E-Mobility Switched on

Electrification is the key to unlocking personal mobility in the future – and ZF is a key player. In good news for customers, ZF’s new E-Mobility division will help the technology company serve this dynamic market even faster than before.

From the outside, electric vehicles don’t look much different from their fossil-fueled stable mates. And when you take your place behind the wheel, it’s all very familiar – until you “step on the gas”. Instead of the sound of an engine turning over, all you hear is a futuristic hum. But you soon break into a grin when you press that pedal and your electric car performs its party piece. Even low-powered electric motors produce massive torque when accelerating from standstill – a sporty response that has already attracted plenty of motorists from the world of turbochargers.

Time for an “e”-breakthrough?

Nowadays, drivers don’t even need an all-electric vehicle to enjoy this surge of motoring adrenaline. Modern plug-in hybrid vehicles from BMW, Mercedes, Volvo and many other automakers boast a similarly dynamic getaway. With this combination of sporty responsiveness, long-distance range and resource conserving efficiency, plug-in hybrids could deliver fresh momentum to electromobility – gaining further impetus from political and societal demands for greater sustainability and environmental protection.

So the time is just right for ZF to reorganize and consolidate the company’s skills and expertise in electrically powered vehicles. “ZF is one of the leading pacemakers in the development of electrically powered drivelines,” explains CEO Dr. Stefan Sommer. In 2008 ZF opened the first manufacturer-independent plant for electric car drives. “Since then, we have steadily expanded our electromobility portfolio,” adds Sommer, “and today we have an exceptionally broad range of products on the market.” In addition to electric motors and hybrid transmissions, ZF also offers an increasingly attractive range of solutions for all-electric drivelines. The company is also perfectly capable of developing and manufacturing its own power electronics systems. And ZF’s electric driveline solutions also embrace commercial vehicles such as buses and even heavy trucks.

Pooling expertise

Jörg Grotendorst, Head of Division

Now the company must take the next logical step in order to remain true to its pioneering role. “We’ve brought together all the inspirations and solutions previously developed and championed by the various divisions in the ZF Group and created a separate, dedicated division,” confirms Dr. Sommer.

Jörg Grotendorst, new Head of E-Mobility Division, does not believe that the division’s remit is confined to pure E-mobility. “Our immediate goal must be to promote electrification, aiming to reduce the combustion engine’s workload and optimize fuel consumption.”

The new division will focus primarily on three areas of activity: low-voltage technology, plug-in hybrid drivelines and electric axle drives. Volume production of plug-in hybrid transmissions has already started. ZF hybrid transmissions are installed in, for example, the BMW X5 xDrive40e and Audi Q7 e-tron.

The three top priorities

The E-Mobility division is also working on an all electric axle drive, which ZF recently unveiled as an advanced engineering project named EVD (Electric Vehicle Drive); ZF customers have already responded very positively to the system, which offers automakers a range of options. It can be used as the sole means of propulsion in an all-electric driveline, or as an auxiliary electric drive mounted on the rear axle, assisting the combustion engine that drives the front axle. Almost as an afterthought, vehicles equipped with this “axle hybrid” gain all-wheel drive.

Video: How ZF is driving forward automotive electrification, and what customers can expect of the new E-Mobility division.

Electrification à la carte

In view of ZF’s broad range of electric products, which covers the entire driveline from motor through to wheels, Head of Division Grotendorst believes there is even greater potential for the future: “We will leverage our product range and our expertise so we can offer even more integrated solutions.” ZF’s unique competitive advantage in electromobility lies in the fact that no other supplier can offer their customers so many different solutions from a single source: electric motors, plug-in hybrid transmissions, all-electric drives plus power electronics for cars, buses and trucks.

Power electronics included

Harald Deiss, 
Head of Electronic Systems

The key characteristics of an electric driveline are dependent on electronics and software. These both form part of the driveline’s power electronics – the technology that regulates the flow of current to electric motors as and when required. “Power electronics represents the brain of an electric driveline. It’s also responsible for ensuring energy is used efficiently – hence for the vehicle’s range,” explains Harald Deiss. He’s in charge of development and production in the Electronic Systems business unit, part of the new division. Among other things, this business unit has added its worldwide development and production network, with sites in Eastern Europe, Mexico and China, to the division’s resources.

Naturally the division will focus on the world’s automotive growth markets – such as China, for instance. Head of Division Jörg Grotendorst is not the only one interested in China; so is Hans-Jürgen Schneider, who is responsible for the development and production of electric drive systems in Schweinfurt. Growing demand in China could eventually result in high-volume orders – meaning it makes sense for the division to produce electric motors at local facilities in Asia, as well as at its main German plants. The market potential – especially for plug-in transmissions – is positively tangible. “We’ll leverage our manufacturing network and tap into our existing local production facilities, where we can more or less replicate our stable processes,” explains Schneider.

Custom-made solutions

ZF customers don’t just buy electric motors off the peg. Application engineers prepare very carefully for the launch of each volume production operation, which is precisely optimized to meet the individual customer’s specifications. The global development and production network must constantly adapt to meet new market needs and expectations. Which is why the division is currently building an E-Mobility Tech Center in Yokohama, Japan. The E-Mobility Systems House plays a vital role as coordinator, acting as a platform for exchanging expertise and making important mutual decisions. Such as agreeing a common control systems architecture, for example. This is where engineers from the Advanced Engineering unit in Friedrichshafen leave their mark, as do all of the divisions. Because one thing is clear. Currently, the main driving force behind electrification is legislative, in the sense that it will be more or less impossible to achieve the CO₂-emissions targets set by regulators around the world without electrifying at least part of the global vehicle fleet. But as more electric products go into volume production and people become increasingly fascinated by emobility, market demand will also rise. “We’re already anticipating this buyers’ market for electric drives,” says Grotendorst. And the resulting growth.

Without them, electric motors wouldn’t run at all: copper coils awaiting 
assembly in Schweinfurt.

Pictures: Dominik Gigler

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