FRIEDRICHSHAFEN, Germany — Holger Klein, CEO of ZF Friedrichshafen, said young automotive brands such as Tesla, Nio, Xpeng and Lucid are pushing the old German supplier in a different way than traditional automakers.
"They have a different expectation on speed," he said. "Speed is king."
The emerging brands want ZF's newest technologies as quickly as possible, even if some bugs haven't been eliminated in development.
"If your latest innovation feature doesn't work as reliably as you would expect from a German premium brand, it's somehow OK," he told Automotive News Europe during a recent roundtable discussion at the supplier's headquarters here. "This happens when the customer wants a particular car and a particular function and is willing to accept some deficiencies."
The privately held ZF is the world's No. 3 auto supplier globally, with estimated 2022 revenues of $42.1 billion, according to Automotive News' Top Suppliers ranking.
That urgency doesn't mean that ZF is willing to compromise on its proven development processes or skip quality steps, Klein emphasized. It just means that ZF knows the newcomers will be tolerant.
"I think that makes many of them faster," he said. "It is demanding to keep pace with this speed."
But it can also be rewarding.
Klein said that because emerging automakers approach business — and their customers — differently, they sometimes see opportunities where others see failure.
He cited ZF's retractable steering wheel as an example. The steering wheel can be folded back into the dashboard for more space and a customized environment for the driver. ZF showed the tech concept in 2016 at the Geneva auto show. Klein acknowledged that the reaction was harsh.