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Research & Development

Technology Enablers

We are Developing the Mobility of the Future

The ZF Group strategy "Next Generation Mobility" clearly states the R&D task: Ensuring clean, safe, comfortable and affordable mobility – for everyone and everywhere. To this end, last year ZF invested in the future sectors of new vehicle functions, software, artificial intelligence and efficient, electrified drive systems in particular.

We have defined four enablers for our path to implementing our technology strategy:

Vehicle System & Functions:

In the future, vehicles will be increasingly controlled by system functions. This cluster is developing the necessary architectures and software methods as well as the structure of these system functions.

Data Handling & Analytics:

This cluster focuses on vehicle connectivity and communication with the infrastructure, from embedded components to the platform necessary for data analysis, and algorithms including artificial intelligence.

Efficient energy conversion:

We are researching and developing the efficient storage and conversion of electrical energy as well as systematic algorithms for optimized vehicle control. We are working on efficient drives and efficient energy management. We see great potential for new semiconductors, especially in power electronics.

Advanced Base Technology:

This cluster deals with basic technologies that make complex vehicle functions possible, including modern, high-resolution sensors, artificial intelligence, powerful central electronic controls and cutting-edge materials for efficient power electronics.

It’s All About Software

In order to develop individual approaches for customer-oriented software solutions, ZF presented the open software platform "ZF middleware" and set up a Global Software Center. Dr. Dirk Walliser, Senior Vice President Research & Development, Innovation & Technology, explains the new approach.

Dr. Walliser, today's vehicles mainly differ in terms of their hardware. Is that changing?

Dirk Walliser: Mobility services, autonomous driving and the connection to the cloud are hardly possible without intelligent software. Software expertise is increasingly becoming a key factor for innovations and an indispensable feature of technology leaders.

This also applies to mobility and industrial applications: The prerequisite for successful products is the ability to network individual components to comprehensive systems that act and learn independently thanks to artificial intelligence and deep learning algorithms. In this respect, we are actually talking about a "software-defined vehicle."

Dr. Dirk Walliser, Senior Vice President Research & Development, Innovation & Technology

Dr. Dirk Walliser, Senior Vice President Research & Development, Innovation & Technology

Read the complete interview

So, cars are turning into what some have described as "smartphones on wheels?"

No, even if operating a vehicle is becoming more and more like using a smartphone, the difference lies primarily in the type and number of hardware systems that a software platform – such as the "ZF middleware" – intelligently interconnects in such a way that people or goods can be transported comfortably and safely at all times.

Is this software platform a new offer from ZF?

Yes, it is. The "ZF middleware" is ZF's new open software platform that acts as an intermediary between the operating system of a vehicle's computer and its software applications. As of 2024, it will be available in volume production vehicles and control the abstraction of the computer hardware from software applications and the communication between these applications.

How does this benefit your customers?

Decisive advantages are accelerated development processes and reduced complexity. Today, vehicles can have around 100 different control units, each with its own software. In the future, software functions will run on a single central platform with few domain control units – for example for automated driving functions. With the "ZF middleware," all functions can be developed and integrated independently of the hardware. In addition, updates, extensions or additional options can be offered throughout the vehicle's entire service life.

What role do these developments play in the transformation to "Next Generation Mobility?"

The foundation of the Global Software Center and the "ZF middleware" underscore our claim to be one of the world's leading systems suppliers for software-defined cars. The development is closely linked to that of application software for technology fields such as automated driving, integrated safety, vehicle motion control and electromobility. We have created the prerequisites for this in the past few years: Thanks to our own scalable "ZF ProAI" supercomputing platform for next-generation vehicles, we offer traditional and new automotive customers comprehensive systems consisting of software, computing and sensor hardware as well as connected actuators. For developing new digital businesses, we have set-up the "Data Venture Accelerator", an international hub, with start-up like full-stack team structures. With this, we can make an essential contribution to greater safety and efficiency.


R&D Expenditure Remains High

In the fiscal year 2022, ZF invested €3.4 billion (2021: €3.1 billion) in research and development. This corresponds to a sales share of 7.8% (2021: 8.0%).

Again Numerous Patent Applications

In 2022, a total of 2,812 invention disclosures (2021: 2,624) were filed by the Group. The filings led to 2,066 (2021: 1,862) new patent applications.

Market Requirements

Technology Domains

Digitalization and Software

Electronics, cloud networking and software are central basic modules for the transformation in all four technology fields: In addition to the high-performance computer ZF ProAI, ZF has presented the software platform ZF Middleware and established a Global Software Center to develop individual software solutions for customers. In this way, individual components in the software-defined vehicle are networked into comprehensive systems that can act independently with artificial intelligence.

Automated Driving

Automated driving will make mobility more comfortable and safer, and everyday life easier for people. ZF systems already enable vehicles to see, think and act as well as drive autonomously. This will also lead to innovative mobility concepts for which new suppliers are already positioning themselves. Moreover, for ZF as a component and systems supplier, it is creating additional opportunities across the broad spectrum of mobility.

Electric Mobility

Just like fully electric vehicle drives, hybrid drives are widespread in the market. Their growth rates will continue to rise over the short term until they are replaced by pure electric drives. ZF supplies the core components for electromobility, such as hybrid transmissions, electric motors or power electronics, as well as complete systems for pure battery vehicles – across all vehicle categories from passenger cars, commercial vehicles, agricultural and construction machinery to marine or rail applications and the micromobility sector.

Vehicle Motion Control

The chassis, comprising smart motion-related actuators, plays a major role in ensuring safety, comfort and efficiency in all types of vehicles. We can network and synchronize all systems that affect longitudinal, transverse or vertical dynamics so that cars and commercial vehicles are quiet and safe, regardless of whether they are driven or driverless.

Integrated Safety

Automated and autonomous driving along with intelligent traffic routing will make a vital contribution to avoiding accidents. Nevertheless, occupant safety will continue to play an essential role. ZF already has the most comprehensive safety technology in the supplier industry. It ranges from electronic control units, sensors, brakes, steering systems and seat belts as well as airbags, electronics and central computers with their corresponding software right up to active chassis systems equipped with the actively steering rear axle, for example.


ZF as an Employer

"It's just rewarding to work on a meaningful, innovative product. I think it is great to actively shape the future of e-mobility together!"

Morteza Djebeli-Sinaki works as a software and function developer in E-Mobility on applications ranging from pedelec to large commercial vehicles.

Creativity and Impact

ZF is a globally leading technology company that is creating the mobility solutions of tomorrow. We develop and design products to achieve the ultimate goal of zero emissions and zero accidents. Our innovative strength lies in combining traditional automotive components with ground-breaking digital technology.

Dynamic Environment and International Markets

In a world that is rapidly changing, it is critical that we respond fast and flexibly in order to continue to shape the future trends of mobility.

Possibility and Growth

As a globally attractive employer, ZF has many diverse international work opportunities to offer its employees. Our financial independence allows us to invest wisely in research and development now and in the future.

Reliability and Partnership

Constructive feedback, teamwork and mutual respect are the guiding principles of working life at ZF. We encourage employees to work to the best of their ability by offering performance-based and structured professional development opportunities.


Annual Report 2022

In 2022, ZF made a commitment to climate protection and nature conservation, to people and to lasting values under one common motto: Acting now. ZF is driving forward its own transformation and that of its products and technologies with the same momentum. Details on this as well as on all key facts and figures on the 2022 annual accounts you can download here.