You may or may not have heard of one of the biggest automotive engineering groups in the world, but chances are, you probably use something made by them. ZF’s have been making steering systems in India since 1984 and that’s not all. The clutch on the Ford EcoSport is made by ZF, as is the electric steering system on the new Nano Twist, and chassis components on the XUV500. The Nissan Terrano uses ZF’s chassis components too, and the eight-speed auto on the BMW 5-series (our favourite tech from ZF) is made by the company, as is the sensitive damping control on the Merc E-class. These are just a few ZF technologies that go into the cars we drive and there are many more.
It’s not surprising then that the company sees India as its second-largest sales market in the Asia Pacific region, and to satisfy the growing demand in this region, ZF recently started construction of a new plant on 21 acres of land in the Chakan Industrial Park near Pune. The company is investing Rs 150 crore in the project and the new facility will unite ZF’s car powertrain and commercial vehicle technology, as well as be the headquarters of the company’s engineering and administration divisions in India. Here’s a look at some of the exciting new tech that ZF has developed.
The nine-speed automatic
Already in use in the Range Rover Evoque, the nine-speed automatic is unique because it is developed for front transverse-engine passenger vehicles, and that means the gearbox has to be compact, thanks to the space constraints between the front wheels. The 9HP, as this gearbox is known, doesn’t use the conventional method of placing gearsets one behind the other longitudinally, as this would increase the length of the gearbox considerably. What this gearbox uses is four simple gearsets and six shift elements controlled by hydraulically operated constant-mesh units. A multi-stage torsional damping system minimises hydraulic losses by allowing the lock-up clutch to be engaged quickly at low speeds, thus lowering emissions and maximising fuel efficiency. ZF claims fuel savings of 10 to 16 percent. And, for the first time, ZF developed and produced all the electronics for this transmission in-house. The gearbox can even be connected to an additional transfer case for all-wheel-drive applications.
The automated manual transmission
ZF is working hard on automated manual transmissions (AMT), a technology that recently made its entry into the Indian market through the Maruti Celerio, and is expected to find its way into a few more models. ZF says AMTs equipped with its actuators and control electronics enhance the fuel efficiency of a vehicle by 3 to 8 percent. The figure goes up to 15 percent in city traffic with the start-stop feature.
ZF claims that the savings might be even higher in the future as its engineers design more diverse automation components and control units, and with the use of a coasting feature where the automatic transmission disengages as soon as the driver slows down the vehicle. Another possible function is the Hill Holder, which makes it easier to set off on steep roads. The combination with hybrid technology is also on the agenda of ZF developers for future product generations of the AMT. “ZF has catered to the automatic segment since the early ’90s. We have a large experience and we hope to bring it to India,” says Piyush Munot, MD, ZF India. The ZF AMT will bring the company’s knowhow to a much wider audience, thanks to its cheaper costs.
Electric axle drive
The company is also working on an electric axle drive system, developed for small and mid-size passenger cars. The drive module, positioned centrally on the axle, offers a mechanical output of 90kW (120 horsepower) and 173kgm of torque. It mainly consists of the electric motor, a gear transmission unit, and power electronics including control software. A Suzuki Splash (the Ritz in India) with this technology is already on tests in Europe and it can accelerate from 0 to 100kph in less than nine seconds. In an advanced configuration, ZF integrated the power electronics into the electric final drive and thus raised its power output to 120kW (163 horsepower) and axle torque to 255kgm. In this format, it lends itself also for vehicles in the upper mid-size class – both as a purely electric drive and as an axle hybrid module.
Another green offering that can make its debut here later is the Electric Twist Beam (eTB) which is already in the prototype stage. Its essence is an electric driveline in microcars and subcompact cars that is integrated into a semi-independent rear suspension. The compact units with a transmission and an electric motor are fitted into aluminium housing which are mounted to the right and left wheel. Each of the two electric motors supplies 40kW (53hp). Furthermore, the two separate drive units enable a targeted torque distribution for each individual wheel. According to ZF, the arrangement of the motors keeps the effects on unsprung masses low, and the intelligent integration of functions ensures that there is a lot of free space in the center of the vehicle.
The chassis connection points of the eTB are comparable to those of traditional axles which simplifies the integration into existing model platforms.