ZF offers a range of technology and components for all kinds of automobiles.
ZF Friedrichshafen is one of the biggest automotive engineering groups in the world, offering technology, components and various other important parts to cars and commercial vehicles. Popularly known as ZF, the company was established in 1915 and has 121 production locations across 27 countries. We all must have heard about ZF in some review or the other, where the term 8-speed ZF might have caught your fancy. The 8-speed automatic gearbox from ZF is one of the most popular parts supplied by the German automaker but that’s not all, they do quite a lot of other stuff too. We had a chance to witness ZF technology first hand at a recent media event and came out impressed by the company’s range of offerings.
ZF entered India 30 years back when they started operations in Pune with ZF Steering Gear in 1984. In 2007, they established their wholly owned subsidiary while in 2012 ZF Lenksysteme India was established, a 50:50 joint venture with Bosch for developing steering systems. The electric power steering on the Tata Nano Active is developed by ZF Lenksysteme and has an active return feature which makes driving stress-free in congested city conditions. A similar EPS unit will be used on the upcoming Bolt and Zest models. ZF will complete 100 years next year and will inaugurate its 122nd plant in Pune.
ZF makes a lot of components and technology for commercial vehicles. While we at MotorBeam aren’t focussed on commercial vehicles, we were quite intrigued by the technology on offer. ZF provides transmissions, steering systems and chassis components for a range of trucks and buses and their clients range from AMW, Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland, Eicher, Mahindra, etc. They have also developed hybrids for long haul trucks, which helps in reducing fuel consumption. AMT gearbox has been developed to make driving easy for drivers of these heavy vehicles.
ZF also has a lot of products for off-highway machines like a blackhoe. The most interesting aspect of commercial vehicles is reliability and comfort. We have seen those trucks with a cement mixer at the rear. Little do we think that if the motor fails, the complete cement will harden and will become a complete waste. ZF uses a motor which produces 45,000 Nm of torque and spins at 12-14 RPM, it keeps the cement mixing so by the time the truck arrives at the production site, the cement is ready to be poured and used, thereby saving crucial time.
In passenger cars, ZF’s biggest customers are Tata Motors (including Jaguar Land Rover), BMW, Volkswagen Group (including Audi), Mercedes-Benz, Mahindra, etc. The 8-speed ZF gearbox (also referred to as 8 HP) is used by JLR and BMW in almost all their vehicles while Mahindra has used suspension components from ZF on the XUV500 and Volkswagen uses the 8-speed automatic gearbox on various Audis (the 2.0-litre diesel A6 sold in India uses the 8 HP) and Volkswagens. The Polo R Cup has dampers from ZF and we had a ride in that car, it was stiff but very surefooted and drifted easily even though it’s a front-wheel drive vehicle.
ZF also makes automated manual transmissions which are used on trucks, buses and also cars. In Europe, Volkswagen has many cars with AMT (the Up! uses it) but AMT isn’t very popular in the developed continent as people either want a complete manual or a traditional automatic. The 7-speed dual clutch transmission is also offered by ZF, used by Porsche (improves acceleration and reduces consumption). The second generation 8-speed ZF gearbox (also comes for plug-in hybrids) will start production later this year while a few months back, the new 9-speed ZF automatic commenced production, finding its way into the 2014 Range Rover Evoque.
The 8-speed ZF is a very big gearbox and can be used on rear and all-wheel drive vehicles but not on front-wheel drive cars due to the lack of space. The 9-speed ZF is much smaller and isn’t longitudinally mounted (it’s with vehicles with front transverse engine), thereby being apt for cars like the Evoque which need a more compact packaging for the gearbox. We drove the 9-speed Evoque and the speed of shifts was immediately apparent, thereby transforming the experience of this Land Rover. ZF claims this gearbox is 10-16% more efficient.
ZF also makes other components like dual mass flywheel, torque converter, continuos damping control (used by BMW in its sports cars like the Z4), Active Kinematics Control (rear steering used on the Porsche 911), etc. They also made an electric drive (120 HP of power and 1400 Nm of torque with scalability up to 2200 RPM) with the demo car being the Suzuki Splash (Maruti Suzuki Ritz).
ZF is one component supplier who is vital to the development of a new automobile for most manufacturers out there. The company has a range of products on offer and although they are slightly more expensive than rivals, many manufacturers swear by them for their quality and reliability. ZF technology goes a long way in improving vehicles and although we are mostly familiar with their transmissions, there is a whole load of other parts being used on an array of vehicles across all segments. ZF is betting big on India and plans to work aggressively with local manufacturers to develop customised solutions, we can’t wait to experience them.