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ZF's global technological prowess gives a glimpse into future tech for India

Driveline and chassis systems from the German component manufacturer go into a wide array of vehicles already on sale in India

Range Rover Evoque with ZF 9-Speed automatic transmission

ZF is one of the world’s top component and systems manufacturers but in India, the company wasn’t too active in the passenger car segment. ZF India mainly focused on commercial vehicles and construction equipment but is now looking at expanding its footprint by providing its technological expertise to car manufacturers. The systems manufacturer if you recall, recently provided the Nano with a power steering unit. You might also be aware that the famed 9-speed Range Rover Evoque transmission is also a ZF unit. Come to think of it, it’s this range that makes ZF quite important to the automotive industry.

Let us list a few here – the clutch in the EcoSport, chassis components in the Terrano and Duster, shock absorbers in the race Polo, 8-speed automatic transmission in the BMW 5-series and Jaguar XF, the rack and pinion servotronic steering in the XF, damping system in the E-class, it’s a very versatile manufacturer. How many times have you spared a thought for a particular component of a car? Not often, we’d guess. Yes, we are critical or full of praise for various aspects of a vehicle and the credits or brickbats are delivered straight to the manufacturer. But the manufacturer, although having a final say in a component’s development, doesn’t have the time or the expertise to develop each component or system of a car on their own. They rely on tier-1 manufacturers like ZF, who behind the scenes ensure that collectively, the entire car is a good package. 

Tata Nano Twist with ZF column type EPS

 We got to sample some of these technologies at an event organized by ZF in India, and at the end of the day, walked out quite impressed with the range of systems the German manufacturer had to offer and the contribution of that system to make the product better. Take the Nano for example. If there was one criticism it received since the car’s launch, it was the lack of a power steering. The effort put into the little hatchback at crawling speeds was way too high for comfort and ZF solved that. Building the EPS in the Nano was a challenge due to space constraints so ZF chose to adopt a column type system instead of the rack and pinion unit. It is the smallest steering unit ZF has ever built. Tata Motors seems to be satisfied with the response to the Nano’s steering since the carmaker has given contracts for the Bolt and Zest steering system which is also a column type unit to ZF.

ZF 9-speed automatic transmission

At the other end of the spectrum was the Range Rover Evoque with the 9-speed automatic transmission that’s new to the 2014 model. Gearshifts are super quick and seamless and it also has an adaptive shifting system that changes according to your driving style. It has the ability to skip gears as well when required. This compact future-ready gearbox delivers 10 percent lower fuel consumption than before according to ZF. 

Mercedes E-Class with ZF sensitive damping control

Being a German components and systems manufacturer, ZF has excellent ties with the German troika of Audi, BMW and Mercedes. The 8-speed ZF unit in the BMW 5-series is also shared with the Jaguar XF. The 5-series in fact gets a long list of ZF kit in it. Besides the transmission, it gets the torque converter, the gearshift system, axle system, continuous damping control, active roll stabilizers, chassis components and a few electronic components. So you see BMW’s dependence on ZF for the highly popular 5-series is quite high. On the E-class, ZF provided the sensitive damping control system that adapts itself to the way you drive. When you are driving normally and the car is unruffled, damping forces in the shock absorbers are automatically reduced. But take a series of bends or a rapid evasive action and in time, you get maximum damping forces for stability.

ZF also makes clutch and transmission actuators as well as control software for automated manual transmissions. Since we have taken to AMTs in a big way, ZF is hoping to get a share of the pie soon. At present, the AMT in the Celerio and the upcoming Zest compact sedan is made by Magneti Marelli. 

Suzuki Splash/Maruti Ritz with ZF electric axle drive system

ZF is also getting future ready as well with a few prototypes. The company has developed an electric axle drive system for small and mid-size cars. The system is undergoing testing on a Suzuki Splash in Europe (Maruti Ritz). With 90 KW of power and 1,400Nm of torque, the car can accelerate from 0-100kmph in 9 seconds. Once the national electric mobility mission plan kicks off, Maruti could be very interested in this product. 

ZF recently opened a new manufacturing facility in Pune to cater to its expanding product portfolio in India. We might just be seeing a lot more from this German component and systems manufacturer in the coming years.

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