While ZF hunts for a permanent CEO, the company is searching for a high-profile customer to showcase its array of autonomous technology.
Rival Bosch has formed a technology alliance with Mercedes, while Autoliv is collaborating with Volvo. Denso is working with Toyota, and Delphi, Magna and Continental are in partnership with BMW.
As the alliances introduce self-driving vehicles onto the world stage, these big suppliers are betting that other automakers will be more likely to adopt their technology. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, for example, has agreed to use technology developed by BMW's group.
"All of those alliances plan to offer turnkey solutions to other automakers," said Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst with consulting firm Navigant in Chicago.
To avoid being left out, ZF has made a number of moves to beef up its technology portfolio.
In 2016, the company launched Zukunft Ventures, a unit formed to manage ZF's investment in technology startups. Zukunft subsequently acquired a 40 percent stake in Ibeo Automotive, a maker of lidar in Hamburg, Germany.
And in June this year, ZF announced a partnership with chipmaker Nvidia and Hella — a leading supplier of cameras and radar — to develop a complete system for self-driving cars.
ZF produces sensors and software for intelligent cruise control, and it is marketing its self-driving technology under the rubric: "See, Think, Act." But it lacks a marquee automaker that will showcase ZF's system.
Company spokesman Horn said ZF is "in talks with a premium OEM," but the company has nothing to announce yet.
Abuelsamid says ZF needs such an alliance to establish its credentials.
"They make a lot of component parts, but I haven't seen any automaker adopting a large-scale system from ZF," he noted. "If ZF doesn't partner with anybody, they might get relegated to Tier 2."