Global technology and component major ZF held its annual Technology Day earlier this week in its home-town of Friedrichshafen. Even as it conducted world premieres of many systems solutions around autonomous mobility and EVs, it announced the start of series production of the smart autonomous people-mover to be produced under its e.GO Moove venture from 2019. CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider spoke to Amit Panday about ZF's growing connect with India, the technical centre in Hyderabad and plans to localise its modern-generation transmission systems and chassis components for commercial vehicles in India from 2018. Excerpts from the interview:
Where does India stand in ZF’s global scheme of things?
The Indian market was difficult for many years. However, with consequential changes in making it easier for the companies, for the economy, for transportation and for the other boundaries, it has become much easier over the last few years. I am very confident about the Indian market with reasonable growth rates to continue.
For ZF, India is one market where maybe we have the highest expectations from looking forward to the coming years. We will strengthen our position in India. We already have a good establishment with some strong partners and joint ventures and I think for the Indian market this is also a good success story.
The (Indian) market has always proven to have very specific roads to be successful and our Indian partners have helped us in a very good way over the past few years to understand this market better than we might have understood it on our own. So we are very encouraged to grow our India business and strengthen our position there.
We have recently decided that India is not going to be the part of Asia Pacific within our organisation. We have organised it as an individual region, reporting directly to the Board of Management (in Germany HQ). You can see that this is already a sign that we are counting on it for good opportunities over the coming years.
Is this to achieve increased agility in Indian operations to suit local requirements? Is there any mid-term plan that ZF is following for India?
Our new organisational setup (in India) strengthens our local executives in the Indian market and gives them much more power and also visibility as the direct link to the Board of Management in Germany. We have asked the team in India to strengthen their strategy. We will be able to say more on this in the next 12 months.
You had mentioned about the development of ZF ProAI super computing system for autonomous vehicles. Is there any role that the company’s India-based (Hyderabad) technical centre is playing in its development?
Absolutely. Hyderabad is our first software and hardware centre in India. Although the majority is software (development), we don’t see it as a software development centre alone. We also have engineering capabilities for the mechanical and electronic domains. But for the software, it is certainly a very important hub for creating the functional roadmap of, for example, the automated driving functions or our other system views of software-driven devices.
This centre plays a very important role. Actually, it was incorporated for that. It is not only a centre that gets the tasks from other development centres but also gets to innovate and to take over global leads for some functions.
Can you elaborate on the India connect that the ZF ProAI has?
The ProAI basically is a super computer with tremendous hardware power. The functionality obviously is what brings it to life. We have a huge amount of functions to program on this unit, and in Hyderabad a lot of those functions come to life right now.
Are there any plans of expanding the Hyderabad-based technical centre in the near future?
Absolutely. We have grown tremendously. We have doubled the headcount this year, and we probably will double the headcount next year too.
On the safety front, India now has a mandate of compulsory airbags in cars. The annual car market is over three million units and it continues to increase. How do you view this opportunity within TRW’s growth plans?
We are looking at those opportunities to strengthen our position. Obviously, it depends on the discussions with our OEM customers. There are several discussions going on for the future projects.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken about Make-In-India initiative on his previous visit to Germany. ZF currently exports substantial made-in-India components to its other locations worldwide. How do you view this as India positions itself as a global manufacturing hub? Also, what are your views on the government’s push for vehicle electrification in India?
Yes, we are pushing even more products into India. We are currently exporting damper systems that we localise in India. We will do this on a much larger scale than we did in the past, this is happening right now.
Vehicle electrification is always a question of acceptance from the consumers in terms of price and infrastructure. We are looking at it and I am sure that India will jump on the train. I don’t know yet if India will be able to meet the ambitious goals but I am certainly looking at it.
Also read: ZF India Technology Centre becomes a pillar of innovation within a year of launch
Self-driving people-mover with ZF tech to start series production in 2019