ZF Friedrichshafen AG has opened its first plant for automatic passenger car transmissions in the U.S. Located in South Carolina, ZF Transmissions Gray Court, LLC (ZFTG) is the manufacturing site of the 8-speed automatic transmission (8HP), which is already successful in the market, as well as the world’s first 9-speed automatic transmission (9HP).
“We are honored to present the U.S. home of the automatic transmission,” said ZF Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Stefan Sommer, at the official plant opening in Gray Court on Friday, July 26. “This is an important step toward bridging the distance to our customers and having an even better opportunity of accessing North America, the most important foreign market for us.” About 1.2 million transmissions are expected to be produced at this plant annually; this includes 400,000 8HPs and 800,000 9HPs. Previously, the 8HP was only manufactured in Saarbrucken, Germany, and ZFTG will expand on the existing capacities of the German 8HP plant.
So far, ZF has invested around $385 million in building the new location; a total of approximately $600 million will have been invested in the facility, which is around 25 miles south of Greenville. “It is the largest single investment in the almost century-long history of ZF,” emphasized Dr. Konstantin Sauer, ZF Board Member responsible for finance and the North American region. This reflects ZF’s vision of great potential for the region and the company’s desire to continue expanding its successful course with adequate production capacities.
The 950,000-square-foot facility will once again become a construction site at the start of production because of the strong demand for ZF’s automatic transmissions. At the Grand Opening, Dr. Sommer announced, “We will be increasing the existing footprint by almost half.” By 2016, a total of around 1.4 million square feet will be available so customers can be adequately served; consequently, the number of employees is expected to increase from 1,200 to 1,650. “We are very confident,” Sommer continued, “that in addition to our current customers, Land Rover and Chrysler, other automotive manufacturers will join in and benefit from the advantages of our 9HP.”
The new transmission is specially designed for passenger cars with front-transverse engines. Compared to today’s standard 6-speed automatic transmission, it cuts fuel consumption by up to 16 percent. “Since around three quarters of all passenger cars worldwide are fitted with this drive configuration,” said Sommer, “I see great potential for our new product–especially in North America.”
ZF chose South Carolina because numerous automobile manufacturers and suppliers are already located in the area, and the local government provided a number of great opportunities to build a new facility. “Today’s announced investment represents the third one in four years for ZF’s Laurens County operations. ZF’s continued investment in our state not only helps bolster South Carolina’s manufacturing sector, but also shows that our state remains just right for the automotive industry,” said South Carolina’s Secretary of Commerce, Bobby Hitt.
In addition, Piedmont Technical College established a new facility, the Center for Advanced Manufacturing, near ZF to aid in the training of a skilled workforce. With Clemson University in the area, it provides a great opportunity to recruit future engineers. Furthermore, ZF’s new U.S. employees have been trained in the subtleties of transmission assembly by experienced, specialized ZF workers from Saarbrucken via the “Buddy Program”. The employees, trained internally through this program, now work as multipliers in Gray Court and are passing on their knowledge to the subsequently recruited U.S. colleagues.
ZF’s commitment to professional training and to the region has also been acknowledged by the Governor of South Carolina, Nikki R. Haley: “We are very happy that ZF has chosen to once again grow its presence here in the Palmetto State. The company continues to show its commitment to professional training for its employees, and today’s announcement indicates that ZF sees South Carolina as the right place for its business. We celebrate ZF’s additional $175 million investment and the creation of 450 new jobs in Laurens County.”