Q&A: Karmann, ZF jointly develop concept for Frankfurt show

Friedrichshafen, Germany. At the Frankfurt auto show, suppliers Karmann and ZF Friedrichshafen are exhibiting a joint concept vehicle: a convertible based on an SUV. Automobilwoche spoke with Michael Paul, the head of development for ZF, and Karmann CEO Bernd Lieberoth-Leden about the goal of the joint project.

What is the purpose of your joint project?

Paul: ZF is demonstrating its know-how in powertrain and chassis. For one thing, with this concept vehicle we are showing our integration capability. Also, together with our partners in the supplier sector, we can present these integrated solutions and offer them in the market.

Lieberoth-Leden: We are extremely well established in the industry as a specialist in the development of niche vehicles and body concepts. But no company today can do everything by itself. ZF and Karmann complement each other magnificently because they are active in areas that have wonderfully clear interfaces with one another and don't overlap.

In the future, will there be little left for the manufacturers to do in these areas?

Paul: We don't intend to take any competencies way from the manufacturers and we also don't want to show our customers that we have to give a vehicle a certain character. But we want to show manufacturers that we are on the same level with them and that we stand ready with integrated solutions, in a form that so far hasn't been offered within the industry.

How did the concept vehicle originate?

Lieberoth-Leden: The interest came from both sides. There already had been repeated contacts between the firms at one point or another last year. The starting signal for the concept vehicle was in spring 2004.

How much have you invested in the project?

Paul: We aren't offering any details on that. The figure also isn't easily calculated, in that at the same time we pursued many other development threads that aren't directly tied to this car. Without doubt, it was and is a very expensive project. With final adjustments, the convertible will be drivable in spring 2006.

What hopes are both companies pinning on this joint work?

Paul: Due to the great number of model variations, we see the trend toward manufacturers assigning a greater scope to their suppliers. With this concept vehicle, we are showing that we are ready. But we are still gladly selling our customers components, transmissions and controls.

Lieberoth-Leden: We let many ideas flow into the vehicle. But not with the expectation that all these ideas will be accepted by a vehicle manufacturer on a one-to-one basis. We rather would like to stimulate appetites with the concept and show the creativity and the potential for execution that rests in both houses. Everything is possible. It can be joint projects with ZF and Karmann, it can also be individual projects that only involve one of the companies.

What are you figuring the market potential for a "sport-utility convertible" to be?

Lieberoth-Leden: We are figuring the potential to be considerable. Up to 180,000 units could be sold annually, roughly speaking. By our calculations, the whole market would probably be around 350,000 units a year. We are primarily looking at North America and Europe as markets.

With this concept vehicle, are you getting into competition with Magna International Inc. for vehicle production?

Lieberoth-Leden: Magna is a public company. Karmann is a small and family-owned enterprise. ZF is a foundation company. Thus we have no need for a comparable publicity effort. But we very much want to show what ZF and Karmann can deliver together. A vehicle like this convertible so far hasn't been conceived by any other company.

In the future, will there be closer business relationships between ZF and Karmann?

Paul: There will certainly also be project-oriented cooperation in the future. But the concept vehicle isn't the signal for a betrothal or marriage. They are continuing on as two separate companies.

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