Friedrichshafen. The year 2015 is an important anniversary year for ZF: One hundred years ago “Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen GmbH” was founded. Throughout its rich history, ZF has leveraged entrepreneurial opportunities and evolved into a leading technology company in the fields of driveline and chassis technology, as well as safety and electronic systems.
On September 9, 1915, “Zahnradfabrik GmbH,” headquartered in Friedrichshafen, Germany, was entered into the trade register of the Tettnang district court. Therefore 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of ZF. All ZF locations worldwide will participate in anniversary activities, connecting with colleagues all around the world. The company is looking to the future with a feeling of optimism: Completing the acquisition of listed company TRW Automotive under the umbrella of ZF in May, right during its anniversary year, has made it the third-largest automotive supplier in the world with a sales volume of more than EUR 30 billion (more than US$ 41 billion) and more than 130 000 employees. With the addition of TRW, ZF now has a comprehensive and complementary product portfolio in the areas of driveline and chassis technology and safety and electronic systems. This gives the company a regionally-balanced, customer-specific portfolio in both the volume and premium segments, with a strong presence in the most rapidly-growing automobile markets of Western Europe, the USA, and Asia-Pacific.
Seizing opportunity throughout its rich history
ZF boasts a rich history that has evolved, despite some interruptions and crises, from its roots as a supplier specialized in aviation technology to a global mobility technology company.The “Zahnradfabrik” (gear factory) was founded on the shores of Lake Constance 100 years ago as a spin-off of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH, which was headquartered there at the time and was also a shareholder in the newly founded company. Its purpose was to develop, test, and manufacture “gears and transmissions for aircraft, motor vehicles, and motor boats.”
Just a few years later, ZF began offering its technology to automotive manufacturers, becoming an important transmission supplier in an industry that was still new to Germany. Through its own expertise and acquiring licenses, ZF expanded its product portfolio by adding steering systems for automobiles and commercial vehicles in the 1930s, as well as drive units for tractors and ships. Leading up to and during World War II, however, armament production dominated the three German ZF locations. Like many German companies throughout WWII, German ZF locations used forced laborers. Their numbers rose continuously, reaching about 2 800 by the end of the war.
In 1946, after the war ended, ZF restarted production of its civilian products beginning with tractor transmissions and commercial vehicle transmissions. The company’s innovative business approach helped it enter new market segments including volume production of the first multi-ratio transmission for passenger cars in 1965. Now, 50 years later, ZF is the established global technology leader in this segment. At the same time, ZF began expanding its international presence by building a production location in Brazil in 1958. This was followed by starting its own local production facility in the USA (1979) and in China (1993). ZF also used expansions and corporate acquisitions as growth opportunities. In 1984, for instance, the company purchased the Lemförder Group, entering the worldwide business of chassis components and, later on, chassis systems for passenger cars and commercial vehicles. In 2001, ZF acquired the company formerly known as Mannesmann Sachs AG, adding powertrain and suspension components to its product portfolio. This increased production depth and enabled the company to launch innovative products to the market, making a name for itself in the process. Today, ZF technology is closely associated with the brand, including the adaptive damping system CDC (Continuous Damping Control) and hybrid technology.
Today's ZF portfolio includes driveline and chassis technology products, such as transmissions, driveline and chassis components, complete axle systems and modules, and active and passive safety systems. ZF technology is used in passenger cars, commercial vehicles, construction and agricultural machinery, rail vehicles, and marine applications. The company also focuses on wind power technology and electronic components segments.
Activities during the anniversary year
“ZF’s history is an example of how to work together to leverage entrepreneurial opportunities,” said ZF CEO Dr. Stefan Sommer. “That is why all ZF employees can be proud – regardless of whether they work in the Development departments or in Production, whether from a German company division that has been with ZF from day one or those from a division added later.” ZF employees have every reason to celebrate this anniversary year and can do so at all current locations worldwide. By visiting the anniversary portal, employees have the opportunity to discuss their perspectives on the anniversary year and to share their ZF anniversary experiences. Family Days at locations worldwide will also enable the friends and family of ZF employees to join in the celebration. A traveling exhibition will visit several of the company’s major locations. It will focus not only on ZF’s eventful history, but also the company’s broad social commitment, its values, global presence, and its power of innovation and future technologies.
A special anniversary event awaits the ZF employees on July 4, 2015: a festival to be held in front of the famed Zeppelin hangar in Friedrichshafen. All employees will receive free entry to performances by the hip-hop band “Die Fantastischen Vier” and the former “Reamonn” frontman Rea Garvey. The main anniversary ceremony in Friedrichshafen will be held on September 9, the day of the company's entry into the trade register at the Tettnang district court exactly 100 years ago. Very soon the company's history, as well as its newest products and technology, will have a dedicated exhibition area in the ZF Forum, the new corporate headquarters at the Friedrichshafen location. Starting in 2016, this area will house permanent exhibits as well as changing subject-specific exhibits, which will be open to interested visitors.
Range of expertise viable for the future
These exhibitions are not only about the past, but also about ZF’s culture of innovation and its future viability. With its current product range, ZF is well equipped to face the major trends of the future, from fuel efficiency and CO₂ emission reduction, lightweight design, electrification, and networking to autonomous driving. At the same time, the company enjoys a high degree of internationality, boasting a strong global presence with more than 230 locations on four continents. ZF is already facing many megatrends with its mature high-volume technology, such as plug-in hybrid transmissions for passenger cars. There are other megatrends for which ZF has, in past years, presented studies and concepts, most recently, the ZF Innovation Truck at the 2014 International Motor Show, Germany. It is a long truck-trailer combination that can be controlled by a tablet outside the driver’s cab using ZF’s networked maneuvering assistant.