ZF Friedrichshafen has won a contract from Lotus to supply its CubiX software to help the sports car maker tune chassis functions on the Eletre electric SUV.
ZF wins Lotus software deal, eyes big gains in key sector
The German supplier is counting on CubiX to help it diversify away from hardware and tap into a sector expected to be worth $82 billion in 2030.
The value of the automotive software sector is expected to rise to $82 billion by 2030 from $31 billion in 2019, according to a McKinsey study.
CubiX is one the German supplier's growing range of software-related offerings to automakers as it looks to diversify away from hardware and tap into the trend to offer digital features that bring new life to hardware, much of which ZF also supplies.
CubiX controls the Eletre's brakes, front- and rear-axle steering, active roll stabilizers and electric drive, allowing Lotus to tune the feel of the car and provide different settings for drivers.
For ZF, CubiX is a chance to leverage its expertise in hardware -- in this case, chassis systems -- to create more value both for the supplier and for its automaker customers.
ZF quoted a McKinsey study that showed automotive software will be worth $82 billion by 2030, up from $31 billion in 2019.
"The real value is in the software functions and services," Jon Chalmers, senior manager for base software development at ZF's center in the U.K., told journalists at a recent briefing.
CubiX is derived from its longer name -- chassis control coordination (C cubed) -- and is a piece of software that directs signals to smart actuators controlling the steering, brakes, shocks and other chassis elements.
Using the software reduces development time for automakers, ZF says. Automakers can either give ZF an algorithm to apply settings based on their knowledge or let ZF calculate the right approach.
"Some will say: ‘We have no idea how cars should function. Make the car work for us please,' " Rob Miller, software manager at ZF Race Engineering, said.
Software settings can be repeated across model ranges. ZF claims automakers can capture handling characteristics on CubiX as the physical experience becomes more digital due to new technology that physically disconnects the driver.
"Lotus is trying to replicate brand DNA so it feels like a Lotus," Miller said. "That has always been a challenge for products such as steer by wire."
ZF ranks No. 3 on the Automotive News Europe list of the top 100 global suppliers, with worldwide sales to automakers of $39.3 billion in 2021. Europe accounted for 45 percent of that total.
Being able to direct the operations of a range of chassis elements can change which element controls the car. The electric drive unit can brake the car, for example, or the brakes can be used to do the steering. Different modes can make the decision depending on whether the customer wants a more sporty or more comfortable drive.
The technology that allows CubiX to work is the shift with automakers to domain controllers containing a powerful computer chip that oversee a grouped number of smart actuators or sensors, in this case controlling the chassis.
Chalmers estimates that 30 to 40 percent of cars that will be sold between 2024-25 will have "software-defined" vehicle architectures with upgradeable control features running on top of the actuators.
ZF would gladly sell automakers the entire chassis hardware with corresponding smart actuators, but CubiX can also run hardware from rival suppliers.
"Five years ago, if you wanted a braking and steering system to work together you would have to buy them from the same supplier," Chalmers said. "Now it's much more open. We offer everything but we are not proscribing it."