GLASGOW, Scotland - ZF Friedrichshafen AG has been known primarily as a manufacturer of manual and automatic transmissions as well as other driveline components.
But in the four years since acquiring chassis maker Mannesman Sachs, ZF also has become a key player in the chassis business. ZF's chassis business represents about 50 percent of its total 2004 worldwide sales of 9.9 billion euros, or about
$12.47 billion at current exchange rates, according to the company.
CEO Siegfried Goll wants the chassis business to account for 60 percent of sales within five years.
"Now we have a balance between transmission and chassis," Goll said at an interview here. "In the next five years, we would like to expand the chassis business."
Goll also said ZF can increase its North American revenue - now about 16 percent of the total - to 20 percent in a few years. Growth will come from Ford Motor Co. and General Motors as well as Asian transplants in the United States, he said.
"It's important to have the transplants from Europe and Asia," Goll said.
ZF Group NAO, the North American unit of ZF, ranks No. 26 on the Automotive News list of the top 150 suppliers to North America with North American original-equipment parts sales of $1.70 billion in 2004.
The North American growth will come primarily from the chassis side, Goll said.
ZF's North American development center is in Northville, Mich.
ZF production of chassis systems has grown dramatically. Mannesman Sachs made 85,000 chassis sets in 1996. By 2004, that number had grown to 966,000, ZF said. It forecasts it will produce 1.3 million systems this year.
German manufacturers are the backbone of ZF's total sales. But recently the company broadened its customer base with chassis systems for the Land Rover LR3 and Range Rover Sport. In the United States, ZF supplies axle systems for the Mercedes M class and R class; BMW Z4 and X5; Ford Freestyle and Five Hundred; and Mercury Montego. It also supplies the CVT and torque converter for the Freestyle and Five Hundred.
ZF's six-speed automatic transmissions are used in European luxury vehicles such as the Audi A4, A6 and A8; Aston Martin DB9; Bentley Continental; and BMW's entire lineup.
Goll says ZF is working on automatic transmissions with more speeds, but they will not be available for two years.
ZF has about 7,000 employees in North America.