ZF Friedrichshafen has spent the year aggressively building up expertise to help it capitalize on the move toward autonomous driving. The key moves include forming partnerships with Faurecia to develop new interior and safety technologies and with Hella for front camera systems, imaging and radar systems. ZF has also teamed up with chipmaker Nvidia to develop artificial intelligence systems that will be used in forthcoming autonomous vehicles. ZF Board Member Peter Lake explained the importance of forming partnerships during an interview with Automotive News Europe Managing Editor Douglas A. Bolduc.
What is driving ZF to form so many new partnerships?
We're in a period of unprecedented change with the move toward automated driving and the need to reduce emissions. During such periods, companies need to assess where they have their strengths and weaknesses. The answer is not to develop everything organically or always to buy another company but to form alliances and collaborations.
Isn't it also driven by the high cost of developing these new solutions?
There's a lot of investment. If you look at the expenditures, we're spending more as a percent of sales and we’re spending more total dollars or euros on r&d. Therein lies the challenge. You've got to be big to be able to afford this. No one has the time or the budgets to be able to pursue every avenue. And it's not entirely clear which technology will prevail in certain instances. Working in alliances provides you the opportunity to do more. Time and speed are probably more important than the dollars at the end of the day. If you have to put something together to be able to respond to a market, you haven't got time to develop everything.
Are suppliers better positioned than automakers to benefit from megatrends such as the move to connected, autonomous and electrified cars?
We are doing everything we can to position ourselves for that because we obviously think it's a good thing. Some of the bigger manufacturers are extraordinarily capable and they are going to do a lot on their own, such as putting the system together. They are not going to manufacture the camera and things like that. They will look to others to do that for them. At the other end of the spectrum, you're going to have those automakers that will look for a turnkey solution. Companies such as ZF can serve both ends of that spectrum.
How fast will we see the move to fully autonomous cars?
It will take a while to see how these things develop because there's so much to work out. I use the phrase: It's not what you know, it's what you don't know. It will be an evolution not a revolution. Some of the more extreme claims being made 12 to 18 months ago have been not proved to be realistic, such as Level 4 autonomous cars being an option in 2018. The direction is clear, but it will take time to get there.