Planning for the future in the midst of an ongoing a crisis will be focus when a leader of rapidly transforming German tech company ZF speaks Tuesday.
“If you want to lead, you have to have the guts to change,” Martin Fischer, member of ZF’s management board responsible for several fast-evolving technologies and business in the Americas, said in an interview.
ZF, a traditionally adept and strategically cautious company, was in the midst of the $7 billion acquisition of commercial vehicle supplier Wabco — as the auto industry hit COVID-19 rock bottom this spring.
It would’ve been an easy time for a supplier owned by a charitable trust to play it safe, but ZF charged ahead, convinced Wabco was vital in its strategy to morph from a company founded to make Zeppelin parts into a leading supplier of electrified and self-driving vehicles.
It would’ve been an easy time for a supplier owned by a charitable trust to play it safe, but ZF charged ahead because Wabco was key in its strategy to morph from a company founded to make Zeppelin parts into a leading supplier for electrified and self-driving vehicles, said Fischer, the initial speaker in “Q’d Up,” first in the North American International Auto Show’s series of online presentations by auto industry thought leaders.
ZF has had a great 105-year run, initially building gears for Zeppelins, evolving into arguably the auto industry’s most influential transmission maker. Now it’s gearing up to make systems for electric, hybrid and self-driving vehicles.
“Initially, the focus was on passenger cars for self-driving vehicles,” he said. Now we’re looking at shuttles operating in limited areas that reduce complexity.” It’s easier to program a vehicle to react to every possibility in contained area, like a city downtown, than preparing it for every possibility in cities, countryside and highways.
“You take the complexity out of automation by limiting the area,” Fischer said.
The flip side of that argument – there are fewer variables on limited access highways, where there are no traffic lights or cross streets – makes long-haul trucks another prime candidate to lead the development of autonomous vehicles.
Wabco, renamed ZF’s Commercial Vehicles Controls Systems division, is key to that and technologies the company expects self-driving passenger vehicles to use.
It was ZF’s second recent transformational deal. In 2015, it paid $12.4 billion for TRW, a specialist in safety systems and electronics, another part of ZF’s push into self-driving systems.
In a Tuesday webcast the auto show is presenting jointly with the Automotive Press Association and Society of Automotive Analysts, Fisher is also expected to say companies that lead must be agile and have a diversity of products. “Can we be broad enough to use the same technology” for passenger vehicles, semi-trucks, shuttles and delivery vehicles?
NAIAS plans a new Q’d Up presentation every month.
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