Calendar year 2015 heralds the start of an important anniversary year for ZF: One hundred years ago, in 1915, ‘Zahnradfabrik GmbH’ was founded. In an eventful history, ZF has seized its entrepreneurial opportunities and developed into a leading technology company in driveline and chassis technology.
In September 1915, Zahnradfabrik GmbH appeared for the first time in a trade register. Consequently, 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the ZF Group presenting an anniversary year for the company and its global network of 71,600 employees. All 122 ZF locations worldwide will be involved in the anniversary activities, thereby strengthening the common understanding for the long term.
The Group can be optimistic about the future: ZF is currently facing the largest acquisition in the company's history – with the purchase of the US company TRW Automotive, ZF will join the top three in the global automotive supplier industry and thereby supplement its competency portfolio as well as its worldwide market presence in order to serve the global megatrends better.
A look at ZF's chronicles shows an eventful company history during which ZF developed from its roots as a supplier specialized on the aviation industry to a global mobility technology company – in spite of all the breakdowns and crises. Its founding at Lake Constance 100 years ago had its origins in Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH, which was headquartered there at the time and which was also a shareholding partner of Zahnradfabrik: The task of the newly founded company was to develop, test, and manufacture ‘gears and transmissions for aircraft, motor vehicles, and motor boats’. A few years later, ZF offered its technology to automotive manufacturers and became an important transmission supplier of this still young German industry. By using its own know-how and acquiring licenses, ZF enhanced its product portfolio: Steering systems for automobiles and commercial vehicles were added in the 1930s, as well as drive units for field tractors. However, before and during the Second World War, armament production dominated the three German ZF locations at the time. ZF also employed forced laborers in all plants. By the end of the war, their number rose to 2 800.
After the war ended, ZF began to produce its civilian products in 1946 – starting with field tractor transmissions and commercial vehicle transmissions. Its innovative strength helped the company enter new market segments, for example with the volume production of the first multi-ratio transmission for passenger cars in 1965. 50 years later, ZF has established itself as one of the technology leaders in this segment. In parallel with this, ZF began to expand its international presence with the early construction of a production location in Brazil in 1958.
Shortly afterwards, ZF began producing locally with its own locations in the US (1979) and in China (1993). ZF also used expansions and corporate acquisitions as growth opportunities: In 1984, for instance, the company purchased the Lemförder Group, thereby entering the worldwide business of chassis components and later chassis systems for passenger cars and commercial vehicles. In 2001, driveline and chassis components for passenger cars and commercial vehicles followed with the former Mannesmann Sachs AG: Real net output ratio was increased and additional innovations were brought to the market. Today, these innovations are closely linked with the name ZF, such as the adaptive damping system CDC (Continuous Damping Control) and the hybrid-technology.
Today's ZF portfolio includes driveline and chassis technology products such as transmissions, driveline and chassis components, as well as complete axle systems and modules. ZF technology is used in passenger cars, commercial vehicles, construction and agricultural machinery, rail vehicles, and marine applications. The company also focuses on the wind power and electronic components business.
Activities during the anniversary year
"ZF's history is an example of how to exploit entrepreneurial opportunities together," says ZF CEO Dr. Stefan Sommer. "All ZF employees can be proud of this – from the development as well as the production departments, from the domestic company parts that have always been a part of ZF or from a part that joined ZF later". Thus, ZF employees should have reason to celebrate this anniversary year – at all current locations around the world: ZF employees can share their own opinions on the anniversary year via an anniversary portal and exchange views. Family Days at the larger locations around the world will also include family members of the currently about 71 600 employees in the festivities. A traveling exhibition will get to the heart of ZF's history.
Sustainable range of expertise
It is not only about the past, but also about the innovative culture and therefore the sustainability of the ZF Group. With its current product range, ZF says it is well prepared for the big trends of the future: from fuel efficiency and reduction of CO2 emissions, lightweight design, electrification and networking, to autonomous driving. In this process, the Group enjoys a high degree of internationality and boasts a considerable global footprint with its 122 locations on four continents.
Many of these megatrends are already being served by ZF with its production-ready technology, such as in plug-in hybrid transmissions for passenger cars. For others, ZF has presented studies and concepts over the past few years, such as the Innovation Truck recently at the 2014 International Motor Show. This truck is a long truck-trailer combination that can be remotely controlled by a tablet and outside the driver's cab thanks to ZF's networked maneuvering assistant.
Currently, ZF is planning to purchase the US automobile supplier TRW Automotive. The union of the two companies under the ZF umbrella will create the third largest automotive supplier in the world during the ZF anniversary year, with a sales volume of over EUR 30 billion (US$ 41 billion) and about 138,000 employees. The ZF Group, supplemented by TRW, will then provide a comprehensive and complementary product portfolio in the areas of driveline and chassis technology, safety and electronic systems, and will have a regionally-balanced and customer-specific portfolio in both the volume and the premium segments, with a strong presence in the most important automobile markets of Western Europe, the USA, and Asia-Pacific.