EPSc steering systems.


With a capability to serve as a full system supplier, including a capability to test and validate, ZF’s components and systems are found on numerous automobiles in India. Automobiles that are manufactured here and are almost 100 per cent localised; but also automobiles that are assembled in India, or imported as Completely Built Units (CBU). A CBU import, the 2014 Range Rover Evoque, flaunts the world’s first 9-speed automatic transmission by ZF, the first passenger vehicle in the world to feature a 9-speed auto transmission. A unique feature of this transmission design is its highly compact construction. Elevating performance and efficiency, the 9-speed auto transmission makes optimal use of planetary gears. Made at the ZF’s Phulgaon (Pune) plant is a simpler but no less effective 9-speed manual transmission for commercial vehicles. Called the Ecomid, it is found on Tata Prima 2528K apart from many other trucks from Tata Motors as well as other commercial vehicle manufacturers in India. Apart from improving the shift quality, the Ecomid also enhances operating safety and improves fuel efficiency.


Clocking sales worth Euro 90 million in India in the year 2013, ZF has achieved an ability to focus on OEMs in India. The company, which will turn 100-year old in 2015, has achieved the ability to pack high local content in its products without deviating from the set quality standards. Plans are underway to turn the Ecomid into an automated manual gearbox by means of an ‘add-on’. With a torque handling capability between 1100 Nm and 1300 Nm (with overdrive ratio) range, the automated manual transmission (AMT) could further enhance fuel efficiency even in the case of different drivers having different driving styles. Expecting AMTs to enjoy good demand by 2019-2020, ZF engineers are also looking at automatic transmissions, ASTronic Lite and ASTronic with Intarder to find a place of pride on Indian trucks. Bullish about Bus Rapid Transport (BRT), for city buses, ZF has Ecolife 6-speed automatic transmission and low floor axle (AV 133) technology to offer.


As the only supplier that makes dedicated transmissions for trucks and buses, ZF will be well poised to highlight its ability to offer an interesting local solution by 2015. This is a hydraulic power steering with variable assist for commercial vehicles to be precise. Developed through a collaborative effort between German engineers and their Indian counterparts, the company’s weight optimised modular design referred to as Servocom 8007 has an improved power-to-weight ratio, which translates into an increased payload for operators. Elevating drivability, the variable ratio hydraulic power steering enhances safety and efficiency too. The Servocom 8007 along with Servocom 8006 and Servocom 8005 will enter production next year at the ZF Lenksysteme (Pune) plant with a high local content of 80 per cent, in line with the opinion expressed by Rudi von Meister that there is a need to bank on local content. To leverage local supplier structure without comprising on quality, ZF is supplying chassis components to Nissan Terrano, Mahindra XUV 500, BMW 5 Series, Jaguar XF, Mercedes Benz E-Class, and the Volkswagen Polo race car. Paving the way to mobility, the company is keen to drive new chassis technologies in India.

Another innovation is an electric drive ZF has developed for small and mid-size passenger cars, the drive module is positioned centrally on the axle. It consists of an electric motor, a gear transmission unit, and power electronics including the control software. The two-stage transmission and innovative high-speed concept (the electric motor revs up to 21,000 rpm) enables high output. At the proto stage, an electric Twist Beam (eTB) integrates an electric motor into a semi-independent (read torsion beam) rear suspension. The Active Kinematics Control (AKC) chassis innovation makes steering rear axles possible. Echoing ‘power-on-demand’ principle, AKC includes an adjustable toe link as the main element of the system. Electromechanical actuators manage to adjust the toe-in angle by three degrees and more during travel while the commands come from the control software integrated into the actuator electronics. Offering noticeably positive effect on drivability, AKC steers the rear wheels opposite to the front wheels, increasing agility and simplifying handling in city traffic and during parking.

If the new chassis technologies present an idea of ZF’s intention to sharpen the tech front in India, Rudi von Meister’s remarks assume importance. They point at the German company scaling up the technical facility in India conceptually, and playing the role of a country specific entity.

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