In an eventful history ZF has seized its entrepreneurial opportunities and developed from its roots as a supplier specialized on the aviation industry to a global mobility technology company.
Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838-1917), who would one day carry the name of Friedrichshafen into the world, at first showed little interest in settling there. After having been an envoy of the Württemberg King in Berlin in 1891 and incurring the wrath of German Emperor Wilhelm II, however, he abandoned his military and diplomatic career and dedicated himself entirely to designing airships. In search of a production site, Zeppelin was able to secure a parcel of land at Lake Constance, in the so-called Manzell estate, which today is a part of the city area of Friedrichshafen. On July 2, 1900, this location witnessed the ascent of the first LZ 1 Zeppelin airship across Lake Constance. The flight ended after 18 minutes. There were no potential investors in sight.
It took a catastrophe – the crash of the fourth airship prototype LZ 4 in Echterdingen in the summer of 1908 – to bring about the economic turning point. Among all classes of the population across Germany and even abroad, the accident unleashed a wave of willingness to help; Zeppelin was showered with financial support. The donations by the public comprised more than six million marks and enabled the establishment of the Zeppelin Foundation, which commenced its work in April 1909. On this financial basis, several technology companies emerged in Friedrichshafen, which were originally meant to serve as suppliers for the building of airships and gigantic airplanes. Soon the subsidiaries of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH grew beyond the boundaries of their intended role, however, and wrote their own success stories. In addition to Maybach Motorenbau, predominantly one company made a name for itself: ZF Friedrichshafen AG.
This quote from Henry Ford (1863- 1947) is characteristic of his revolutionary production philosophy. The introduction of assembly line production is in the end nothing more than the logical consequence of his integral approach: rational production allows lower production costs and higher wages - high purchasing power and low sales prices increase demand and permit rational production in higher quantities.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) revolutionized the world of physics with his fundamental hypotheses of the theories of special relativity (1905) and general relativity (1915) . Einstein was one of the outstanding personalities of this century because of his allround talents and cosmopolitan views.
Alfred Colsman, General Manager of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH since 1908, summarized the events surrounding the founding of ZF in this way:
"As long as the power from the engine in the zeppelin vessels was transferred to propeller reduction units by means of long steel shafts, the noise of the side-mounted propeller reduction unit and the drive in the main gondola was almost unbearable, which is why we continuously discussed ways of decreasing the noise level. Count Soden, who managed the testing department at Luftschiffbau Zeppelin and concentrated very much on transmission issues, one day revealed the news that a Swiss engineer in Zürich by the name of Max Maag had succeeded in manufacturing mathematically accurate gears. Gears ground on Maag machines could potentially reduce transmission noise and increase safety, which is why I entered into licensing negotiations with Maag Zahnräder A.G. in Zürich."
In the course of ZF's founding, which took place on August 20, 1915, under the name of "Zahnradfabrik GmbH" with headquarters in Friedrichshafen, Colsman and Soden were in fact able to secure the exclusive license in Germany for the distribution of gears and transmissions according to the Maag system. With this, ZF had an important unique selling proposition. Compared to the competition at the time, the profile of the Maag gears was significantly more accurate, the transmissions constructed on the gears ran at low noise levels, and friction losses remained limited. Furthermore, the low tolerances meant that they were very reliable. Already the first ZF company agreement mentioned implementing such transmissions in motor vehicles and motorized boats as well. Although the impetus for founding ZF arose from the manufacture of air vessels, the founders Soden, Colsman, and Maag had already been contemplating to expand production and include the automotive industry, among others. This forward-looking strategy would prove to pay off, especially as the air vessel sector entered its first major crisis after the end of World War I.
The first radio station in the world started broadcasting in the USA in 1920. Harry P Davis, vice-president of Westinghouse, had recognized the possibilities of radio as a mass medium and had applied for a license. On November 2nd 1920 the new radio station KDKA broadcasts the American presidential election. On November 1st 1922 the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) is founded in London.
Within six years of its founding, ZF stood at a crossroads. The company was not operating profitably and all attempts to find additional investors had been in vain. ZF was close to bankruptcy. Alfred von Soden nevertheless risked making an optimistic prognosis: ZF would manage a turnaround if the shareholders could resolve to provide more funds. The Swiss Maag Group, however, with its 48 percent stake in Zahnradfabrik GmbH since 1915, was not prepared to inject any more capital. Alfred Colsman, who represented majority shareholder Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH (LZ), thus proposed converting Zahnradfabrik into an AG (German stock corporation), coupled with a considerable increase in LZ's capital share, at the expense of the Maag Group.
Intense negotiations followed and on May 27, 1921, the vote was unanimous: Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen AG was founded in the offices of the Stuttgart notary public Heimberger. The company's capital was now divided between shareholders LZ and Maag at a ratio of 80:20. On the same day of its founding, ZF Friedrichshafen AG signed a new licensing agreement with the Maag Group, which was, however, formulated in a less exclusive manner and permitted ZF to use manufacturing methods other than that of Maag.
The Austrian designer Edmund Rumpler launches his "teardrop" car onto the market in a limited series. The streamlined shape meant that the coefficient of aerodynamic drag was only 0.28, an astounding figure. The vehicle, which was presented at the Berlin Automobile Exhibition, had three seats and is the first car to be equipped with swing axles and a rearmounted engine.
With the founding of the AG in May 1921, ZF also came into possession of an important technological asset: Alfred von Soden transferred to the company all the patents filed under his name for a semi-automatic transmission he had developed. Named after its inventor, the Soden transmission was ZF's first milestone in transmission engineering. Compared to the non-synchronized manual transmissions widely used in automotive manufacturing back then, ZF developments were far superior as the gears could be preselected at any point in time via a switch on the steering wheel or the dashboard, and were subsequently engaged by merely pressing on the clutch pedal. This was a first step towards automatic transmissions.
For vehicle passengers, the Soden transmission provided more comfort and safety, because no nerve-racking gear change with double declutching was required and the driver could leave both hands on the steering wheel, particularly important when shifting in curves.
The Soden transmission was far ahead of its time. Although it excelled at numerous endurance tests, commercial success failed to materialize. The transmission, which many manufacturers offered solely as an extra-cost option, was simply too expensive. ZF had proven beyond all doubt, however, that one could build transmissions that were technologically superior to all other products on the market.
In 1923, the German currency devaluation, which had started already at the end of the war, spun out of control. As the supply of newly minted bills could no longer keep up with the hourly deterioration of the mark, ZF started printing its own emergency money at the Gessler printing plant.
Decades later, Josef Kuttner, head of the treasury at the time, still remembered the summer and fall months of 1923:
"Wages and salaries were being paid out daily at the time. The bookkeepers had to be present in order to supervise while the ZF money was being printed at the printing plant. Often, this lasted until two or three o'clock in the morning. By the time one had the chance to spend the money one had earned, it was already worthless. It was just enough for a cup of coffee in Café Bücher."
The Zahnradfabrik recorded a balance sheet surplus of 81.2 quadrillion paper marks for the 1923 fiscal year. Because a piece of butter intermittently cost several billion marks, this bizarre account balance obviously served calculation purposes only. Only on November 15, 1923, when the so-called Rentenmark was introduced, the value of which was secured by real estate and property, did the situation begin to stabilize. In 1924, the Zahnradfabrik was able to present an orderly – and, for the first time, printed – balance sheet.
On 12 March 1924, MAN engineers Sturm and Wiebicke set off from the factory at Augsburg, headed for Nuremberg in an M.A.N. Saurer truck. The 4-tonne platform truck was powered by an experimental diesel engine which for the first time injected fuel directly into the four cylinders.
With around 40 HP in available output, the test drivers managed to complete the 140-kilometre trip in five and a half hours. This successful drive was a baptism of fire for technology that enabled the economical diesel engine to be built compactly enough that it could be used in motor vehicles for the first time.
In order to improve contact to the customers located farther north, ZF established a subsidiary on Gerichtstrasse in Berlin (Wedding district) in October 1925. The operation initially predominantly served as a customer service and sales location. At the beginning the subsidiary incurred losses, but ironically in 1932 – at the height of the global economic crisis – ZF Berlin was able to record a modest profit of 14,500 Reichsmark for the first time.
The numbers, however, easily obscure the fact that the Berlin subsidiary was also important from a production technology perspective as of an early stage. Already in the founding year of 1925, four profile grinding machines were set up to operate according to the so-called Minerva method. ZF had acquired the relevant license from Minerva Motors S.A. in Antwerp in February 1925. On the basis of this technology, it was now possible, for the first time, to grind helical toothed gears in volume production. In contrast to the straight-toothed cylindrical gears implemented until then, the Minerva gears provided a significant advantage: they made transmissions much quieter. The road towards the first functioning prototype was still a long one, however.
At the end of the 1920s, the automobile had finally outgrown infancy. However, it was precisely this technological progress, such as enclosed bodies and quieter engines, which made the still prevailing weaknesses of transmissions all the more apparent. "Spoiled by the running smoothness of the car," said former Head of Design Albert Maier, "one took increasing umbrage at the noise of awkward gear shifting." The solution of the problem lay in so-called synchronization, which automatically performed a speed adjustment during shifting.
When the Aphon transmission went into volume production in 1929, some American makes already featured such synchronization. These were very clumsy, however. ZF therefore developed a space-saving multidisk clutch that could be integrated into the Aphon transmission. In the process, "only" the top three gears were initially made easily shiftable through synchronization.
All trials with partially synchronized and partially low-noise transmissions were just intermediate solutions, however. Ultimately, for a solution to be successful on the market it had to optimally accommodate all gears and simultaneously enable lower production costs and compact dimensions. This seemed like an impossible task in light of the experiences up to that point; nevertheless, Zahnradfabrik moved closer to this ideal during the economically very difficult years of 1929 to 1932. In the middle of 1931, ZF filed a patent on a freewheel, which, when installed between the transmission and the driven axle, significantly facilitated shifting in all gears and also saved fuel. As customary in today's bicycles, however, it was only possible to delay the motion of a car equipped with a freewheel by means of the wheel brakes. An "engine brake" no longer existed. Handling the car, in particular during downhill travel or in stop-and-go traffic, was therefore unfamiliar as well as dangerous, and the freewheel remained merely an episode.
Foremost the luxury car vendors were enormously interested in low-noise alternatives to the penetrating "singing" transmissions that were generally considered the standard. Commensurate development efforts were already underway at ZF in 1921. That was the first time it became possible, thanks to the "A gearing" developed by ZF, to manufacture gears that were, as Alfred von Soden stated, "altogether soundless and silent." The technology had practical challenges, however, because noiseless operation could only be achieved by means of extremely accurate tooth flanks. Through the customary wear, the gears became inaccurate again shortly after being installed in a transmission, so that the advantage of noiselessness was lost.
Starting in 1925, ZF engineers applied a new approach in the manufacture of noiseless transmissions by installing helical-toothed gears. Development of the first transmission that was ready for volume production, which utilized the advantages of the so-called Minerva helical gearing, continued until June 1929. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th gear of the internally named G25 or "low-noise gear transmission" unit were designed with helical gearing, while the 1st and reverse gears still possessed the traditional spur gearing. Commercial Director Hans Cappus initiated the idea of finding a name for the new product by holding a competition among the employees of Zahnradfabrik. The designation of Aphon transmission (from Greek, meaning "without sound") was ultimately selected from numerous proposals.
The global economy experienced a dramatic decline in 1929. The stock market crash on the New York Wall Street in October 1929 triggered a reaction like a fuse on a powder keg. As the US was one of the most important creditors and trading partners for many companies in Germany, ZF's home market was not spared dramatic aftershocks. Against the general trend, however, ZF managed to maintain the size of its workforce between 1930 and 1932 at a stable level of approximately 530 employees. But how?
ZF possessed the necessary prerequisites: efficient production and available technological know-how. With the licenses from Maag and Minerva, ZF had access to then state-of-the-art production technology for straight toothed and helical toothed gears. The Zahnradfabrik itself had important inventors in its midst. Head of engineering Albert Maier alone filed more than 20 patents in his name in the time period between 1925 and 1932. He even surpassed Alfred von Soden, Member of the Board responsible for technology, who was also owner of important utility models and patents.
To attribute ZF's development, which was positive compared to other companies, to its organizational foundation alone would be incorrect, however. It was, above all, the commercial success of the standard transmissions and Aphon transmissions that ensured the survival of ZF. Board of Management members Alfred von Soden and Hans Cappus responded to this in the 1929 Annual Report:
"The automotive transmissions that have become known as the 'ZF standard transmission' are being continuously applied in almost all German truck plants, as well as in a range of foreign ones. Insofar as expanding volume production series was made possible by grouping together several customers' requirements, we were able to systematically advance in our aspiration to reduce prices and to provide a not insignificant contribution to making German motor vehicles cheaper. Passenger car manufacturing is also gradually liberating itself from the philosophy of having to manufacture everything itself, and is moving toward the less expensive procurement of finished transmissions. Our newly launched Aphon transmission, a four-speed transmission with three quiet speeds, furnishes a special incentive in this respect."
On October 25th 1929, "Black Friday "', share prices an New York 's Wall Street plummet. This huge lass of assets ruin banks, companies and private speculators. This is followed by a worldwide economic crisis, which has particularly damaging effects for the still rather weak Germany. Mass unemployment reaches more than 6 million.
The electrical engineer Max Knoll and his student Ernst Ruske succeed in building an electron microscope. With this device it is possible to see particles which are even smaller than the wavelengths of light. The electron microscope functions in connection with a fluorescent screen which the electrons excite into luminescence.
During the second half of 1932, a turnaround of the economic trend seemed to be in sight. German unemployment numbers sank slowly but steadily, and as of August the share index of the Reichsamt statistical bureau was able to record monthly increases. Shortly after the beginning of 1933, the slow economic upturn was overshadowed by political events. The "seizure of power" of the National Socialists on January 30, 1933, most certainly unleashed little euphoria among Zahnradfabrik corporate management. At any rate Alfred von Soden, raised as a Catholic, and Chairman of the Supervisory Board Hugo Eckener, known as a friend of the United States, took a distant view of the paramilitary demeanor and open racism of Hitler's thugs.
Nevertheless, during the twelve-year existence of the "Thousand Year Reich," the Zahnradfabrik's Board of Management and Supervisory Board would prove to be willing helpers in Hitler's armament efforts. They thus acted in the economic interest of the Zahnradfabrik, which was able to increase its sales figures more than tenfold. That the tanks and Wehrmacht vehicles rolling with ZF technology served a villainous regime is something they accepted. At the same time, business leaders Hugo Eckener and Alfred von Soden, Hans Cappus and Hermann Dolt worked to establish Friedrichshafen as the very armaments center that was then ultimately annihilated by Allied bomber squadrons. No-one had any inkling of this at the end of 1932, however. Management's greatest concern was the economic viability of the Zahnradfabrik.
As the Zahnradfabrik was fully occupied with the development and construction of transmissions, one single wrong decision could have easily spelled ruin – especially as economic leeway was very limited during the world economic crisis. Perhaps it was considerations such as these that prompted Alfred von Soden to propose that ZF in the future manufacture steering systems as well as transmissions. As ZF had virtually no experience in this field, a search was undertaken to find a partner with a technologically superior product. That ideal partner was Ross Gear and Tool Company, founded in 1906 and headquartered in Lafayette, in the US state of Indiana.
The company was well-known for what was called the 1-pin steering, a design that was constructed simply but which functioned smoothly, and relatively accurately and vibration-free. In 1932, ZF was granted a five-year exclusive license to manufacture and distribute the Ross steering systems in Germany and other European countries. ZF undertook to purchase the steering worm, one of the core components, from Ross in the US. The price per unit included the license fee for constructing the steering system. The first customer was Wanderer-Werke in Chemnitz, which at that time was already part of the holdings of state-owned Auto Union AG. Sales earned in the first months following production begin led to anticipations of a profitable business.
In 1964, Ross Gear and Tool Company was bought by TRW. History came full circle when TRW was acquired by ZF in 2015. The original licensor for the ZF steering systems design is itself a part of the ZF community today.
Following politial intrigues behind the scenes the president of the German Reich Paul von Hindenburg appoints a new Reichskanzler on January 30th 1933: Adolf Hitler. With a semblance of democratic legitimisation the self-proclaimed "Leader of the German People" now has all power in his grasp.
On a technological level, the National Socialist ascent to power did not signify a disruption so much as an adaptation of daily business to new political priorities. At ZF, for example, transmission designs intended for civilian use were modified for military purposes. From 1933 on ZF delivered 477 five-speed transmissions designated as type FG35 for a light tank, officially declared as “agricultural tractor” which were essentially based on the Aphon transmission originally developed for large passenger cars. In 1935, ZF collaborated with Maybach to develop a higher-performance version of the tank, which was equipped with the ZF FG31 Aphon transmission. More than 2700 vehicles of this type were built until 1939. This was just a foretaste of the years that followed.
However, ZF still earned the largest part of its sales from civilian products. The accelerated construction of the Reichsautobahn freeway presented the design engineers with new tasks. The transmissions developed by ZF at the end of the 1920s were not intended for daily operation at speeds of 80 km/h and faster over longer periods of time. ZF design engineers therefore developed a separate "long-distance highway gear" that was flange-mounted on the multi-synchronizer transmission of the type AK4. This meant that it was not necessary to develop a completely new unit; volume production of the AK4S, which had just been initiated at great expense in 1933, was able to continue.
Encouraged by the positive reaction in the automotive industry to the Aphon transmission, ZF presented a transmission in 1934 in which all forward gears were realized with helical toothed gears – at the time often called "helical gears." The gear pair for the first gear was now in constant mesh as well. The gears were, compared to the Aphon transmission, considerably narrower, thereby permitting savings in cost and weight.
As the name "fully synchronized" transmission says, all gears were now synchronized. Instead of multidisks, cone synchronizers were now being implemented, which were less expensive and enabled a very compact transmission design. The fully synchronized transmission for passenger cars was designed as a 4-speed transmission. Due to the increasing availability of interstates, an additional transmission stage became desirable. A planetary design facilitated the addition of a fifth gear, which allowed economical and safe driving at high speeds.
Petrol, diesel fuel, light and heavy fuel oil are all refined products created when petrochemical methods are used for the catalytic cracking of crude oil. The petrochemicals industry experienced a rapid upsurge at the end of the 30s.
In 1937, ZF's first proprietary development for the agricultural sector was ready for its market launch: The A12 was a 4-speed transmission specifically designed for tractors and already demonstrated the block design still being used today. The engine-transmission unit hereby formed, together with the rear axle, the load-bearing hull that supported the entire body. From the beginning, the product range included not only the transmission, but also the axle differential, which even featured a lock. The portfolio was supplemented by various components, from clutch pedals to mowing machine outputs.
Production initially took place in Friedrichshafen, but was relocated to Passau in 1946. Precisely another 3,052 A12 transmissions were built in the city on the Danube, which thus evolved into the ZF center of competence for the production of tractor transmissions. The A15 rolled off the assembly line for the first time in 1948. The successor to the A12 initially provided an additional forward gear, and later a further crawling gear too.
As Germany prepared to conduct warfare, military armament increasingly determined the development of ZF. The planning of two production plants in Schwäbisch Gmünd 1937/38 began in the summer of 1936. The plans stipulated using still undeveloped land in the city district of Schiesstal. Under the umbrella of a separate subsidiary, the "Schwäbischen Zahnradwerke GmbH," one objective of the new plants was to manufacture predominantly high-quality gears for the Luftwaffe. In parallel, to satisfy demands of the German army, a smaller, spatially and organizationally separate production was established at the "Ziegelberg".
Limited slip differentials began to be manufactured here already in 1938.
Otto Hahn of the Kaiser- Wilhelm-lnstitut in Berlin is the first to split uranium atoms by means of neutron. bombardment. His former colleague Lise Meither correctly interprets the results of this experiment as nuclear fission. This lays the foundation. for the peaceful and military use of atomic power.
On May 12th 1941 the engineer Konrad Zuse presented the first automatic program-controlled digital calculating machine - nowadays called a computer.
The NS regime urgently needed labor for the domestic economy, as each battle that was lost meant that more German men were drafted to the Wehrmacht. Fritz Sauckel, the General Plenipotentiary for Labor Deployment from 1942, forcibly recruited people from all over Europe to work in German agriculture and industry. The situation of the foreign workforce depended in equal parts on the working environment and the individual behavior of their German supervisors.
Of the foreigners who began working in Friedrichshafen during the NS period, the first ones came voluntarily. A first verifiable and noteworthy mention of a sizable number of these ZF workers is from 1940. For that fiscal year, the Friedrichshafen plant counted 83 foreigners among the workforce, including 51 Belgians and 22 Yugoslavians. Between 1941 and 1942, the number of forced laborers at ZF surged from 311 to 1456. In 1943 and 1944, the share of foreign workers compared to the entire workforce reached its ultimate peak of approximately 34 percent. Including a relatively small number of war prisoners, more than 2 800 forced laborers worked at ZF during the war. In terms of numbers, the largest groups came from the Soviet Union, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. With respect to Friedrichshafen, the number of foreigners as part of the ZF workforce during the war years 1939 to 1945 amounted to approximately 18.8 percent of all forced laborers at industrial companies headquartered in the area. The remaining 81.2 percent were attributable to Maybach, Luftschiffbau Zeppelin, the construction company Rostan, Dornier, and the German Reich Railway.
The LZ Group decided already in 1937 that the tank transmissions developed at Maybach should be manufactured primarily at the Zahnradfabrik plants. During the war, in 1942, Board of Management members von Soden and Cappus were thus faced with the challenge of realizing the mass production of the Olvar transmission.
At the beginning of 1942, when ZF was commissioned to develop a transmission of the new medium-duty "Panther" tank, a new concept was conceived: Between February and August of 1942, ZF developed the AK 7-200 7-speed manual transmission, the construction of which was strongly related to truck transmissions of the time. It was relatively compact and it possessed a cost-effective cone synchronizerAfter the initial trials delivered promising results, the German Army Weapons Agency ordered 5 000 transmissions without awaiting further testing. Ultimately, by the end of the war, ZF had built more than 6 200 of these units, which were implemented in the heavier "Tiger" as well as "Panther" tanks.
In order to meet the ongoing need to increase production, the Board of Management and Supervisory Board of ZF had been on the lookout for potential new locations since 1941. Together with the Supreme High Command of the German Army, a decision was made in December to establish the Waldwerke GmbH subsidiary, with headquarters in Passau. After numerous postponements, the company was founded on May 13, 1943. The first Olvar transmission for the "Tiger" was delivered from Passau in November.
Between March and October of 1944, several hundred inmates from the Mauthausen concentration camp were forced into labor alongside the almost 2 000 civilian employees of the Waldwerke. The highest recorded number for this group is 334 (on September 23, 1944).
On April 29, 1945, the day WWII ended, the ruins of the ZF plants in Friedrichshafen stood almost empty. Only one solitary employee had stayed, guarding the premises. The rest of production and the barely functioning administration had long been relocated to different plants. Shortly after the rushed withdrawal of the last Wehrmacht soldiers, "Première Armée Française" soldiers reached the entrance of the plant grounds.
Although the production facilities at the headquarters had been largely destroyed, ZF was still very valuable to the Allied Forces. Similar to Maybach, ZF was also commissioned by French members of the occupying forces to develop a tank transmission only a few weeks after the end of the war. From a ZF viewpoint, revitalization of the civilian portfolio was much more important, though. For the most part, development in this area had not progressed since the mid-1930s. In order to be able to produce again at all, ZF needed consent from the Allied Forces for each individual location. The dramatic damage from the war came on top. All in all, a very difficult starting position for reconstruction.
Since ZF was not considered a pure armaments company, in contrast to the parent company Luftschiffbau Zeppelin, the conditions for resuming work were set in place. On May 14, 1945, the responsible commander, Lasnier, approved cleanup efforts for the Friedrichshafen plant premises. On June 6, he permitted the manufacture of tractor transmissions. Restarting production took place under very primitive conditions in the basement of the previous Hall V, where the remaining employees set up the few still operable machines. Accommodating the immediate needs of the local population, the companies of the LZ Group initially also repaired or manufactured household appliances such as "spätzle" noodle presses and meat mincers. The Schwäbisch Gmünd plant, located in the American occupation zone, had a nearly trouble-free restart. As the factory in the Swabian Ostalb region was practically the only ZF location unrestricted in its ability to resume production, company management decided, still in the same year, to relocate the entire steering systems production to this plant.
The few production resources that survived the war were by no means secured for ZF. The threat of having to completely dismantle all plants was always imminent. On May 6, 1946, the regional governor located in Tettnang, Pierre Ulmer, informed ZF representatives of Allied Control Council plans to dissolve the company. The only recently elected ZF works council headed by Georg Groner thereupon intervened with Ulmer – with success. The French military governor was able to notify the works council already on May 9 that ZF was permitted to continue operations, for now. The dismantling, however, did not end. A handwritten note from September 1946 mentions a total of 537 machines being transferred to the occupation authorities since the end of the war. Of these, 417 went to France, while 120 were leased to Daimler-Benz in Gaggenau in accordance with orders from the occupation authorities. In comparison, 293 machines remained in Friedrichshafen.
The end of dismantling finally reached ZF first in July 1948, as company management came to an agreement with the French authorities to support the construction of a French transmissions factory (SOFEN) through the leasing of machines. The founding in France was a failure, but it helped ZF find its way back to stable business operations.
In the summer of 1946, differences between the established ZF management led by Hans Cappus and the French occupation authorities had become insurmountable. The French therefore invited the Friedrichshafen works council to a meeting. Colonel Meffre, who was assigned to supervise the automotive industry in the Lake Constance area, unceremoniously declared that the liquidation of ZF was imminent. The shutdown could only be avoided, explained Ulmer, if Board of Management members Cappus and Dolt resigned from their posts and the company were converted into a cooperative enterprise. Already on July 8, the works council had a private conversation with senior executives Alfred Häfele, Albert Maier, and Robert Pirker concerning the plan to impose a change of management. This would ensure the continued existence of the company.
At the same time, Hugo Eckener, who was still at the helm of the LZ Group in the midst of its disintegration, pursued his own goals: He wanted to defend the integrity of the entire company against the French occupation authorities. As the different interest groups convened in a meeting on July 11, 1946, Eckener purportedly stated that he would turn his back on Friedrichshafen: "I'm going to America, I have good friends everywhere." Eckener then left the room "without a farewell and leaving his hat."
Something between a soapbox and a classic race car; What Albert Maier, then Head of Engineering, drew on paper with practiced hands on July 21, 1946, was a microcar, even by standards of the time: a 1.4 meter wheelbase, a drop-shaped, open body with exposed wheels, two seats without any upholstering, an external rear engine with a tank mounted on top of the engine. In large letters, Maier had written "CHAMPION" on the hood of the vehicle.
The idea behind this was to facilitate mobility for the many commuters who, day after day, left the countryside to work in the destroyed inner cities. Maier's approach was to limit the maximum speed to 40 or 45 km/h, in order to realize a radically simple and cost-effective design with a compact motor and low fuel consumption. Potential customers could assemble the car themselves, thereby achieving further cost advantages. Another innovative idea was to conceive the entire machine block as a removable unit that could also be implemented as a driveline for machine tools, motor mowers, or boats.
Notwithstanding the promising concept, ZF never launched volume production of the Champion. Corporate management and the workforce had their hands full trying to meet rising demand in the core areas of transmission and steering systems engineering.
The severity of ZF's situation was revealed in a letter dated July 19, 1946, from the works council to the Social Democratic politician, Tübingen State Councilor, and later Federal Council Minister Carlo Schmid:
"It's the fight for our existence that forces us to take this unusual approach of […] exhausting even the last option in order to safeguard our families. […] The LZ Group is subject to the shutdown provision. […] Execution of the order […], already commanded three times, has until now been postponed thanks to the intervention of District Governor Commandant Ulmer. We can expect more […] help only if ZF withdraws from the burden imposed by the Group's reputation as a weapons blacksmith."
The actions proposed in the following were quite radical: Separation of ZF from the foundation association and new founding by the workforce, transfer of production material as a loan by the military administration, installation of new management for the company, comprising works council members and long-term executive managers, reduction of the workforce to a forecasted number of 300 employees, limitation of production to agricultural machines and spare parts.
Hans Cappus officially resigned on July 23, 1946; one day later, Hugo Eckener announced to the ZF works council his intent to step down as Group CEO, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of ZF, Board of Management member of the Zeppelin Foundation, and as Board of Management member of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH – at first only unofficially, however.
Predominantly two representatives from the occupation authorities sincerely endeavored to bridge the trenches ravaged by crimes of the NS regime, trenches that separated the French and Germans: Tettnang District Governor Ulmer and Alsace-born former German teacher Albert Merglen, who succeeded Ulmer in February 1947. In a remarkable initiative of April 1947, Merglen formulated a written request in a letter to approximately 150 persons living in the occupied area to report candidly on their situation, expectations, and potential grievances. One of these letters was addressed to the recently elected ZF Chairman of the Works Council, Herman Metzger. In his response, he painted an unembellished picture of the circumstances of the time, whereby he sharply denounced, among other things, the continued dismantling, as well as the exceedingly poor food and housing situation of the local population.
Merglen reacted very constructively, and his activities during the following three years often benefitted the city of Friedrichshafen and ZF as a company. A friendship evolved between Merglen and ZF works council member Hermann Metzger that is documented in numerous letters. In October 1965, on the occasion of ZF's 50-year anniversary of its founding, Merglen returned to Friedrichshafen. Albert Maier used the opportunity to comment on the importance of reconciliation between the French and the Germans for the successful development of ZF: "We engineers are cosmopolitans […]. Do you see the vehicles of the most important French manufacturers outside? […] You can see many others, also from other countries. And we are proud of this cooperation as it reflects a greater engineering way of thinking."
After much confusion with respect to the future of the Zeppelin Foundation and its assets, to some extent it was Count Zeppelin himself who solved the conflict, almost 30 years after his death: The deed of foundation that he signed on December 30, 1908, stipulated in very explicit terms what should happen if the original purpose of the Zeppelin Foundation could no longer be fulfilled, i.e. the building of air vessels, or the promotion of airship navigation. In this case, §15 specifies that "the foundation's assets are to be bequeathed to the municipality of Friedrichshafen, which must manage it separately under the designation of 'Zeppelin Foundation' and use the proceeds […] for charitable purposes." As odd as it may seem, this passage had largely been overlooked until then. Not before the middle of October in 1946 did Ernst Mühlhauser, a lawyer, call attention to the fact that the Zeppelin Foundation must consequently be transferred the municipality. This took place on March 1, 1947.
However, 82.5 percent of the ZF shares were still held by Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH, which in turn symbolized German war armament under the receivership of the French occupation authorities. Then the inevitable happened: In July 1947, ZF also fell under control of the same receiver responsible for Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH, Jean Deudon. The newly assembled Board of Management comprising Robert Pirker, Albert Maier, and Konstantin Schmäh had no choice but to merely take note.
On July 30, 1948, ZF was able to have its name struck from the dismantling list of the Allied Forces. The price for this: Pursuant to a recommendation by the French engineer Leo Robin, ZF should help establish a French Zahnradfabrik under the roof of Paris-based SOFEN transmission manufacturer and provide the necessary machines on a loan basis. On July 24, 1948, ZF (represented by Emile Knipper as official receiver) signed a corresponding contract.
In September 1948, official receiver Emile Knipper informed ZF general managers Maier, Pirker, and Schmäh that he had granted Schwäbisch Gmünd Plant Manager Klug full power of attorney to act on behalf of ZF in all commercial matters. This meant that the full economic responsibility for ZF was therefore located in Schwäbisch Gmünd. The French high command in Baden-Baden released ZF from receivership on September 30, 1948, however. Knipper was thus removed from his position and so was his chief representative Klug.
The planned founding of a French Zahnradfabrik based on ZF technology also did not take place. Apparently, SOFEN did not have sufficient capital at its disposal; the machines made available stood mostly unused in interim storage. ZF received about 85 percent of the machine inventory back by May 1950; the rest was used to settle various claims in France.
Michelin made all happen - with the radial-ply tyre. In 1948 they bring out the first production tyre with a radial-ply construction on the wheels on a Citröen 2 CV. The clear advantage is in the lower wear, reduced petrol consumption and better directional control.
After ZF had proven itself by first providing support for the founding of the French gear factory and then, after its founding failed, also behaving in a constructive manner, the French occupation authorities were prepared to establish a stable ownership structure. On August 17, 1950, the ZF shares owned by Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH were transferred to the City of Friedrichshafen and the Brandenstein-Zeppelin family, commensurate with the initial asset allocation ratio. The City of Friedrichshafen (in form of the Zeppelin Foundation) became the majority shareholder with 89.8 percent of the shares; other shareholders were the Brandenstein-Zeppelin family (6.2 percent), and the Maag company (4 percent).
The share of steering systems manufactured by ZF according to the Ross system gradually declined in the 1950s. ZF had, in the meantime, established a relationship with Gemmer Manufacturing, a company in Detroit. The Gemmer steering gears, also called worm-and-roller steering systems, were more robust than the Ross steering gears and provided a greater steering angle. While the Ross steering systems were being incrementally replaced by the Gemmer steering systems in the ZF portfolio, production increased dramatically in the steering division, which had been based entirely in the Schiesstal (a district of Schwäbisch Gmünd) plant since 1953. The introduction in 1956 of the spindle-type power steering system for vehicles with particularly high axle loads represented the first proprietary development coming out of Schwäbisch Gmünd. This effectively anchored steering systems engineering as an important pillar in the ZF portfolio.
ZF started operating the "Jägerwinkel" recreation home in the Bavarian Allgäu region in June 1952. More than a quarter of the workforce, 1 105 employees, had spent a few days there within the first year following the opening, often accompanied by relatives. For many, this was the first vacation since the war. The company paid the round trip ticket to get there; board and lodging expenses were subsidized. When celebrating a 25-year work anniversary, employees received an all-expenses paid week of special leave, including spending money. As the holiday home was also available to employees outside of the parent plant, it helped to build bridges between the locations, as the following report in the "ZF Ring" magazine reveals: "Only a few of us knew each other. We were a motley crew. But even on the first day we had already evolved into a cheerful group. We Friedrichshafeners formed an especially cordial relationship with the colleagues and their relatives from Schwäbisch Gmünd."
But: Voluntary social benefits such as these were not a compelling argument for joining ZF. Other industrial employers also offered their employees numerous advantages. It was all the more important that ZF also offer continuous increases in wages and salaries: The average hourly wage at the Friedrichshafen plant, for example, thus increased from 1.42 Deutschmark (DM) in 1950 to 2.94 DM in 1960, so by approximately 107 percent.
In its 1953 Annual Report, the ZF Board of Management lamented that the race to find the brightest minds in the German automotive industry was now in full swing:
"We have discovered that certain competitive companies are repeatedly trying to entice our leading specialists away with particularly attractive offers. Generally, a trend can be observed during interviews and recruitment that good workers at other companies – predominantly in northern Germany – are paid significantly more than at ZF. We are attempting to provide a certain compensation for this by offering voluntary social benefits."
In fact, there were hardly any important events in the life of a ZF employee that were not associated with a payment: marriage and 25-year wedding anniversary, birth or First Communion of a child, the death of a close relative, work anniversaries, and the 60th birthday. Even the parents' 50th wedding anniversary was rewarded with a day of special leave. The "Seehasen bonus" that had been distributed to employees since 1951 (on the occasion of the annual children's festival "Seehasenfest" that takes place in Friedrichshafen) was replaced in 1957 by a vacation allowance. The employees started receiving a Christmas allowance for the first time in 1950. A modern year-end bonus was introduced in 1953, by which the workforce participated in the economic success of the company at the end of every fiscal year. The continuous increase of the bonus is evidence of ZF's growing profitability. Also of particular interest to the employees was the re-opening of the ZF company health insurance fund in 1949.
The hall of the Graf-von-Soden company restaurant accommodated up to 2,500 people at its inauguration in February 1955. The dimensions and furnishings far surpassed the wooden cafeteria barracks that had served as a temporary arrangement since the end of the war. This was the first new building after 1945 that was not directly related to production; it was more a gift to the employees in Friedrichshafen, also symbolizing what ZF had achieved in recent years. Deep under the foundations, however, traces of a far more distant history lay dormant. When construction began in the summer of 1953, workers discovered some ancient remains, which teacher and historian Ulrich Paret identified as a Roman bathhouse. In the following years, numerous excavations on the grounds of Plant 1 unearthed more Roman artifacts. All evidence indicates that there was once a Roman estate under the site, possibly the largest one in the Lake Constance district. As to the actual importance of the manor and who exactly resided therein is still the subject of speculation among archeologists.
A first important step towards political unity in Europe was taken in Rome with the signing of the Treaties for European Economic Community (EEC). The signatory countries were France, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the Federal Republic of Germany.
As there were not enough available skilled workers on the job market, more focus was placed on education and vocational training. The practice implemented up to that point of hiring predominantly apprentices whose relatives already worked at ZF was gradually abandoned in favor of open candidate selection. ZF's vocational training program had a good reputation already in the 1950s. But the program was very different in terms of content and atmosphere compared to the standards customary today. Julius Maier recalls:
"The foremen were the ultimate authority – they had the last word. Some of our instructors often impressed me with their practical knowledge – and their honest intentions of engaging in dialog with us apprentices. Nevertheless, beatings were still considered an effective educational tool. After some failed attempts at the lathe, this is something I also learned in a first-hand and painful manner."
A cultural shift took place in the field of vocational training as of the mid-1950s. In 1956, the Friedrichshafen apprentice training shop re-opened at its customary spot above the tool shop. Beginning in 1958, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce offered courses on pedagogical, practical work-related, and technical topics for the instructors. The first seminar in April 1958 had the significant title of "Youth Psychology;" in the next year, courses entitled "Managing People" and "How to Treat People" followed. At the same time, many long-serving foremen went into retirement at the end of the 1950s. With the change in generations, many mid-level management positions were filled by employees who were better qualified from a professional standpoint. The quality of the vocational training program continued to improve, but it still seemed almost impossible to find enough young people to cover the enormous demand for new labor.
The news that the Soviets had sent an artificial satellite into orbit stuns the American public. The ball with the Jour transmitting antennae weighs 83.6 kg and has a diameter of 58 cm.
The engineer Felix Wankel successfully completes first trials of a novel type of rotary engine. The basic idea behind the rotary piston: the engine powers the shaft directly. The triangular rotor completes a precise four-strake cycle in a trochoidal housing - free of vibrations.
In the 1950s, sales figures for the manual passenger car transmission at first fell short of expectations – until ZF received a large order in 1959, whose dimensions greatly surpassed all other orders to date. With the 4DS6-3, ZF supplied the transmission for the DKW Junior, a subcompact car manufactured by Ingolstadt-based Auto-Union. More than 65,000 transmissions had already rolled off the assembly line in Friedrichshafen in 1960. A self-contained production line was erected in Plant 1 for the first real volume-production transmission. The capacities of the parent plant were so quickly exhausted, however, that ZF invested in the construction of a new building. Production moved into "Plant 2" at the beginning of 1962. By 1965, more than 340,000 4DS6-3 units had been built.
In 1959, ZF achieved a growth in sales of 29 percent compared to the previous year. The background was an enormous surge in demand: In heavy truck manufacturing, the restrictions on truck size and payloads introduced by German Minister of Transport Hans-Christoph Seebohm (CDU) in 1956, led, among other factors, to a sharp downturn in demand. As an easing of the corresponding regulations was announced to take effect as of July 1960, freight forwarders and logistics companies again stepped up their orders for large trucks. The result was an economic boom phase, which was further inflamed by orders from the public sector. As ZF also recorded increased order volumes in the passenger car segment and – to a lesser degree – in agricultural machine manufacturing, capacities were utilized to their limit for months.
ZF constantly had to integrate new employees in its ongoing production.
Ironically, it was the extremely positive market dynamics that posed unforeseen social as well as economic challenges for ZF. Despite increasing sales, productivity was sinking. Labor, machines, and material, in great demand due to the boom, became more and more expensive.
The Board of Management lamented the "extremely lengthy and very difficult negotiations" with own customers. Apparently it was not possible to pass on increased costs of production to the automotive manufacturers because these could always fall back on internally manufactured transmissions and steering systems. For ZF, this meant the only solution was to become more productive. Rationalization became the order of the day.
An unusual sight presented itself in front of the Friedrichshafen housing production loading ramp on the morning of April 13, 1959: Nine ZF employees stood there with their large suitcases, surrounded by their wives and children, many in the company of relatives. More and more colleagues, including members of the Board of Management and works council, came and gathered around the group, who had many hours of riding in a bus and 14 days on the open sea ahead of them. Their destination: São Caetano do Sul, southwest of São Paulo, about 75 kilometers inland from the Brazilian Atlantic coast. For ZF, the route to Brazil represented the first-ever establishment of a production location overseas.
Max Mugler, who was decisive in supporting the expansion to Brazil, reports: "The founding of our first international location had its origins in the business relationship to Daimler-Benz. The Stuttgart company was already operating a plant in Brazil and wanted to procure their transmissions from there as well. It was just logical that we follow our customer."
According to Daimler, the advantage of the ZF transmissions was that they were much more robust than those available in South America. Even as Daimler-Benz banked on a long-term relationship with ZF in Brazil, the supplier from Lake Constance firmly intended to also forge an independent presence on the market. There was plenty of opportunity, as other international manufacturers also planned to set up shop in Brazil.
By 1960, the ZF workforce had almost tripled compared to the level of 1950. A total of 12 074 people worked for the Zahnradfabrik; The company had 5 117 employees at the Friedrichshafen location alone. This made even more apparent the notorious housing shortage that had been prevalent in the city on Lake Constance since its industrial ascent.
Therefore, in 1950, ZF began to grant low-interest loans for the construction of rental apartments to cooperatives, the Zeppelin Foundation, and directly to employees. ZF thus supplemented municipal residential housing subsidies. Between the start of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1980s, ZF continued to expand its activities in this area.
The rationalization process in production and administration also led to ZF banking increasingly on electronic data processing. Starting in January 1960, cashless salary payments were initially introduced for salaried employees in Friedrichshafen, and shortly thereafter implemented on a company-wide basis. ZF was one of the first companies in Baden-Württemberg to undertake the cultural shift from pay envelope to direct bank transfer.
Another cornerstone in the rationalization process at ZF was the use of computers in development and administration. For ZF, the computer age began in 1962 with the installation of an IBM 1401, a compact system under the prevailing standards, the dimensions of which approximated the size of a kitchen. The computer was used for accounting tasks until 1970, but was also employed in the context of production control and financial planning. The computing power of a maximum of 193,300 additions per minute corresponded to a fraction of what an average smart phone can do today. For the calculation-intensive engineering department, ZF had been using a mainframe computer since 1959, which was located at IBM in Böblingen and used in parallel by Daimler-Benz, MAN, and Dornier. In 1963, an IBM 1620, conceived for technical tasks and already possessing a plotter for the graphical output of results, was installed at the ZF location in Friedrichshafen. It still took several years before the first monitor-based computer workstations were introduced. These were inaugurated – earlier than in many other industrial companies – in 1972.
The expansion of ZF's production to Brazil coincided with the employment of foreign workers at the German ZF plants. The search for candidates outside of national borders was promoted by the Board of Management, as the Germany-wide job and apprenticeship market was not expected to cool down over the medium term. In the 1960 fiscal year, for the first time, a substantial number of foreign workers were employed at the German ZF plants. Their share, which at the time represented approximately three percent of the total workforce, was to rise to more than 18 percent by 1969. The first and initially largest group came from Italy. In addition, there were colleagues from Spain, Greece, Yugoslavia, Austria, France, and – as of the end of the 1960s – many from Turkey. Various other countries were also represented by individual employees. Contemporary reports mention more than twenty nations.
The transition from a workforce originating primarily from the direct surroundings of the plants, to today's global ZF family representing the currently more than 300 company locations, was a process that took place over many years. Although corporate management as well as German political leaders initially regarded the employment of "guest workers" as a temporary measure, it soon became apparent that this international openness belonged to the future on both an economic and political level. Gradually, the newcomers under the roof of the ZF plants became colleagues and often friends.
At the ZF Passau location, volume production of the first generation of the PLA 5000 planetary steering axles and PSA 7000 planetary rigid axles began in 1960. This signified ZF's entry into the production of units for construction machinery. Because the market for tractor transmissions experienced a dramatic slump at the beginning of the 1960s – important customers such as MAN and Porsche, for example, had exited the agricultural machinery business – the significance of the new business unit soon grew.
In 1963, ZF expanded its construction machinery business to include transmissions. Under the model range designation of "PW," ZF began manufacturing planetary-design powershift transmissions in 1966, including the 4PW, which was build until the mid-1980s. The advantage of this unit was its compact design, which permitted its application also in machines with very little center distance such as crawler loaders and bulldozers. With Fiat-Allis and John Deere, ZF, for the first time, succeeded with the 4PW in winning internationally active construction machinery manufacturers as customers.
The erection of the Berlin Wall, which began with police and East German border patrol cordoning off sector borders during the night of August 12 to 13, 1961, was one of the most radical events of the Cold War. Overnight, West Berlin's 2.2 million residents were cut off not only from the east of the city, but also from the entire surrounding area. Part of this enclave also included the Berlin-Wittenau ZF plant, in operation since 1925 and the largest gear factory in the greater area of Berlin, in the French sector. The construction of the Wall primarily impacted employees who had, up to that point, commuted daily from the eastern part of the city. For them, returning to their jobs at ZF became almost impossible. The sales department also faced massive logistical challenges, as approximately one-third of production was destined for export to Friedrichshafen and Schwäbisch Gmund.
When the ZF works council convened in Berlin in September 1961, they came across an almost unreal sense of normality, however. "Sober and pragmatic," recounts a report in the ZF Ring company magazine, is how the (West) Berliners dealt with their extremely difficult situation. Apparently, no-one believed that the now cemented division of their city would end anytime soon.
The start of manned space fights: on April 12th 1961 Yuri A. Gagarin orbits the earth in his space capsule. The race to the moon between the Soviets and Americans is on.
Only a few years after its beginnings the Americans present the first practical use of space travel. The news and TV satellile TELSTAR transmits the first TV pictures between ground stations in the USA and France. Shortly afterwards TELSTAR also transmits the first telephone conversations.
On September 8, 1963, former farmer Jim Clark won the Italian Grand Prix and with it his first Formula One World Championship title. Only a few days afterwards, Clark's record-breaking vehicle, a green Lotus 25, was presented in the ZF plant courtyard in Friedrichshafen. This friendly turn by the British racing team did not come out of the blue: Under the hood of the approximately 450 kg light car was a ZF 5DS. The transmission was custom-built for Jim Clark by ZF in 1961, commissioned by Lotus founder and chief designer Colin Chapman. The ZF design, as well as numerous other technical innovations such as the first-time implementation of a monocoque chassis in the Lotus 25, helped Jim Clark to a winning streak that is still legendary today. This began with first place at the French Grand Prix de Pau on April 3, 1961. Clark won more than 50 races in the following years. In 1965, he secured his second Formula One World Championship title.
Furthermore, Jim Clark came in 1st place on May 31, 1965, at the renowned 500-mile race in Indianapolis. A day later, a telegram arrived in Friedrichshafen with the message: "Jimmy Clark and Colin Chapman were really delighted with your transmissions at the 1965 Indy 500. Team Lotus sends you our most sincere congratulations."
ZF motorsports experienced a tragic setback in 1968, when Jim Clark was killed in an accident caused by tire damage at the Hockenheimring on April 7. Many ZF employees who were enthusiastic fans and celebrated the many Lotus team wins were truly shocked by this sudden loss.
At the time, entry into automatic passenger car transmission engineering at the beginning of the 1960s was viewed critically by many ZF colleagues, as automatic transmissions were largely ignored by customers on the European market. From today's perspective, however, the decision in favor of the new product segment was one of the most important for the commercial success of ZF. Hansjörg Dach, who developed the first automatic passenger car transmissions for ZF, recalls the background:
"American transmissions that were already successful back then were not suitable for European vehicles: not only was their construction too large, they also required high-capacity and high-torque engines. Therefore, our development goal was a more compact design."
ZF's first fully automated passenger car transmission emerged in 1958 under the model designations of 2HP14 and had only two gears. However, a transmission with such a rough gear ratio spread was less impractical for city traffic and, in particular, for lower-performance engines. By June 1961, Dach had thus developed
the 3HP12 3-speed automatic transmission. The test results were promising, and soon BMW declared that it would use the 3HP12 in the new mid-sized 1800 and 2000 series. After a long trial period, Peugeot also gave the green light to implementing the 3HP12. The first ZF automatic passenger car transmissions manufactured in volume production rolled off the assembly line in 1965. Sales figures were still modest at the beginning, however.
October 29, 1965, when ZF celebrated the 50-year anniversary of its founding, more than 700 guests attended the ceremonial gala in the machine hall of plant II. In addition to representatives from the French former military regime, Prime Minister of Baden-Württemberg Kurt Georg Kiesinger, a friend of Chairman of the Supervisory Board and Mayor of Friedrichshafen Max Grünbeck, was also present. As Kiesinger emphasized in his celebratory speech, the anniversary of ZF coincided with a "peak of economic development" in the Federal Republic of Germany. More than almost any other company, ZF embodied the dynamic resurgence of the West German economy in the 20 years following the end of the war. With more than 14,000 employees in the anniversary year of 1965, the Zahnradfabrik, declared commercial director Robert Pirker, had evolved into "the largest European specialized company for gears, transmissions, and steering systems."
However, Kurt Georg Kiesinger, who was soon elected Federal Chancellor, inadvertently expressed an uncomfortable truth when he celebrated the level of economic activity achieved in October 1965 as the "peak." There were increasing indications that the boom, which began with the inception of the Federal Republic of Germany, was coming to an end. "The era of the economic miracle," expressed Robert Pirker during the Supervisory Board meeting on July 25, 1966, "appears to be at an end. One gets the impression that the pent-up demand has been satisfied and that rebuilding is essentially complete." In order to stay in business, ZF needed to focus more strongly than before on international prospects and innovative products.
Black clouds darkened the otherwise sunny economic horizon for the first time since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany. The domestic market for capital goods – including areas important for ZF such as agricultural machines, construction vehicles, and trucks – had reached a certain level of saturation. Speculation about the end of the economic miracle also resulted in German consumers being hesitant about purchasing private passenger cars, or moving to less expensive foreign brands.
High time for ZF to react to the change. The volume production of automatic transmissions that had been running since 1965 was a step in this direction. The aim of granting production licenses abroad – to Japan, India, or Switzerland, for example – as well as strengthening international sales was to reduce dependence on domestic business. Furthermore, what became known as the 'cost-effectiveness campaign' was initiated at the end of 1966. Within the context of the initiative, numerous employees were directly approached and requested to submit suggestions for improvement. By April 1968, around 80 individual measures had been converted into business practice. One example was the substitution of nightshift and overtime supplements with quality bonuses, to reward meticulous work.
The start of a new era in space travel is broadcast live to 500 million TV viewers throughout the world: on July 20th 1969 Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin become the first men on the moon. Together with Michael Collins they took off from Cape Kennedy on July 16th on board the 111 m high APOLLO XI. The astronauts set up scientific equipment, collected rock samples and held the first telephone conversation between the earth and the moon with American president Richard Nixon. On one of the subsequent moon landings the Americans brought along a "Lunar Roving Vehicle" - a lunar jeep whose wheels were driven by electric motors.
Through the resumption of airship activities in 1957, a small working group had formed at ZF, which served the Business Unit under the responsibility of the marine transmission design department (TBK¬¬¬B). Not before 1969 did an independent aviation department (TK¬D, Technology/Design – rotorcraft) culminate from these efforts.
At this point in time, the FS72, a high-performance transmission developed since 1963 for the Bo 105 multi-purpose helicopter manufactured at MBB, was about to be launched on the market. Although the maiden flight that already took place in 1967 was a success, development was by no means concluded, as manufacturer MBB announced its goal of increasing the permissible take-off weight. This was achieved: By 1970, the cargo load was raised from the original amount of 1,600 kilogram to 2,100 kilogram. For this, the gearing, shafts, bearing and housing of the transmission had to be adapted to be able to carry greater loads. This incidentally led to the development of the world's only helicopter approved for aerobatic flying. The capability of the Bo 105 to fly loops is a visible demonstration of the stability of the transmission design.
Production of the BO 105 ran more than 30 years at MBB and Eurocopter Deutschland. After 1,404 units had been shipped to customers, volume production was terminated in favor of successor models, currently the EC-135.
In light of the dramatic economic slump in 1966/67, hardly anyone could have imagined that talks of a workforce reduction would soon be a thing of the past. German industry experienced a massive recovery and ZF benefitted. In the wake of the booming economy, ZF established a secure basis for its automatic transmission business unit. The technological challenges in doing so centered predominantly around the transmission control unit. Noteworthy improvements in this area seemed possible only if ZF incorporated more electronic components in its transmissions. After searching for a partner in this context. An optimized shift system was presented during the International Motor Show in Frankfurt am Main already that same year.
The idea of technical customer service with a decentralized structure in the sales countries first originated at the beginning of the 1970s. As Willi Schacher states:
"At the time, there were independent companies in our foreign European markets acting on ZF's behalf as foreign representatives. Our new Group Executive Dr. Ernst Braun, who joined the company from SKF in Schweinfurt in 1971, wanted to reform this structure – either through acquisitions of the sales companies operating abroad, or by founding new companies. The ZF network thus grew, initially in Europe, later also to South Africa and the US. This expansion of our customer service activities served not only the obvious goal of generating profits. We also wanted to observe our markets more closely and build up a type of warning system for deficiencies in quality. It was not rare for us to make ourselves unpopular with the ZF development departments, because we pointed out weaknesses while the engineers stood behind their products, of course. But this internal competition was beneficial."
Roland Schäffler, employed in Customer Service since 1960, agreed: "ZF has learned that we should be regarded as more than a cost factor. By improving the repair presence abroad, we have also increased our sales potential. Incidentally,
the range of tasks covered by customer service has expanded greatly since,
for example, the 1980s. Departments have been integrated such as inspection or the technical editorial office, responsible for the creation of operating instructions.
Instead of being responsible for 16 employees as before, I was suddenly supervising 60.
... helped generations of school children with their maths homework. The first pocket calculator, presented in 1971, works with completely different resources, a microchip amongst others. The progressive miniaturisation of electronic components means that the microprocessor soon becomes the central unit for computers, and that electronic calculators shrink to pocket size.
Shortly before Christmas in 1970, ZF announced the delivery of its 100 000th automatic passenger car transmission of the type 3HP. In order to expand its engagement in this business unit, ZF had initiated negotiations with US competitor BorgWarner already in 1969. In March 1970, ZF-BorgWarner GmbH was founded for the purpose of producing automatic transmissions. As Friedrichshafen did not have any additional capacity, the decision concerning a production location was made in favor of Saarbrücken. The region provided sufficient workforce potential, made available by the shrinking mining industry. ZF and BorgWarner together invested 48 million Deutschmark in the new company, but shortly before the start of production BorgWarner decided to withdraw from the joint venture. In March 1972, ZF acquired all the shares in the subsidiary, which was now called ZF Getriebe GmbH.
When Federal President Gustav Heinemann paid a surprise visit to ZF in Friedrichshafen on a Sunday in the spring of 1972, the spokesman of the Board of Management, Erwin Ziebart, made the uncertain economic development a central topic. ZF, as supplier to the automotive industry, was especially vulnerable to market fluctuations. As also declared by Ernst Braun, Ziebart's colleague on the Board of Management, the gradual appreciation of the Deutschmark since October 1969 had exacerbated ZF's competitive situation. German exports were now more expensive and the domestic market simultaneously became more attractive for foreign suppliers.
Federal President Heinemann hardly addressed these concerns, choosing instead to remain faithful to his political program as "citizens' president" for all levels of the population. He posed elaborate questions concerning the relationship between the workforce and ZF as an employer – and received positive responses. Both Chairman of the Works Council Frithjof Reizner and Ismet Aksan, interpreter for the Turkish foreign workers, reported that the internal cohesion was excellent.
In 1972, exports reached 35 percent of total sales. The indirect share was considerably higher when taking into account ZF sales to domestic customers of transmissions and steering systems that were then incorporated into vehicles sent abroad. In the meantime, ZF do Brasil, the only foreign production site, had developed well. In contrast, ZF came under increasing pressure in its home market. Costs for raw materials, energy, logistics, and human resources had risen substantially in recent years. Moreover, economic growth was merely moderate. This led to an increasing willingness on the part of management to internationalize production.
As part of this strategy, ZF acquired a 50 percent share of Industrias Subsidiarias de Aviación S.A. (ISA), headquartered in Seville, Spain, in December 1973. In 1979, ZF assumed an initial 49 percent of the Argentinean company Fabrica Argentina de Engranajes S.A.I. y C. (FAE), with headquarters in Buenos Aires. Ford, John Deere, Chrysler, and Fiat were among the very first customers. Another concrete motivation was Daimler-Benz's wish to work together with ZF in Argentina. Although these investments were ultimately not profitable for ZF, they still represented an important milestone in ZF's process of internationalization. In particular in South America, the plants in Brazil and Argentina provided ZF with the first-ever opportunity of supplying local customers independent of the German parent plants.
How strongly seemingly remote conflicts can influence the daily economic situation of people was revealed by the oil crisis in 1973. Fuel prices in Germany rose dramatically, prompting some drivers to build up fuel reserves at home. The government reacted in November 1973 by passing the "Energy Conservation Act." On this basis, private and commercial use of any kind of motorized vehicle was prohibited on four Sundays in November and December 1973. The psychological impact of the driving ban was enormous; the demand for automobiles plummeted. In retrospect, however, the oil crisis of 1973 also affected the economy positively. The development departments of automotive manufacturers now spent more time thinking about fuel-efficient drivelines.
ZF now developed the Ecosplit transmissions for heavy trucks, which promised significant savings in fuel consumption compared to predecessor types. The Ecosplit transmission became one of longest-selling products of ZF's commercial vehicle range. Since its introduction at the 1979 International Motor Show in Frankfurt am Main, the unit, in its basic design, is still part of the product portfolio today. ZF celebrated the delivery of its two millionth unit already in 2008. A major reason for its success was its extreme reliability. "The Ecosplit," stated Julius Maier, Head of Technical Customer Service as of 1981, "proved to be so unproblematic that we hardly sold any spare parts."
Construction on a new research and development center in Friedrichshafen began in August 1971. Its purpose was to consolidate test departments and test benches that had hitherto been spread out among different offices and workshops in Plant 1, as well as among rented rooms around the city. The building was inaugurated in November 1973. In parallel to this spatial change, the development departments also underwent a cultural change. For the first time, ZF now instituted a team-oriented model for the design/engineering of the Ecosplit transmission, which from the beginning also integrated customer service and quality assurance into the team of actual engineers. This meant that the new product was considered not only from a technological aspect, but was also developed directly according to market requirements.
The approach to positioning quality assurance as prevention as opposed to damage control as had been done until now was also new. The prerequisite for this was an organizational revamping: Under the motto of Group standardization, documentation required for production was standardized in 1974 in order to minimize errors arising from misunderstandings. Hermann Stahl, responsible for the process at the time, recalled: "At the beginning of the 1970s, at least 30 different drawing forms existed. The individual plants such as Schwäbisch Gmünd and Saarbrücken operated similar to small kingdoms, so at first there was little understanding for our requirement of having centralized specifications. I had to do a lot of convincing."
During the course of the Middle East conflict with Israel, Arabian oil producing Countries cut their production by 25%. This leads to a ban on Sunday driving in November 1973 in Germany. Other countries also take similarly drastic measures to save energy. OPEC discovers its power and increases the price of crude oil twentyfold between 1970 and 1980. Almost all national economies are consequently faced with severe structural problems. The car industry and its suppliers are hardest hit by the crisis. One positive result: numerous improvements in car manufacturing are prompted by the oil crises.
On January 8, 1976, ZF filed a new logo with the register of the German Patent and Trademark Office, in which the traditional circle with the "ZF" letters that had been used since March 1917 was replaced with a square as the background. This represented more than a mere administrative act: According to the trademark register, the old logo predominantly symbolized "gears and other […] gear parts." In contrast, with the registration of the new logo, the production of transmissions moved to the forefront.
With a little bit of imagination, this step also becomes graphically evident: ZF's traditionally main product of the gear is now integrated in schematic, quadratic housing. This journey, from gear to complex units, that ZF has undertaken over past decades was documented externally in the form of the modified trademark. At the same time as the new logo, the modernization of the ZF typeface first tested at the IAA in 1961 was officially introduced into Corporate Design. The clear layout in sans serif font corresponded to the zeitgeist. The new ZF logo has also proven to be enduring and is still used today. Since January 1992, the abbreviation of "ZF," which was originally implemented solely for the logo and used internally only, also represents the company as a whole. The largest German transmissions manufacturer thus finally possessed a name that no longer reduced its origins to "Zahnradfabrik." Moreover, the designation of "ZF" was easier to convey, especially abroad – an important aspect in a phase of increasing internationalization.
On March 8, 1979, ZF North America, Inc. set up operations in Northbrook, near Chicago. Operating activities began on May 1, 1979, with eleven employees. With the founding of this wholly-owned subsidiary, ZF was now also directly represented in the most important industrial nation at the time. This was associated with two objectives: ZF wanted to establish itself on the US market as a supplier for the large OEMs. Moreover, ZF wanted to improve the performance of its customer service in North America.
This increased commitment in North America paid off: At the beginning of the 1980s, ZF received an order from Ford to manufacture, starting mid-1986, 500,000 fully synchronized 5-speed manual transmissions for pickups within five years. After the plan to build the transmissions in Brazil had to be abandoned due to deadline difficulties, the choice was made in favor of Friedrichshafen. A new production hall comprising 16,300 square meters was built in Friedrichshafen in a record time of six months, to accommodate approximately 300 employees. When the new production facility was inaugurated in February 1986, ZF Chairman of the Works Council Frithjof Reizner spoke of a "miracle" – and meant not only the punctual completion of the hall, but also the anticipated revenue from the export of the transmissions.
The Audi Quattro starts the craze for four-wheel drive cars. Japanese manufacturers in particular are quick to follow suit and make a name for themselves in this market with limousines and estate cars, but also special off-road and Leisure vehicles.
The Ecosplit transmission for heavy trucks that went into volume production in 1980 proved to be one of the most long-lived products in the ZF portfolio. ZF undertook unconventional methods in order to optimize its easy maintenance, as Heinz Hässle, an engineer who was involved, reported in a 1980 "Automobiltechnische Zeitschrift" magazine article: "We wanted to design a simple, uncomplicated transmission. Everything that was not absolutely necessary was eliminated."
Since its introduction at the 1979 International Motor Show in Frankfurt am Main, the unit, in its basic design, is still part of the product portfolio today. ZF celebrated the shipment of its two millionth unit already in 2008. A major reason for its success was its extreme reliability. "The Ecosplit," stated Julius Maier, Head of Technical Customer Service as of 1981, "proved to be so unproblematic that we hardly sold any spare parts."
Effective May 7, 1980, the ZF Japan Co. Ltd. sales company was founded in Tokyo. After Japan had established itself as one of the most important automotive markets in the world, whereby the manufacturers in the Land of the Rising Sun had been expanding for years, it became necessary for ZF to also be represented on the market with a subsidiary. The main objective – besides market research and handling the business side of supply transactions – was the acquisition of new customers.
In 1982, the company was able to record its first successful business deals for volume production products. These constituted predominantly orders for commercial vehicle automatic transmissions as well as Ecosplit transmissions.
The subsidiary ZF Steering Gear (India) Pvt. Ltd. in Pune was established already in 1981, with the participation of the Indian automaker Bajaj Tempo Ltd. Business relations between the parties had existed for some time already: Since 1965, Bajaj Tempo had been using the ZF 4 DS 10 transmission for its light commercial vehicles, with Bajaj manufacturing the transmission itself through a licensing agreement. The purpose of the newly founded company was to assume the future production of steering systems on the subcontinent, which at the time had a population of approximately 600 million. After volume production had already started in December 1983, the plant was inaugurated at the beginning of 1984. In the same year, another OEM, the company Premier Automobiles in Bombay, was acquired as a customer.
The Space Shuttle "Columbia” opens up a new chapter in space travel. As the first reusable spacecraft it provides a lower-priced alternative to the previous "one-way" rockets. "Columbia” and the other space shuttles in the series put space labs and satellites into orbit.
Friedrich Baur, born in the Württemberg city of Schrozberg in 1927, became Chief Executive Officer of ZF in June 1982. During his tenure, ZF also began to look towards North America and Asia. First, however, the focus was on an internal reorganization of the Group, which had in the meantime grown to comprise more than 22 000 employees. This began in the middle of 1982 with the management structures. For the first time in the history of ZF, Baur's position entailed being a chairperson – not just a speaker – of the Board of Management. The background was the declared objective of accelerating the decision-making process in top management.
ZF's operational business was divided into two regional divisions, the first one encompassing the locations Friedrichshafen, Saarbrücken, as well as the production locations in Brazil and Argentina, and the second including Schwäbisch Gmünd, Passau, and Seville/Spain. Unlike previously, different locations were now under one and the same roof. This was meant to serve as a counterweight to ZF's typical regionalization. Furthermore, Group-wide corporate functions (technology, market, finance and administration, human resources, production) were created, each headed by a member of the Board of Management.
The commissioning of VWs final assembly line 54 in Wolfsburg, in which mainly industrial robots are used, heralds the era of the robot in the German car manufacturing industry.
The personal computer takes over offices around the world. The success of microelectronics is reflected in ever more powerful computers, ever smaller units and a reduction in the prices. Ease of Operation also increases so that even laymen can work on a computer after a brief initiation period.
The decisive impetus came from France at the beginning of the 1980s: Local public transportation should be designed such that physically disabled persons could make use of it more easily. This required step-free access to public service buses. For ZF, the solution was logical: Portal axles were already being implemented in working machines and the Unimog multi-purpose vehicle, as these axles did not connect the hubs in a direct line, but instead formed a "portal" to permit greater ground clearance when on rough terrain. ZF had already been producing such axles for tractors since the 1950s. Pivoting the portal axle allowed the reduction of ground clearance and the vehicle floor to be lowered.
ZF filed for a patent for the first inverted portal axle in the summer of 1980. Volume production started in 1983 under the model designation of AV130. The small French bus manufacturer "Cars & Bus Le Mans" was a customer from the very beginning, at the end of 1983, and would later be acquired by Renault. Key customer Kässbohrer integrated the ZF low-floor axle in its volume production starting in 1985.
A happy coincidence brought ZF together with entrepreneur Jürgen Ulderup at the beginning of the 1980s, at a time when he was considering selling the company he founded in 1947, Lemförder Metallwaren AG. In December 1983, the ZF Board of Management made a proposal to the Supervisory Board to acquire a controlling interest in the company: "The Lemförder Metallwaren AG products have a very good reputation among our most important customers of the motor vehicle industry."
Seen from the perspective of Friedrichshafen, the advantages of an investment were obvious. The Lemförder core competencies encompassed specific areas of chassis technology, including tie rods, torque rods, suspension joints, among others, that optimally supplemented ZF portfolio. In the named areas, Lemförder had a market share of about 50 percent with numerous German and European customers.
The acquisition agreement was signed on December 28, 1983, and came into effect already on January 2, 1984. The Dr.-Jürgen-Ulderup-Stiftung (Foundation) continued to hold an interest in the company as minority shareholder. The acquisition was thus completed on a legal level, and ZF booked an immediate increase in sales and workforce of around 22 percent. The challenge facing both sides now was to merge into one company, also inwardly.
After repeated attempts from different manufacturers the Antilock System (ABS) finally goes into mass production. Microelectronics provide the decisive technological breakthrough here too for the development of Antilock Braking System had started as early as the sixties.
On March 11th 1985 Michail Gorbatschow takes over the office of Secretary General of the Soviet Communist Party. His political catchwords are "glasnost" and "perestroika ''. These terms start to slowly turn the wheels of history towards peace and nuclear disarmament, democracy and a free market economy in the states of Eastern Europe.
The environment debate accelerates the introduction of the 3-way catalytic converter in West Germany and Switzerland along American lines. The EC agrees to graded emission controls for all cars with transitional periods. Parallel to this, lead-free petrol is introduced throughout the country, without which the catalytic converters would be destroyed.
After a seven year construction period Daimler-Benz present the most complex vehicle simulator in the world in Berlin. The system is to be used to carry out road safety tests, the results of which will be incorporated in series production. The driver's cab, weighing 3.7 tons, can simulate almost all the longitudinal and lateral forces as well as angles of inclination which occur in real vehicles. An image computer produces 180 degree picture of the road and countryside. The vehicle dynamics computer calculates the traffic situation and the commands to move the simulator according to a system of 2,000 mathematical equations around 100 times a second.
A main objective of ZF corporate management in the 1980s was to expand production's international basis. Everyone in Friedrichshafen was delighted when the Ford Motor Company from Detroit commissioned ZF to supply 500 000 fully synchronized 5-speed manual transmissions for pickups within five years starting mid-1986. A new hall with an area of 16 300 square meters was built in Friedrichshafen in a record time of six months, to accommodate approximately 300 employees. The high profit expectations never materialized, however, as Willi Schacher, Head of International Customer Service and Senior Vice President Market in I Division as of 1980, emphasized:
"On the day that the first transmissions were shipped to the US, the dollar had already dropped in value by more than 30 percent compared to the Deutschmark of February 1985. […] We paid on top for each transmission that we delivered."
The steep decline of the dollar exchange rate also provided ZF with a unique opportunity, however. Investments predominantly in the US now seemed much more attractive than they did a few years ago. ZF seized the moment and in 1986 founded three companies: ZF Industries Inc. in Dover/Delaware, ZF Steering Gear (US) Inc. in Brewer/Maine, and ZF Transmissions Inc. in Gainesville/Georgia. Every year, ZF moved an increasing share of its transmission production for Ford to its location in Gainesville.
The Nobel Prize for Physics in this year is awarded to the German Georg Bednorz and the Swiss Karl Alex Müller for the discovery of a new superconducting material. Superconduction takes place when material is cooled down to almost absolute zero (- 273.15 degrees celsius). Current can then flow without any electrical resistance. Bednorz and Müller discover a ceramic material that becomes superconducting at only -238 degrees celsius. It is forecast that this innovation will be just as significant a breakthrough as the electrical semiconductor.
In the mid-1980s, microelectronics gained significant ground in automotive manufacturing. For the first time, it became possible to fully decouple activation of the steering wheel from the steering angle on the wheels. With its Servotronic technology introduced in 1982, ZF presented the first steering system in which Servo support was designed to be dependent on speed. The steering assistance worked at full power when parking so that the driver was able to effortlessly execute parking maneuvers, even in the case of wide tires or heavy vehicles. Servo assistance diminished with higher speeds, thus increasing steering rigidity – and therefore also steering precision.
Volume production of the Servotronic began in 1986 for the BMW 7 Series, and shortly thereafter also for other vehicles. In Opel's flagship model, the Senator, ZF's electronically controlled steering assistance was even part of standard equipment as of 1987. In 1998, ZF presented the second generation named Servotronic 2. Technologically nothing had changed in the fundamental design, except that the electronic-hydraulic component of the steering system was more compact. Above all, however, cheaper production became possible so that its mass market adoption was swift. The Servotronic ranks among the most prominent success stories of ZF: 25 years after the start of production – in 2011 – the twelve-millionth system was shipped.
A wave of democracy sweeps through the countries of Eastern Europe like a hurricane. Old communist power structures quickly crumble. Pluralism and democratic elections change the political landscape in Eastern Europe. The policies of Michael Gorbatschow paved the way for these changes, allowing an independent development for former satellite states. Free enterprise systems are introduced almost everywhere as the last hope to revive the ruined national economies.
From the perspective of ZF, the hopes associated with the acquisition of Lemförder had been fulfilled. The division achieved stable growth and ZF was able to significantly expand its chassis technology portfolio. Furthermore, ZF now had a specialist on board who opened many doors at customers. As rendered in the 1989 Annual Report, Lemförder provided competencies in chassis technology and was "involved in all essential development projects of German and European original equipment manufacturers."
Friedrich Baur, who was succeeded by Klaus Bleyer as Chief Executive Officer at the beginning of 1990, was able to look back on the acquisition of Lemförder – the largest acquisition in the history of ZF to date – as a success. The critical press coverage of his initial years as CEO was forgotten when Baur extended invitations for his last annual press conference in July 1989. The Schwäbische Zeitung reported of "Annual Financial Statements […] beyond reproach […] with an almost spectacular improvement in profitability." In the 1980s, ZF had an overall impressive upswing and above all improved its own productivity: Between 1980 and 1989, the workforce grew 44 percent to 34,559 employees, while Group sales surged 157 percent to 5.47 billion Deutschmark over the same time period.
The ZF Art Foundation was established in 1990 to permit the promotion of culture independent of current business performance. "The idea was," states former ZF Chief Executive Officer Dr. Klaus Bleyer, "to take the numerous inquiries we were receiving from associations, initiatives and private persons in the Lake Constance region and bundle these in capable hands, and to also elevate our support activities to a new level of quality. Moreover, it was about making a visible commitment to Friedrichshafen as the location of our corporate headquarters."
As of the mid-1990s, the foundation increasingly focused its activities on individual institutions and events. In the meantime, there are permanent sponsorship relationships with, for instance, the Art Association of Friedrichshafen, the "Kulturufer" cultural festival and the Weingarten International New Music Festival. In 1996, funding was provided for the first special exhibition, entitled "The Art of Flying," in the newly designed Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen. In the same year, the ZF Art Foundation began granting scholarships to artists from countries sharing the Lake Constance coastline. The ZF Art Foundation has been supporting the International Piano Festival of Young Masters in Lindau since 1999. This engagement led to the idea of inaugurating a ZF Music Award for young pianists. The award was granted for the first time in 2001 as part of a competition. The ZF Art Foundation is now firmly established within the regional cultural landscape of Lake Constance. For this to remain the case, ZF has repeatedly augmented the foundation's nominal capital.
ZF reacted to the complete transformation of the political environment in 1989/1990 in a relatively restrained manner. When the company magazine, ZF Ring interviewed Chief Executive Officer Klaus Bleyer in March 1990 regarding the situation in East Germany, he promised "a sober review" only. Bleyer stated two reasons why ZF would not be pressing forward economically into the Eastern Bloc: For one, it was advisable to wait and see what direction the large automotive manufacturers were going to take. Another reason was that ZF already had long-standing relationships with Eastern Europe and correspondingly good knowledge of several market segments. In fact, contacts to the Soviet Union, where steering systems as well as commercial vehicle transmissions were being produced under ZF licenses, had existed since 1980.
ZF had been continuously working with licensing partners in Hungary since 1974. Relationships to operations in Yugoslavia went even as far back as 1967. In addition, ZF had invested a great deal of money and human resources in recent years into the development of a production site in North America, and the integration of ZF Lemförder was not yet concluded. It was therefore not surprising that corporate management was not very open-minded with respect to new large projects in East Germany.
Although there were no plans for major investments in the former East German states, ZF had been sounding out various companies in East Germany already prior to the reunification. The only tangible cooperation that emerged was with Getriebewerk Brandenburg. Although the acquisition of Getriebewerk Brandenburg had already been decided at the end of 1990, negotiations dragged on. The contract was not signed before March 1991.
The keys were officially handed over to ZF by the Treuhand on July 22, 1991, during a company-wide meeting. ZF management and the workforce in Brandenburg now faced a formidable challenge. The former East German transmission plant had to be completely renovated and needed, first and foremost, true development prospects. This could be guaranteed by ZF only if employees in western Germany were prepared to make concessions, as reported by former CEO Klaus Beyer:
"We decided to relocate production of the S5-24 CV transmission from Schwäbisch Gmünd to Brandenburg and to expand the plant in the east to a modern location for manual transmissions. Although we had to cut more than 3,000 jobs in 1991 and 1992 at the same time, most of them in western German ZF plants, the majority of our employees demonstrated their solidarity by supporting this process."
In light of the mounting crisis in the German automotive industry, the employee magazine ZF Ring in December 1991 questioned the assembly line approach widely implemented since the beginning of the 20th century: "The production methods predominantly used in Europe […] cannot keep up with growing customer expectations regarding quality, individuality, and speed. Plus, they are far too expensive. The greatest stumbling block in this area […] has proven to be the continuously developing division of labor." Pursuant to the ideal incorporated by Japan, where assembly lines had long been replaced by more autonomous group work, German manufacturers were now striking out in new directions as well - including ZF.
The previous Head of Production Karlheinz Erbacher remembers the startup phase of the new system:
"We initially installed three "pilot cells" in the Friedrichshafen Plant I in January 1992, in order to test the method of group work. However, a new mode of thinking among the workforce was also required. In contrast to before, every person in the group had to understand all process steps and each working group collectively bore the responsibility for "its" product. Conversion of the machines required when changing from one product to another was now also managed by the employees themselves. The noticeably higher efficiency and the growth in importance of each individual employee also sparked enthusiasm among the workforce. Soon, no-one missed the times on the assembly line."
At the beginning of the 1990s, cost pressure on the supply industry increased significantly. A major impetus for this was a shift in business relations between OEMs and suppliers, this transformation was predominantly initiated by one man: the Spaniard José Ignacio López, who had assumed responsibility for purchasing at General Motors, the world's largest automotive company, in 1992. By now, his philosophy had become defining for an entire industrial sector. Particularly the paradigm of unconditional cost-cutting had evolved into the method most preferred by many large automotive manufacturers.
This changed the tone between ZF and its customers, as Giorgio Doná, the general manager and stakeholder of ZF Italia Srl at the time, recalls:
"Previously, maintaining customer relations mainly functioned on the level of personal relationships, and engineering know-how combined with an exact technical knowledge of the products was also important. Under the new dogma, it was all about which supplier could grant maximum discounts while continuing to deliver high quality."
"China was at the top of ZF's agenda," emphasizes Siegfried Goll, who became Head of the Passenger Car Driveline Technology Division in 1993 and Member of the Board of Management in 1997. "The development of our business relations be-gan already in the 1980s, initially by means of license contracts. When I retired in 2006, we had no fewer than 20 production locations in China." The first joint venture was established in 1993 with Beijing North Vehicle Works (NVW). With ZF holding a 70 percent controlling interest, a joint service center was set up in the Beijing district of Fengtai. After a negotiation phase of two years, the first production company was founded in 1994 in the form of ZF Shanghai Steering Co. Ltd.
The production of steering systems in the joint venture between ZF (51%) and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. (49%) began by supplying the Volkswagen locations in China. In 1995 ZF invested more money into its foreign activities than it ever had since the founding of the company. Two new joint ventures were established in China alone: Liuzhou ZF Machinery Co. Ltd., which was founded together with the largest Chi-nese manufacturer of wheel loaders and hydraulic excavators, Guangxi Liugong, and Shanghai Lemförder Automotive Components Factory Ltd., a cooperation with Shanghai No. 8 Auto Components Works. ZF's position in China was so firmly ent-renched in 1998 that the first-ever founding of a fully-owned Chinese subsidiary was possible: ZF Drivetech Co. Ltd. in Suzhou.
In 1993, passenger car production in Western Europe, still the most important market for ZF, shrank by 15 percent. With heavy commercial vehicles, it even dropped by 29 percent. It now paid off that ZF had initiated a profound internal transformation prior to reaching this trough. From the perspective of corporate management, however, further job cutbacks were inevitable. This led to a dispute with the labor representatives, as they instead insisted on an expansion of short-time work.
Johann Kirchgässner, Vice-Chairman of the Works Council in Friedrichshafen at the time, remembers:
"Up to the summer of 1993, employees at the location regularly worked overtime. Our customers continued to place orders – but only because no-one wanted to be featured in the press as the first company in crisis. When the first customer then announced it would be adopting short-time work, almost all others quickly followed. We were convinced, however, that the economy would recover after a temporary dip. In contrast, the Board of Management believed that the sales slump would last longer. As a result, we supported short-time work while the Board of Management wanted layoffs. As the awaited upturn then actually occurred as we had hoped in 1994, ZF re-hired the majority of those previously laid off. The crisis in 1993 was undoubtedly a tough time, but it also had a positive effect: I would say that the works council as well as management drew important lessons from it."
Despite the dynamic growth in China, the US continued to be the most important export market for German automakers throughout the second half of the 1990s. ZF already operated several locations in the U.S., but the actual added value remained low. This changed as of mid-1994, when ZF built two plants for the manufacture of axles for the BMW Z3 Roadster in Spartanburg and Duncan (South Carolina). Volume production commenced at the beginning of 1996.
Under the management of ZF Passau, another production site was established in the U.S. university city of Tuscaloosa (Alabama) starting in 1996, 26 miles from the Daimler-Benz plant in Vance that was inaugurated in 1996. ZF was to manufacture the axles for the new Mercedes-Benz M-Class in Tuscaloosa. Here, too, the decision was based on the strategy of assembling the delivered systems in as close proximity to the customer as possible in order to guarantee just-in-time delivery. In contrast to the past, however, it was not only about production. The whole axle module was designed at ZF. The increased complexity of the requirements led to a new self-awareness. From now on, ZF defined itself as systems supplier.
In 1994, ZF took over the remaining 50 percent of Henschel Flugzeug-Werke GmbH in Kassel. In the marine business, ZF also bought HURTH Marine Gear S.p.A., headquartered in the northern Italian city of Arco, in January 1995. The Munich HURTH Group generated additional acquisitions in other areas. Also at the begin-ning of 1995, ZF purchased the rail drives and industrial trucks business units. In the former HURTH transmission plant in Gotha, which was now called ZF Gotha GmbH, a competence center for lift truck systems and the assembly of axle drives was established in the aftermath of the acquisition.
ZF faced increasing price pressure in the mid-1990s in its core business as automo-tive supplier. This engendered the necessity to relocate parts of production to lower-wage countries. In Hungary, where ZF had licensing partnerships since the middle of the 1970s, the company acquired a transmission plant from commercial vehicle manufacturer Csepel in the city of Eger in 1995. Starting in the following year, the plant, known as ZF Hungaria Kft., produced transmissions for lightweight and medi-um-duty trucks. In 1997 the opportunity arose for ZF to integrate the Renault trans-mission plant in Bouthéon (Loire department) into a joint venture. As of 1998, trans-missions belonging to the Ecomid model range for medium-duty commercial vehic-les were being manufactured in Bouthéon. The various acquisitions resulted in the emergence of a European production network.
By the end of 1995, teamwork had been introduced at ZF across almost the entire company. In parallel, corporate management strove to reduce waste and friction losses in the production process under the catchword of Total Quality Management (TQM). In an article that appeared in the Automobil Produktion magazine in 1992, ZF member of the Board of Management Hubertus Christ described the differences to the practice implemented up to that point in time:
"Company quality at ZF […] is today understood as a superordinate term that encompasses not only the quality of the parts […], but rather all activities in the company: from how we treat each other to the swiftness of correspondence and friendliness on the phone, to everyone working together to assure the quality of the final product."
While introducing TQM, ZF managed to liberate its internal suggestion program from its former shadowy existence. The great resonance, however, was accompanied by the challenge to also actually implement as many suggestions for improvement as possible. Up to now, dedicated colleagues were frustrated to discover that their ideas got lost in internal bureaucracy. ZF countered this by decentralizing the internal suggestion program and forging mentorship relationships between those submitting the ideas and their executive managers.
In the nineties, ZF entered unchartered technological territory with the AS Tronic, the first fully-automated truck transmission. The mechatronics, still in its infancy stage at the time, presented the developers with significant challenges. The efforts in this area seemed to make sense, however, as conventional methods of optimizing fuel consumption in commercial vehicles were largely exhausted. At the same time, the sales argument of efficiency was becoming increasingly important for vehicle manufacturers.
The electronic control unit ensured for the first time that, independent of the driver, the optimal gear was always being used for each operating situation. After about nine years of development work, the time had finally arrived: ZF volume production of the AS Tronic began in 1997. By the end of 2007, ZF had already shipped in 250,000th AS Tronic transmission, the half-million mark was surpassed in the summer of 2011. Even beyond the heavy truck segment, the AS Tronic established itself in coaches and a variety of special applications ranging from cranes to rail vehicles.
The idea of reanimating the manufacture of airships in Friedrichshafen never completely disappeared. In order to get the development of a new airship type off the ground, the Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH (ZLT), whose shareholders included ZF Friedrichshafen AG as well as its subsidiary Lemförder Metallwaren, was established in September 1993. In contrast to its historical predecessor, the "Zeppelin New Technology" (NT) was not developed as a rigid airship with a complete frame, but instead as a half-rigid design. Helium is used a gas filling – an expensive but safe alternative to highly combustible hydrogen. The propellers of the Zeppelin NT can be swiveled, which dramatically increases maneuverability, particularly when taking off and landing and when there are strong winds.
Eight New Technology airships have been built since 1997. In the meantime, actual flights are operated such that they cover their costs, but the development and acquisition costs cannot, in all likelihood, be amortized. Despite its precarious financial basis, the airships are as popular now as they were in the past. Since roundtrips on the Zeppelin NT began to be offered in 2001, almost 200,000 passengers all over the world have enjoyed this exclusive touristic adventure. In recent years, airships of this type have also been very successfully deployed in missions for climate protection and many other scientific applications. The NT has far surpassed expectations in this regard.
Despite the dynamic growth in China, the U.S. continued to be the most important export market for German automakers throughout the second half of the 1990s. ZF already operated several locations in the U.S., but the actual added value remained low. Elizabeth Umberson, who rose to the position of plant manager in 1999 as the first woman in the history of ZF to do so, recalls:
"When I first came to Gainesville, Georgia, in 1994 for an interview with ZF, the company was almost unheard of in the USA. This was no surprise, as the American locations procured almost everything from Friedrichshafen. Those responsible at ZF recognized the problem and set the course to further regionalize production in North America in the coming years. After ZF started allowing the U.S. business to grow independently, we achieved annual savings in the double-digit percentage range."
Against the backdrop of the new strategy abroad, ZF Group sales increased by about 62 percent between 1994 and 1999, while the workforce expanded by roughly 6.4 percent over the same time period – indications of a considerable jump in productivity.
In 1998, ZF exceeded the sales benchmark of 10 billion Deutschmark for the first time. It would not suffice to attribute this success only to ZF's rigorous process of internationalization. ZF also benefitted from a paradigm shift among the large auto manufacturers. Instead of banking on a large degree of in-house production or on the cooperation with a number of smaller parts suppliers as before, many OEMs at the end of the 1990s strove to procure complete vehicle systems from individual, very high-performance partners. A company like ZF, with considerably more than 30,000 employees at the time and already a major industry player, was able to take advantage of this trend.
In November 1997, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung re-ported that ZF had been granted approval to manufacture the axles for the new Mer-cedes-Benz M-Class:
"As easy as the word 'axle' sounds, so complex is the product that ZF produces for Daimler-Benz: hub, wheel bearing, steering knuckle, control arm, and sub-frame are as much a part of the system as steering gears, tie rods, and anti-roll bars, brake calipers, brake disks, and parking brakes, in addition to the axle drive and lateral in-put shafts."
Under the leadership of ZF Passau, a new location was established for this in Tuscaloosa (Alabama, USA), not far from Daimler-Benz production. The approach of assembling the delivered systems in as close proximity to the customer as possible in order to guarantee just-in-time delivery was not new. ZF had already built two plants in mid-1994 that were manufacturing axles for the BMW Z3 Roadster in Spar-tanburg (South Carolina) and Duncan (South Carolina).
Like almost all large technology companies, ZF has a vital interest in the availability of engineers and other highly-qualified specialists on the labor market. In 2000, ZF therefore funded the establishment of an automotive and system engineering degree program at the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University in Ravensburg. Since its founding in 2003, the private Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen has also been supported by ZF, through, for instance, the funding of an endowed professorship for human resource management and leadership. Furthermore, in 2006, donations of EUR 1 million went to the development of the IT infrastructure and the library.
Together with other companies in the automotive industry, ZF has been financing an endowed chair for automotive mechatronics at the University of Stuttgart since 2003. In 2010, university funding was expanded through the creation of three additional endowed professorships at the Cooperative State University Ravensburg-Friedrichshafen, the University of Ravensburg-Weingarten and the University for Technology, Business and Design in Konstanz. Moreover, there are long-standing partnerships with universities in China, including an endowed professorship established in 2012 for passenger car chassis technology at the Tongji University in Shanghai. 2012 saw the largest donation ever made to an educational institution to date: With a grant totaling EUR 20 million, ZF enabled the new construction of the Zeppelin University campus on the "Fallenbrunnen" former military barracks grounds in Friedrichshafen.
At the time of its acquisition by ZF in 2001, Sachs employed approximately 18,000 people. Through continuation of the Sachs business in its scope at the time, the ZF workforce increased by almost 50 percent. This signified the largest increase since the founding of ZF. Directly after the acquisition, Sachs was renamed to ZF Sachs AG. The ultimate challenge, however, was to integrate the former Mannesmann subsidiary into the ZF Group culture. "Communication between the companies and with the colleagues," stated Schweinfurt Chairman of the Works Council Willy Dekant, "is very good. […] Interactions with the Board of Management of ZF […] are not characterized by conflict – just the opposite. We encounter […] the attitude that we can and should first talk about everything. This integration […] predominantly means that a period of uncertainty and unease […] is coming to an end."
Similar to the acquisition of Lemförder in 1984, ZF banked on federalism: The renowned SACHS brand was maintained; ZF Sachs initially continued to act independently on the market with its own portfolio. The two traditional companies should merge only bit by bit. Hermann Sigle, Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Mannesmann Sachs since 1996, reports:
"Who knows where we'd be today if ZF had not provided us with this long-term prospect. On the other hand, we also brought in a lot of assets: Starting in 2000, while we were still a part of Siemens, we had initiated important investments."
The acquisition of the Mannesmann Group by British competitor Vodafone was sea-led shortly before midnight on February 3, 2000. The entire industrial division of Mannesmann, including future ZF subsidiary Sachs, had been incorporated into Atecs Mannesmann AG already in 1999. After the Mannesmann Group was bought by Vodafone, Atecs Mannesmann AG was sold to a consortium managed by Sie-mens and Bosch. Siegfried Goll, Member of the ZF Board of Management since 1997, describes the situation as follows:
"Bosch and Siemens then proceeded to break up the conglomerate it had acquired. Although the Sachs portfolio was a very good fit with that of ZF, we began with con-crete negotiations at a relatively late stage. At this point in time, there were multiple parties interested in an acquisition, but each wanted to assume only a portion of the traditional Sachs business. ZF, on the other hand, announced that it intended to integrate all four main divisions – powertrain, chassis technology, rubber-metal connections, and the spare parts business – to the fullest extent possible. This earned us a great deal of approval with the internal responsible parties in Schwein-furt."
In light of the magnitude, the subsequent acquisition by ZF of Mannesmann Sachs went fairly quickly and smoothly. Klaus Bleyer, CEO at the time, headed the year-long preparation phase and successor Siegfried Goll signed the relevant contracts in August 2001. These became effective in October 2001.
When it was announced in the 2001 Annual Report that ZF and Sachs fit together "like the nut on a bolt," it was more than a catchy marketing slogan. The clutches, torque converters, and shock absorbers produced by Sachs corresponded to the dri-ve units, transmissions, and steering systems, as well as with the axle systems and chassis components of ZF. The full technological potential of the Sachs acquisition was first realized through coordinated product development, however.
An example of this is the application of different ZF technologies since 2009 in the Mercedes-Benz CapaCity articulated buses, used in public transportation in Stutt-gart and Istanbul, for example. ZF-EcoLife transmissions are used in these 19.5 me-ter long vehicles. The cost-effectiveness of the units is based, among other things, on a torque convertor that enables high acceleration values at low engine speeds. The system philosophy can also be found in the chassis: The portal axles, including the independent suspension, originate from ZF Passau, the related twin-tube dam-pers are Sachs products. At the time of the Sachs acquisition in 2001, however, a true merger of the different product divisions was only possible as a longer-term goal. Initial potential synergies on a Group level were predominantly of an economic nature. Due to its broader portfolio and larger potential order volumes, ZF became more of a heavyweight in the competitive arena.
In 2003, ZF corporate management, after obtaining agreement from the Dr. Jürgen Ulderup Foundation, decided to change the ownership structure. On May 13, 2003, ZF took over 100 percent of Lemförder Metallwaren AG, and the foundation exchanged its previous 24.4 percent of the ZF subsidiary for a 6.2 percent share in the entire company. The remaining 93.8 percent of ZF share capital stayed with the Zeppelin Foundation. The share swap served the purpose, among others, of creating more transparent structures in the growth segment of passenger car chassis technology. This made it easier for ZF to realize cross-divisional developments and to make the appropriate investments.
The "ZF hilft." association is an impressive example of how ZF's social engagement is actively supported by the contribution of numerous employees. It was the devastating tsunami that occurred on the coasts of the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004, and cost approximately 230,000 lives that prompted the founding of the association in April 2005. After the first campaign garnered roughly EUR 477,000 through cash donations and the conversion of working hours, ZF augmented the amount to arrive at a sum of EUR 1 million.
Under the banner of "Help for Self-Help," several projects were realized over the subsequent period. In 2010, for instance, "ZF hilft." made EUR 350,000 available for microloans to women in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh so that they could set up an economically independent existence. In 2011, the association donated EUR 100,000 for the victims of the earthquake and reactor catastrophe in Japan. In 2012, EUR 415,000 was collected for projects in Chad and Kenya. 2013 was dominated by support for victims of flooding at the ZF Passau location. As many colleagues were also impacted, the generosity of the workforce reached a record level: EUR 750,000 was compiled by the association; an additional EUR 250,000 was supplemented by the Group.
In the anniversary year of 2015, ZF launched the largest humanitarian relief project in the company's history: the "100 Years – 100 Schools" campaign in cooperation with UNESCO. The ambitious goal: to finance 100 educational institutions in the poorest regions of the world.
Already prior to the merger with ZF, foundations for the CDC Continuous Damping Control had been laid at Sachs. By means of an electronically adjustable proportional valve, it was possible to smoothly regulate the oil volume – and therefore also the damping strength at each individual wheel. This meant that chassis properties were able to be adapted constantly during operation. Sensors in the vehicle provided the data needed for this, such as values concerning body, wheel and lateral acceleration.
The first volume production application of CDC was in especially sporty models under the Opel brand, including the Opel Astra. CDC was also offered for commercial vehicles as of 2006. Not only the adjustment of the actual design, but also the further development of the software played a vital role in this case.
In 2005, ZF Group sales exceeded EUR 10 billion for the first time. Compared to the level of 1995, this represented more than a doubling of sales. The automotive sector continued to be ZF's most important industry by far. At the beginning of the new millennium, several global trends were discernible here: Growth in the automotive sector increasingly shifted to Asia, especially to China and India. Traditional automotive markets such as the U.S. or Germany were undergoing a profound change: Intelligent and efficient vehicles were increasingly popular – with consumers as well as in the political arena.
In this respect, ZF benefitted from the experience it had gained with alternative drive concepts. At the IAA Commercial Vehicles in 1994, ZF presented the EE drive, an electric wheel-hub motor purpose-built for low-floor buses. The technology was verified over the following years in large-scale field tests, in, among others, Oberstdorf, Leyden and Berlin. An all-electric bus by MAN was occasionally used as shuttle transport between the Friedrichshafen ZF plants. For many ZF employees, this was probably their first encounter with an electric vehicle in normal road traffic. In the meantime, ZF had continued to successfully develop this alternative driveline concept for city buses in the form of the AVE 130 electric axle. At the 2004 IAA, DaimlerChrysler and ZF presented a prototype of the Mercedes Sprinter, which could be operated purely electrically, with potentially zero-emissions, for short distances of up to 30 kilometers.
At the 2006 IAA Commercial Vehicles in Hanover, ZF presented the new EcoLife bus transmission, which depicted a further development of the successful Ecosplit transmission. The name comprised the word "life" to signify its longer service life compared to the predecessor, in particular its increased temperature resistance. The 6-speed automatic transmission possessed a two-part cooling system for this purpose: transmission and retarder heat exchangers were separated, which enabled not only a lower oil temperature during normal operation, but also allowed an increase in retarder brake performance by up to 40 percent.
Numerous other detail improvements also ensured that actual fuel consumption was reduced again by about five percent compared to the last Ecomat generation.
After approximately four years of construction, ZF revised the successful 6HP automatic passenger car transmission in 2006. The basic mechanical design remained unchanged but electrohydraulic controls and the software were modified significantly. These concerned not only further reductions of fuel consumption, but, above all, increasing shift dynamics and shift precision.
With the second generation, ZF succeeded in rebutting claims that automatic transmissions with hydrodynamic torque converters consumed more fuel and were less dynamic. Compared to the first generation, the new unit used three percent less fuel in the official standard cycle, with diesel engines even six percent. -> At the same time, the transmission featured new damping technology which enabled it to compensate rotational irregularities even in diesel engines with a greater power-to-weight ratio. This proved advantageous to engines with a lower number of cylinders in particular. Furthermore, changes to the electronic system and hydraulic control unit enabled an increase in shift speed and shift comfort.
In order to extend its international development network, ZF founded ZF Engineering s.r.o. in Pilsen (Czech Republic) in July 2007, thereby simultaneously acquiring the Czech company Value Engineering Services. The aim was to actively participate in the continuous growth of development sectors abroad. The new company with initially around 150 employees was to focus primarily on software and mechatronics.
In order to gain a foothold in the future field of hybrid drives, ZF formed a strategic alliance with automotive supplier Continental in 2005. Volkswagen commissioned the alliance in 2006 to build a complete hybrid drive module. A prototype of this new product was introduced already at the 2007 International Motor Show in a VW Golf V. Volume production begin was planned for 2008, but actually started first in 2010 when the VW Touareg underwent a facelift. ZF, however, was able to launch its proprietary hybrid technology onto the market already in 2008: The Mercedes S400 Hybrid introduced the same year encompassed an electric motor by ZF Sachs.
Despite the intensity of development in the direction of alternative drives, no one in ZF management believed that the conventional combustion engine would be re-placed anytime soon. "Over the long term," stated Dr. Michael Paul, Member of the Board of Management responsible for development, in an interview in 2009, "different types of drivelines will exist in parallel."
Already in 2007, ZF had presented an 8-speed automatic transmission (8HP) which featured 6 percent fuel savings compared to the 6-speed unit. In light of the fact that there were still numerous vehicles on the road with 4 or 5-speed automatic trans-missions, the effective savings when switching to the 8HP were often significantly higher. The transmission, which already encompasses a hybrid version in its construction kit, was developed across several locations and divisions, whereby potential customers were also intensively involved in the development process.
The start of volume production of the 8HP took place already in 2009.
In the meantime, the entire automotive industry was suffering from the impact of the global financial and economic crisis that broke out in 2008. Manufacturers of trucks and construction equipment in particular were severely affected. Sales in the corresponding divisions at ZF plummeted in part by more than 50 percent. Although less hard hit than the commercial vehicle sector, the worst recession since the end of WWII also took its toll on the passenger car industry: European production of passenger cars dropped 17 percent in 2009. The swift market rollout of the 8HP was not influenced, however, as manufacturers needed the new generation of transmissions to optimize fuel consumption in their vehicles. Since then, the 8HP automatic passenger car transmission has flourished to become one of the most successful products in the history of ZF: Approximately 7.5 million units were produced between 2009 and 2014.
In 2009, as the international economic and financial crisis hit its peak, ZF Group sales were about 26 percent below the level of 2007. ZF had to report an operating loss of EUR 421 million. Given the dramatic numbers, it speaks for ZF's successful crisis management that no permanent jobs were cut and even the North and South American locations, which did not have the instrument of short-time work at their disposal, were able to get by with a relatively small number of layoffs. In total, the overall number of employees declined by a mere one percent between 2008 and 2009. Di-verse measures to secure liquidity resulted in savings of approximately EUR 600 million.
In hindsight, ZF's strategic position even improved in the wake of the crisis: ZF was able to win significant additional market share in the US as a supplier for Chrysler. In France, ZF bought Fonderie Lorraine, located near Saarbrücken, from bankrupt Honsel AG in 2010. In 2011 the Honsel plant in Nuremberg was taken over as well. ZF thus consolidated the previously outsourced production of automatic transmission housings under its own roof.
The Wissenswerkstatt (Knowledge Workshop) association was inaugurated in Friedrichshafen early in 2009 and advocates learning already in childhood. Peter Köpf, Head of Development at the ZF Group at the time, explains the approach:
"Our idea was to spark, in children and young people – in particular also girls, an early interest in technology. To realize this, we designed a 450 square-meter learning workshop, which had approximately 4,000 young visitors per year. ZF subsidized the not insignificant costs with a grant of EUR 2 million. This guaranteed funding for the next ten years. The approach was so successful that we have gradually introduced it to other locations in Germany – Passau, Schweinfurt, Schwäbisch Gmünd, Diepholz and Saarbrücken. For me, the Wissenswerkstatt is, at the same time, a good example of the long-term thinking that characterizes ZF. We invest in the future, even if its success cannot immediately be measured in terms of profit. This is why I always enjoyed working here."
In the anniversary year of 2015, this Friedrichshafen association moved into a glass-enclosed, open workshop space on the premises of the newly constructed ZF corporate headquarters. The fact that the educational project, to which ZF engineers volunteer their time, is in the direct vicinity of the Group Board of Management offices demonstrates the importance of the initiative.
When ZF built the plant in Berlin in 1926 and thus first started producing outside of the Lake Constance region, the Group also began to struggle with the tension between regional identity and global strategy. Its continuous commitment to "unity in diversity" characterized ZF and manifested in a certain autonomy for the individual large plants. The decentralized structure posed some difficulties, however, such as when customers were provided with numerous contacts for the same vehicle project. The purpose of reorganizing the four divisions, which ZF launched under the slo-gan of "Go4ZF!" in 2010, was to ensure a clear division of competence, also to the outside.
The transformation was also apparent in the fact that nearly all German ZF compa-nies (with the exception of ZF Services GmbH, ZF Luftfahrttechnik GmbH, and ZF Lenksysteme GmbH, which was operated as a joint venture with Bosch) were merged into ZF Friedrichshafen AG, effective on August 1, 2011, and acted as a uniform entity.
The automatic transmission of the 8HP model range was in such great demand that production capacity in Saarbrücken was expanded as early as 2010. Despite its re-sounding success, there was still room for new products in the automatic passenger car transmission segment. As Head of Development Michael Paul emphasized, it seemed "important […] to make high-quality, efficient technology available and affordable for smaller and less expensive models too. After all, one thing is clear: The-re is a shift in demand towards smaller vehicles." In order to be able to offer an appropriate product here as well, ZF engineers worked on the world's first 9-speed automatic transmission (9HP).
It was intended for front-transverse installation and was therefore, in contrast to the 8HP model range, also suitable for compact vehicles. For the first time, high-performance control electronics developed by ZF Electronics we-re implemented into the ultra modern unit. ZF Electronics had emerged from the ac-quisition of the Cherry Corporation in 2008. The unit was introduced to international experts and the press in June 2011; production commenced in 2013 at the US loca-tion in Gray Court, South Carolina.
In 2010 ZF decided to build a new plant for the production of wind turbine gearboxes in the US city of Gainesville. The initial plan was the new development of a gearbox for the 2-megawatt platform by Danish global market leader Vestas. This required entirely different production logistics compared to the ZF production methods to date: There were almost no parts that could be moved manually. The considerable weight of the individual gears and housing necessitated new processing methods that ZF had to develop in parallel to the product itself.
The idea was to benefit from the competence already available on the wind power market. In November 2011, ZF acquired Belgian specialist Hansen Transmissions International NV, which operated plants in China and India in addition to production in Belgium. ZF thus instantly rose to the number 3 position in the global market for wind turbine gearboxes. Under the designation of "Atlas 1," ZF finally, in February 2014, introduced the first wind turbine gearbox developed under the ZF brand. ZF invested heavily in infrastructure in order to be able to offer customer service relating to the new product. In Dortmund and Vernon Hills (Illinois), regional wind energy service centers were established that each had the capacity to handle approximately 200 repair orders per year. When the market for wind turbines showed signs of recovery in 2014 after experiencing several years of economic slowdown, ZF was prepared to help shape the future of a key segment in energy supply.
While the German locations were moving closer together in the wake of the "Go4ZF!" structural changes, indications abroad were pointing toward expansion. Construction on a Beijing plant for the assembly of passenger car axles began in 2012, and production started in 2013. This represented the first ZF production location in the Chinese capital. Furthermore, ZF intensified its cooperation, ongoing since 1995, with LiuGong, one of the largest manufacturers of construction equipment in the world. In a new joint venture, axles for wheel loaders, customized for the Chinese domestic market, were now being produced in southern Chinese city of Liuzhou.
ZF's engagement in China was surpassed only by its investment in recent years in another foreign market: the US. After the acquisition of a plant for the production of axle drives in Marysville (Michigan) in 2009, realization of a production expansion for electric power steering systems in Florence (Kentucky) in the business year 2010, and the formation of a new wind turbine gearbox production line in Gainesville (Georgia) in 2011 and 2012, ZF completed a factory in Gray Court (South Carolina) by the summer of 2013 for the manufacture of the new 8-speed and 9-speed automatic transmissions.
After production of the ZF 7DT dual clutch transmission began in 2008, ZF continued development on the unit until it evolved into the world's first 7-speed manual transmission in 2012. Using the 7DT technological basis entailed a technical challenge: The gears for the speeds were not in the conventional sequence on both transmission input shafts. In order to offer the driver the familiar H shift system anyway, a mechanism was developed under the umbrella of ZF that converted the movement of the hand lever such that the right gear was engaged each time. This development was patented under the designation of "MEKOSA" (mechanically converted shift actuator).
After the international financial and economic crisis of 2007 to 2009, there was a growing trend in the automotive market towards smaller and efficient vehicles. In order to also offer a corresponding product in this segment in addition to the very successful 8HP, ZF engineers had been working on the world's first 9-speed automatic transmission (9HP) since 2009. It was intended for front-transverse installation and was therefore suitable for compact vehicles. For the first time, a high-performance electronic control unit developed by ZF Electronics was used in the ultra modern transmission.
ZF Electronics had emerged from the acquisition of the Cherry Corporation in 2008. The unit was introduced to international experts and the press in June 2011; production commenced in 2013 at the US location in Gray Court, South Carolina. The market introduction in Chrysler and Land Rover models took place in the same year.
More than 25 meters (80 feet) long, around 2.5 meters (eight feet) wide and weighing up to 40 tons when fully laden – ZF’s IAA star in the year 2014 is impressive, even when it’s standing still. But during maneuvers in narrow spaces, it becomes clear just how ZF’s new platform has earned its name. When parking the huge vehicle, there’s no need for anybody to sit behind the wheel – nor is there any need to switch on the diesel engine. At low speeds, the truck can be remotely controlled from a tablet outside the cab, moving and parking on battery power alone. This is only possible thanks to cutting-edge technology from ZF – technology networked together in innovative ways to create a “maneuvering assistant”.
“One global ZF” was the slogan for the many celebrations of the company’s centennial that took place throughout 2015 – celebrations that focused on encouraging global exchanges between ZF employees. A number of employees with unusual life stories toured ZF locations around the world, making contact with colleagues in different disciplines.
In addition, trips to other ZF locations were among the prizes won by employees who took part in hands-on activities such as “My photo with the Big 100!” and “ZF memories”. The company wanted to give as many employees as possible the opportunity to experience “one global ZF” for themselves – in person, at first hand.
Family Days are a well-established ZF tradition, enabling ZF employees to show off their workplaces to their families. They all shared a common theme: the ZF centennial, offering ZF teams yet another opportunity to compare notes. And a dedicated intranet set up especially for the Anniversary acted as a platform for virtual dialog between employees.
With the integration of TRW into the ZF Group and the building of the new division ZF TRW "Active & Passive Safety Technology" two industry champions join their forces and leverage the Power of².
The combined company has a strong complementary product portfolio of leading technologies.
The portfolio combines the powertrain and chassis technologies including e-mobility solutions and electronics of ZF with the safety, steering, braking and autonomous driving technology of TRW.
This very comprehensive portfolio is the right answer to the mega trends in an increasingly disruptive industry such as autonomous driving, safety and fuel efficiency.
Watch the video to discover how the company has taken the technological lead globally since then.