Issue: Jan 2003


Supply Side - ZF Shifts Gears



ZF prepares for 6-speed invasion, expands in North America and launches a new CVT.

by Andrea Wielgat

The 6-speed automatic transmission will replace the traditional 5-speed auto in the next several years and the first supplier to bring one to market is ready to help the expansion.

Driveline and chassis supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG launched its 6-speed auto transmission last year on the BMW 7- series sedan. It has quickly been added on Audi, Jaguar and Rolls Royce vehicles.

But the 6-speed auto isn't just for luxury sedans, says Bernd Habersack, ZF president of North American operations. Different types of vehicles will see a 6- speed as standard equipment during coming years. The company is currently working to develop a 6-speed for allwheel- drive vehicles and cars with less torque and smaller engines.

More and more people will see that the 6-speed is lighter, more compact and allows for better fuel economy, Habersack says.

ZF also continues its work on the continuously variable transmission (CVT). Later this year it will launch a new CVT from its Batavia, Ohio, joint venture with Ford Motor Co.

Its current product is found on the new Mini. This CVT allows drivers to use a tip shift system to select gears without a clutch or it can operate as a traditional automatic.

Additionally, ZF, with headquarters in Germany, is expanding its presence in the North American market. Currently North American sales account for 25 percent of the group's business. But within three years, executives say this number will jump to 30 percent.

Fueling this growth is a $700 million investment in several ZF North American facilities.

Set to open in March is a 38,000 sq.ft. expansion at the company's Tuscaloosa, Ala., plant. The plant builds the front and rear axles for the Mercedes-Benz M-Class.

Occupancy also is expected to begin in March at a new 100,000 sq.ft. facility to develop front and rear axle chassis sys- tems for Ford's upcoming Freestyle and Ford Five Hundred. It is located at the Chicago Supplier Manufacturing Campus. ZF is adding a new line to build axle drive assemblies for light trucks and construction machinery at its Gainesville, Ga., plant. The line is under construction and expected to be operating by the middle of this year.

The supplier is also doubling its ZF Technical Center, Northville, Mich., and integrating all of ZF Sachs' technical capabilities under one roof. It is set to open in October 2004 with full worker-capacity expected by 2009.

Additionally, ZF expanded its Duncan, S.C., plant last year to supply BMW's new Z4 roadster along with the X5 SUV. It also enlarged its Guadalajara, Mexico, shock absorbers facility during summer 2002. Future projects could include supplying Ford, DaimlerChrysler, GM, Nissan and Volkswagen with shock, struts and complete corner modules.

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