Global driveline and chassis technology leader, ZF Friedrichshafen AG, has recently made certain changes to the way the organisation is managed globally, in an effort to reinforce its growth in some of the most important global automotive markets. As part of this strategic development, the company has appointed Dr Holger Klein as Member of its Board of Management (L). Dr Klein, who apart from managing two global divisions – global aftermarket and global chassis technology business – is also responsible for the Asia Pacific region, including India.
In fact, for a company that has largely been managed from its headquarters in Friedrichshafen, Germany as well as Detroit in the USA, it is now trying to give Asia Pacific and India a special role in its overall company strategy. India has now been established as an individual region within ZF’s own internal structure. In an interaction during the recently held FISITA World Automotive Congress in Chennai, Dr Klein explained why this development must be seen as the company’s commitment to drive reach and relevance in this market, which, he reiterated, is an extremely important market for ZF.
At the biennial FISITA congress, ZF showcased a wide variety of technologies, including its ProAI super computer, electric drive, seat belts, airbags, clutch cover XTend, clutch by wire and advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) for the passenger car segment. In the CV space, it showcased clutches, dampers & automated manual transmissions, which are scheduled for launch by 2020. ZF had also lined up for experience a demo vehicle equipped with the company’s advanced chassis technology solution mSTARS (modular Semi-Trailing Arm Rear Suspension).
ROLE OF CHASSIS IN FUTURE MOBILITY
We asked Dr Klein for his views on the chassis, keeping the changing dynamics of mobility globally. Certain technologies within the chassis portfolio will undergo a huge transition, said Dr Klein while explaining that the chassis is becoming more and more important on a global basis. This is interesting because, fundamentally, however modern a car gets, it will still have four wheels, brakes, some kind of steering and suspension systems. If a powertrain changes, that’s disruption; but when the chassis change, it has to be an evolution, he reasoned.
There is apparently a growing demand for high performing chassis. Sporty vehicle brands, for instance, want to have the mechanical aspect of the chassis still intact, but are adding electromechanical systems for road stabilisation, braking, ESP, etc. From an electromechanical perspective, the chassis itself still needs to be top-notch, he said. Even in the case of other segments, especially in larger cities, future chassis would need to electrically driven, should produce zero emissions, should be smart enough to connect to other vehicles, enable advanced driver assistance functions when necessary, and should be lightweight and offer additional comfort.
BEYOND CURRENT TECHNOLOGY
One of the global megatrends of autonomous driving bears importance from a chassis perspective. Any autonomously driven vehicle needs redundancy. What happens if the steering system fails? How do you still bring the vehicle into a position, where it can stop? Last year, ZF introduced mSTARS, a modular axle system that combines driveline and chassis technology in a single system. The system can be upgraded in line with customer requirements by adding an electric or conventional drive module as well as Active Kinematic Control (AKC) rear axle steering.
As a solution, it could get into hybrids, fuel-cell and battery-powered vehicles as well as in combination with conventional all-wheel modules or our AKC active rear axle steering. With mSTARS, OEMs would have the opportunity to respond to a diverse range of market requirements using just one car platform variant.
Speaking about mSTARS, Suresh KV, President, ZF India (R), said it is a good example of how ZF’s global engineering teams work together to develop technologies that meet local market needs. mSTARS can help ZF’s customers to meet the new requirements for lightweighting specified in the upcoming Bharat VI norms from April 2020, he said.
For ZF, bringing all of these together, by adding diversity of opportunities to influence vehicle dynamics for comfort or performance, is how it views the future of chassis systems. It’s a vehicle motion control; it’s an electrically driven device with more and more intelligence, said Dr Klein. Many in the industry want everything in one chassis, but that would render the chassis extremely expensive. ZF has the capability now to offer a fully integrated chassis that covers most of the features, and also offer chassis with specific requirements and solutions. Take the Intelligent Dynamic Driving Chassis (IDDC) for example. That is ZF’s vision of how urban mobility will look like in the future, as it meets all conditions for autonomous electric vehicles.
At the end of the day, said Dr Klein, every product will have a cable. From mechanical to electromechanical to connected (for condition monitoring, for adjustment, for failsafe actuation, etc), the chassis is becoming more and more intelligent and connected. Moreover, there is modularity and flexibility being built in. This, of course, is also posing a challenge for the organisation from a people perspective. Chassis systems were all about mechanical engineers earlier, but now they need expert combinations of software, mechanical and electronics engineers to work together, he explained.
As Suresh said, the future chassis would depend on what the customer wants. All the customer needs to give ZF is a framework of fitments. That flexibility becomes important especially in a market like India, he noted. The company realises that during the evolution of the market, it will need to continue to cater to the entire market and address various demands. But it is mindful of the future, and is investing heavily in developing solutions that would address future mobility demands, and will put the company at the forefront of growth.
TEXT: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah