Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated the value of ZF's plant expansion. The investment is $215 million.
RAY COURT, S.C. -- To help meet growing demand for fuel-efficient transmissions, ZF Friedrichshafen AG announced last month a $215 million expansion of the company's plant here.
ZF plans to boost production of eight- and nine-speed automatic transmissions by 50 percent to 1.2 million units by 2016. Stefan Sommer, ZF's CEO, spoke recently with Special Correspondent Richard Truett.
Q: ZF has introduced the world's first front-wheel-drive nine-speed automatic transmission, which is going into the Range Rover Evoque and the Jeep Cherokee. So where do you go from here? 10 speeds?
A: We calculate that adding a 10th gear would not contribute that much to fuel economy. I can imagine that nine speeds could potentially be the limit. Most times I am not fixed on the number of gears. We are looking at the performance and the contribution to fuel economy in relation to the number of gears. At the end, if the spread of gears -- so that I can drive at higher speeds with lower revs -- can be reached with nine speeds, then we would not add another gear because that would increase weight.
How will ZF make transmissions more efficient without adding gears?
We are concentrating on low friction, on light weight, using new materials and new and innovative designs, like [compact interlocking] dog clutches to give us high efficiency.
Does the nine- and 10-speed transmission deal between General Motors and Ford affect ZF? Would ZF be a supplier of parts to those transmissions?
We would like to be a supplier of parts. Currently we see that as the new benchmark that we will have to adjust our technology to. I am very much looking forward to the challenge.
How do you see ZF growing in the coming years? Would it be through acquisitions and joint ventures, or by growing organically by developing new technologies and winning new customers?
Organic growth. We currently have very successful products which mainly address the issue of fuel economy with gearboxes and lightweight technologies. We are investing in expanding our plants worldwide.
Maybe in one or another technology niche we could acquire another company.