Germany's ZF Group leads the way forward in driveline and chassis technology
The best automatic gearbox is the one that the car owner forgets about, according to ZF Asia-Pacific vice president (powertrain technology) Dr Harald Massmann.
"The car owner won't even notice it is there; the best automatic transmission is fuel efficient, smooth and just works without fuss, all the time. Yes, you can say this is ZF doctrine when it comes to making automatic passenger car transmissions," he said during a recent media briefing by the ZF Group in Shanghai, China.
The highlight of of the briefing was the German automotive supplier's award-winning 9-speed automatic transmission (9HP) for passenger cars.
Designed for vehicles with a front-transverse engine, it is the world's first 9HP for passenger cars and was first unveiled at the 2011 Detroit Auto Auto Show.
ZF's 9HP can be found in the Jeep Cherokee and Range Rover Evoque, as well as the 2015 Chrysler 200 mid-size sedan.
With two model ranges, the compact 9HP covers a torque range between 200 and 480Nm.
With the 9HP, fuel consumption can be up to 16% lower when the front-wheel drive vehicle is driven at a steady 120kph, compared with today's typical 6-speed automatic transmissions.
"About 75% of all passenger cars worldwide are front wheel driven – with numbers increasing sharply. That is why we came up with 9HP for front wheel drive," said Massmann.
Massmann pointed out that the 9HP uses a torque converter, and "drivers set great store by the starting and manoeuvring comfort provided".
Journalists at the ZF event were also took cars such as the Audi A8 L, Porsche 911 Targa 4S and Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk on short laps at the Shanghai Tianma Circuit.
Besides chassis and suspension components, and steering systems, ZF supplies the transmission systems for these cars.
These are namely, the 8-speed automatic transmission in the A8 L, the 7-speed double clutch transmission (Porsche Doppelkupplung - PDK) in the 911 Targa 4S and the 9HP in the Cherokee Trailhawk.
Germany’s ZF Group is among the top 10 largest automotive suppliers worldwide, with products ranging from transmissions and steering systems as well as chassis components and complete axle systems and modules.
The global player in driveline and chassis technology is famed for supplying innovative passenger car technology to automotive marques such as Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Bentley, Maserati, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover and Rolls-Royce.
The technology company is present in 26 countries, with 121 production companies.
The ZF Group has a strong global footprint; be it a new axle plant for passenger cars in Beijing, or in the field of commercial vehicles; the production launches of Traxon - the automatic truck transmission system, as well as low-floor technology and transmissions for city buses in Asia and South America.
In Asia-Pacific, the ZF operates many plants – in addition to its 23 production locations in China, the group has six in India, and two each in Australia, Malaysia, and South Korea, and one in Thailand and Taiwan, respectively.
Also, ZF’s customers include important transport operators in Asean, such as SMRT Corp Ltd and SBS Transit in Singapore, Rapid KL in Malaysia, and TransJakarta in Indonesia.
"Asia-Pacific is the growth engine for the world's automotive industry," said ZF Asia-Pacific president Rudi von Meister.
"We want to apply our strengths to Asia Pacific - these include a focus on global sourcing, high and consistent quality of products, a design to market doctrine - where we adapt product costs, performance and life span for the requirements of local markets," said von Meister.
Efficient power transfer
The demand for automatic passenger car transmissions has risen sharply in the past decade, noted Massmann.
"Modern automatic transmissions make for more comfortable driving, and also help in fuel efficiency," he said when speaking about ZF's second generation of the 8HP, the 8-speed automatic transmission.
The new 8HP from ZF is more fuel efficient by 3%, without taking into account the vehicle's optional start-stop function that offers even greater fuel savings potential.
ZF is offering the 8HP for input torques between 220 and 750Nm.
Meanwhile, ZF also offers the second generation of its 6-speed automatic transmission (6HP) which is said to combine seemingly conflicting properties such as driving fun, high performance, and economical driving at the same time.
This 6HP is produced in seven variants, at a ZF transmission plant in Shanghai.
Customers of the 6HP include the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp (SAIC), Jiangling Motors (JMC), Great Wall Motors (GWM), and Ford Australia.
Another highlight from ZF is the world's first manual transmission with 7 gears (7MT), which celebrated its premiere in 2012 in the Porsche 911.
Meanwhile, hybrid transmissions and hybrid components from ZF show their advantages in numerous current volume production vehicles.
For example, the hybrid version of the 8HP is in the BMW Active Hybrid 7 and the Audi Q5 hybrid quattro.
The ZF hybrid module is also installed in the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid.
On the local front, ZF entered the Malaysian market in 1981, and today, supplies products to the port and transportation industries, and automotive OE (original equipment) segment.
ZF Sales & Service (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd has a comprehensive range of OE products covering 95% of the automotive and marine independent aftermarket.
For the aftermarket parts business, the company recently expanded its Sachs range of shock absorbers to cater for more Japanese and Korean passenger car models.
There are ZF absorbers available for 90% of Proton and Perodua models, as well as selected Japanese and Korean cars in Malaysia.
ZF is also a supplier of transmissions, low-floor axles for buses and rail shock absorbers to Prasarana Malaysia Bhd, which owns and operates rail and bus services in the country.
These products include the ZF EcoLife 6-speed automatic transmission for inner-city line buses.
Benefits of the ZF EcoLife, which is fitted in more than 500 buses in Malaysia, include better braking performance due to an integrated primary retarder, fuel savings of up to 5%, improved acceleration, smooth gear changes, reduced noise, and longer oil change as well as extended service intervals.
In November 2013, ZF Chassis Systems Sdn Bhd also opened a plant in Kulim, Kedah to supply complete front and rear axle systems to BMW Malaysia.
Meanwhile, ZF's operations in Malaysia will see some changes in 2015 due to recent corporate manoeuvres on the global stage.
Robert Bosch GmbH is taking over joint venture partner ZF's 50% stake in ZF Lenksysteme, which produces steering systems for passenger cars and commercial vehicles at 20 locations worldwide including Penang, Malaysia.
ZF Lenksysteme's subsidiary ZF Steerings (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd has a Penang plant, set up in 1984, that supplies steering solutions to automakers such as Nissan, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Perodua.
Also, ZF Group's ongoing merger with Livonia, Michigan-headquartered TRW Automotive Holdings Corp will change the new combined group's business structure worldwide.
In global terms, this merger which is due to be completed in the first half of 2015, will create a new giant in the automotive supplier industry.
The merged companies will have total annual sales of about 30 billion euros (RM129bil) and 138,000 employees.
With the merger, sales for the ZF Group will more than double in China and the United States, the two largest automotive markets in the world.