Q & A
Rudi Von Meister,
President, Region of Asia Pacific, ZF Friedrichshafen AG
Interview & photo by: Ashish Bhatia
Q. As a leading global automotive parts maker, has ZF Friedrichshafen AG managed to attain an equally strong foothold in markets beyond Europe? Especially markets like Asia-Pacific?
A. ZF has traditionally relied on our core customers in Europe and in North America for our business. We have grown successfully and profitably into a global player by accompanying those customers overseas. But at this point and time the auto industry continues to explore and find growth in new markets. Local players in those markets have ambition to become global players. For instance the Japanese accomplished it in 60’s-70’s and Koreans in 80’s-90’s. We are now in a position as the world’s third largest automotive parts maker following the acquisition of TRW last year to participate more aggressively and more comprehensively in global markets as a localised player.
Q. How would you gauge the growth potential in the Indian market compared to rest of Asia-pacific?
A. We follow the Chinese market more specifically and we are now in India. In some cases we have been in India for decades in the steering business. Our TRW colleagues have been in India equally long since the 80’s in braking and other systems. What we have now is the opportunity to use our combined knowledge, experience, presence and relationships to expand our ability to serve the Indian automobile industry on the truck side.
Q. Do you see the decision to enter the CV space in India paying-off? You entered the market when the chips were down.
A. To make the decision, you identify demand for your products before you come into a market. We picked the time as the Indian automotive market was experiencing some corrections. We are past that now. We have a base for commercial vehicle product, specifically transmissions and chassis components. We hope to build upon that given the relationships we’ve established, ties we have with key manufacturers and in-turn their clients and their users, and our growing brand reputation. We also have the opportunity now of leveraging the complementary portfolio that TRW brings by reaching out to a broader range of customers. Commercial Vehicle is one key area of focus. We established those operations several years ago as you mentioned, but we are now pushing hard in our new business plant in Pune to create new segments and grow the existing ones.
Q. Is India ready for the ‘See-Think-Act’ themed product line-up?
A. See-Think-Act is process or the formula we are implementing in stages towards achieving competencies in autonomous driving. Autonomous driving we’ve had the see aspect towards the ability to sense proximity and avoid accidents or avoid vehicle contact as a result of that. Think then starts allowing the data from various sensors to be analysed in order to pro-actively engage the vehicle’s electronic brains towards accident avoidance. In the longer term the act allows the computer brain to engage both external and internal data in order to make some corrective actions take place in the event of the driver not being able to do so. Which markets are ready for this, some are closer than others in terms of connectivity and the ability to have an infrastructure in place that supports this type of comprehensive data access. In India that may not quite be the case yet but there is definitely a need given the usage on the roads and the risk of accidents when you incorporate so many different modes of transportation on one narrow strip of tarmac. Some of the most brilliant engineers on earth are in India working on infrastructural improvements and I imagine we will see a lot of progress there.
Q. How do you see the acquisition of TRW Automotive impact the Asia-Pacific market especially India?
A. In the Indian market we have our relationships through the ZF channel some of which have been endured for decades. On the TRW side their history goes back as far as the 60’s. When it comes to the relationship with Rane Group and several decades with the TVS Group. And through their existing joint ventures in India, they played a major role in the evolution and expansion of the Indian automotive industry. In the process now, introducing electric parking brakes which is cutting edge product in our portfolio. So I expect what we are going to see in the future is much greater integration between what the ZF portfolio offers on the transmission, power-line or drive-line side, suspension, chassis components and electronic sensors and TRW’s complementary portfolio of steering, brake systems and active and passive safety systems. So if you think about how these two come together whether you are talking about conventional automotive technologies or next generation e-mobility, it puts us in a very strong position to serve our customers even better because of the ability to integrate of all these different systems on common chassis or platforms.
Q. What do you think will pave the way for ZF and TRW automotive’s integration to succeed in India?
A. One area that we would be focusing on is bringing our Research and Development (R&D) capability in the country. India has been a great find and success for many companies, both industrial and otherwise. So over the course of last couple of decades, we now have come to realise the place within our global R&D contium for a R&D base in India. We are in the process of building our strategy to accomplish that within the next few years.
Q. How has the integration of TRW Automotive added to ZF’s existing capabilities?
A. Its because they have their customers, their reputation, their relationships. We have ours. There is excitement in both camps as to where we as one company will go forward. For example in China, they have test tracks which are highly sought after. We have to go and find them, and lease them when we need them. We have a couple that are in-house. By the same token we at ZF have computer simulation and material science with capabilities of interest to them, and so if we start matching up what each other has in terms of strengths, presence, facilities as well as key-relationships with the customers in the major Asian markets. That quantifies much more than one plus one that equals 3.14. Its big opportunity but in terms of driving investment, we understand that we have to make some important changes in our organisational culture to draw more activity, more productivity, more development, more responsiveness and more local activity in to the key markets of Asia in order to serve them more effectively.
Q. Its over a year since the two culturally different organisations were fused together in May 2015. Are you satisfied with the outcomes and pace of progress so far?
A. The activity has been very persistant and its been very effective but one of our key objectives is not to disrupt or distract from the key task of serving the customer when it comes to delivering that promise. You are not going to see any external changes until the next year or two. What’s happening though internally is we have both sides represented here, we have very significant leadership exchanges and we are collaborating on joint customer projects. We will be integrating our purchasing organisation quickly, we are taking steps in other functional areas as well and in the course of the next couple of years this company is going to look quite different. However it is really impossible also to deliver the promise and to keep our most important resource, our people, focused, enthused and confident of the company going in the right direction. That’s why we are treading cautiously now.
Q. Which are the commercially viable products to have come out from ZF TRW integration?
A. You saw a lot of it at the ‘Global Press Event’ in Aanchen. Our advanced urban vehicle which we showcased last year is an integration of both TRW and ZF technologies. Our future automated driving concepts and capability has to be an outcome of with the marriage of the technology and capability of both sides in order to be successful.
Q. With innovation an underlying theme at ZF, do you see the prototypes turning commercially viable over a short to medium or medium to long term horizon?
A. I love seeing innovation of our truck colleagues because they move very fast, they have to be lauded in the manner in which they sense and respond to opportunities especially in some of our developing markets. If it weren’t commercially viable in the near term we probably wouldn’t do it. We don’t do a long pass and a long kick. We have to be very conscious of how we spend our money. We do advanced research and development but we are always looking at the near to medium term payback.
The auto industry continues to explore and find growth in new markets. Local players in those markets are aspiring to go global.