STUTTGART -- Hans-Georg Härter, CEO of drivetrain specialist ZF Friedrichshafen, is seeing an alarming number of the companys suppliers heading toward financial trouble because of the global financial crisis. ZF is giving short-term loans to suppliers squeezed by the credit crunch, or paying higher prices for their components. Härter expects the economic situation to worsen in the first quarter. He spoke with Automotive News Europe Industry Reporter Bettina Mayer.
What is ZF doing to support its suppliers?
We are helping strategic suppliers with temporary measures such as short-term loans or paying higher prices for parts.
Can you give a forecast for 2009?
We are dealing with different scenarios. We do not have any reliable figures from our customers so it is very difficult for us to plan. But I guess sales will go down and that will affect employment.
Will you reduce your dependence on the auto industry like Robert Bosch is doing?
The automotive business is about 81 percent of our turnover and will remain our key business. But we want to expand our non-automotive business.
Are you planning further investments in new technologies such as hybrid and electric drivetrains?
We set up serial production site for hybrid technology in Schweinfurt, Germany, in May. The first cars will come off the assembly line of our customer this year. We also are working on alternative drivetrains including electric powertrains.
Are your customers canceling or delaying joint projects with you?
Some are delayed for two to three months. Some are delayed for two to three years.
In the current financial situation, our customers projects are being prioritized and scheduled differently. But if it is a project that saves fuel, the current economic crisis has less effect on it.
What about your axle and chassis plant in Russia that you planned with AvtoVAZ?
The project was put on hold but now it is revived. AvtoVAZ got Renault as a new investor and they re-examined their strategy. There is no contract yet but we are very confident. I think it will be sorted out in first half of 2009.
It would mean setting up a production site in Togliatti [Russia]. The investment will be somewhere in the area of a double-digit million amount.
ZFs eight-speed dual-clutch transmission will launch soon. Are you working on a nine-speed system?
We are working on options for the next generation. It does not mean that the next generation will have nine speeds. But I do not rule it out.
Are you trying to make the unit smaller and lighter?
We are working on weight optimization, increasing its efficiency and optimizing the installation space.