Transmission specialist ZF Friedrichshafen is one of Germany's largest automotive suppliers. About 80 percent of the company's A5.3 billion in revenue in 1999 was in automotive sectors. ZF is Europe's biggest independent manufacturer of automotive gearboxes, and also has a large steering systems business through a joint venture with Bosch. It is also a major supplier of driveline modules and systems.
ZF has 54 plants worldwide. North America has been a focus of the group's recent development. ZF Chairman Klaus Bleyer talked about that and other matters with Automotive News Europe reporter Edmund Chew.
ZF has grown at more than 10 percent annually in recent years. Will you maintain that?
We are continuing along the lines of recent years. The incoming order and output figures in the first quarter for nearly all 29 business segments worldwide show a very clear two-digit increase. We also expect two-digit sales increases in North America, Asia, and South America.
What effect is the consolidation of vehicle makers having on your business?
We view this development as positive. Larger organizational units of manufacturers nearly always increase the chances that the core business in the technical area is defined more closely. We anticipate the requirements of the market and our key customers and adapt our performance accordingly.
What has taken you by surprise in your markets this year? Which areas are growing faster than you planned or expected?
Worldwide economic growth this year and the next will probably be better than predicted by international experts in the autumn of last year. There is increasing demand in the markets.
How is your North American business developing?
ZF has a much better position in the NAFTA region now. Business in North America amounted to about one quarter of total ZF sales in 1999. In our joint venture with Ford we have a majority interest in the automatic transmissions plant in Batavia, Ohio. We also have a 50: 50 joint venture with Meritor to produce and sell transmissions for commercial vehicles in the United States.
Are you looking to increase the number and scope of your alliances with other suppliers?
In certain regions and product lines cooperation with suppliers or customers via joint ventures is useful. It is in the interest of fast and efficient opening-up of new markets. We are pursuing this approach with clearly defined targets.
How will e-commerce affect your business?
It is very important to constantly improve the performance chain between vehicle manufacturers and suppliers, so that we become faster and more cost-effective. The use of e-commerce we prefer the term e-business promises significant improvement in the next few years. We also expect increased pressure on prices and shipping flexibility across the entire performance range.