Schaeffler Group's expansion of its Wooster, Ohio, transmission plant is a small-ticket project compared with some of the German company's recent U.S. market developments — only $2.5 million. And the necessary hiring for what Schaeffler plans to do there is relatively modest — just 300 additional people for a plant that, with 2,000 workers today, is the town's largest employer.
But Schaeffler's bigger plan for Wooster represents significant change for the maker of combustion engine and transmission parts. And it's change that many automotive companies around North America also are contemplating.
Schaeffler intends to transition into a supplier of new-era technology. Its product plans include electric-vehicle propulsion systems and advanced mobility technologies, such as the single-speed transmission for Audi's new all-electric e-tron SUV.
To get there, Schaeffler and other manufacturers face a planning question: Can the same work force that made metal stampings and mechanical parts be transformed into a work force that produces components for the digital, electrified and autonomous vehicle age?