Photo: ZF
Fleetowner 39240 102819 Nacv 2019 Zf Autonomous 02

ZF shares a glimpse of CV tech’s future

Oct. 28, 2019
As it finalizes WABCO acquisition, ZF details its next automation technology along with zero-emissions solution and new automatic transmission.

ATLANTA — ZF said its technology is going to help the trucking industry tackle its growing challenges — driver shortages, rising costs, freight demands, tougher regulations — while making the roads safer and emissions lower. 

ZF, a German-based technology company that is finalizing its acquisition of advanced vehicle technology company WABCO, highlighted on Oct. 27 how it wants to shape the future of transportation during the first day of the North American Commercial Vehicle (NACV) Show at the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta.

“Our commitment to the commercial vehicle industry is further proven by two points: ZF is investing $13.9 billion in automated driving and electric mobility only across all industries we serve, over the next five years; and our planned acquisition of Wabco, creating an integrated systems provider for commercial vehicle technology,” said Tomas Bozek, ZF’s senior vice president of commercial vehicle technology.

Bozek said the acquisition would be finalized by the start of 2020.

Autonomous future

“We would say that commercial vehicles are kind of the Goldie Locks scenario for automation — where things are just right,” said Dan Williams, ZF’s director of ADAS & autonomy. “There’s more concentrated commercial vehicle activity and fewer specific use cases that are more simply automated. And by that I mean just some rough statistics – two-thirds of our vehicles spend more than 95% of their time going straight down the highway at the speed limit, maintaining their lane.” 

While not simple, highway automation is easier to automate than urban navigation, he said. 

Williams said that autonomous trucks could help cull the driver shortage by drawing in those who otherwise wouldn’t seek a job in trucking. It also could help drivers and fleets tackle hours-of-service rules and add in fuel-saving technology such as platooning and more safety on the roadways.

ZF is looking to cement itself as a global leader in commercial-vehicle camera technology and supplier of radar technology while creating advanced components for both the passenger car and truck markets. Its work in the passenger market helps it in the commercial market, Williams said, noting that ZF’s passenger technology has helped it develop better commercial technology.

"ZF has the expertise and solutions to meet all of these needs. And because we can transfer our knowledge and development costs from the high-volume passenger car segment to our CV customers, this is a unique cost-savings and technology benefit," Williams said.

In 2020, ZF will launch its next generation of sensors that support increasingly complex advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). “These new cameras and radar sensors will have a longer range, they’ll have a wider field of view, and they’ll have higher resolution,” Williams said. “All of these things taken together will allow them to do any number of things, probably most significantly, they’ll allow us to do a better job of protecting pedestrians, local road users, and other stationery and semi-stationary objects. It will be a big step for us in 2020 when these next-generation sensors come out.”

ZF’s OnTraX technology offers more capabilities with the addition of short-range radar, including lane change and city drive assist. The side-mounted short-range radars see in the blind spot where the driver cannot. When integrated with ReAX, the system can be programmed to deliver a haptic warning to the driver if he is approaching an obstacle or vehicle in his blind spot. The system can also be programmed to urge the driver away from the obstacle. 

Lane departure accidents cost $53,000 on average, and 32% of accidents are unintentional lane departures, according to recent studies. “This creates a strong business case for fleets to adopt technologies like OnTraX,” Williams said. “We’re already seeing it – as next year ZF will launch OnTraX’s lane keep assist with its first major OEM.”

ZF PowerLine

ZF PowerLine’s 8-speed automatic transmission for passenger cars and light commercial vehicles has been on the market for 12 years with more than 15 million units produced. At the end of 2020, ZF will begin production of PowerLine, the company’s new 8-speed fully automatic transmission for medium-duty commercial vehicles, with a major North American OEM launching in early 2021.

ZF did not name the OEM, noting the OEM is expected to announce the deal in 2020.

“ZF PowerLine is the industry benchmark torque converter automatic transmission, ready to pair with a wide range of vehicle classes, starting at Class 3 all the way up to Class 7 / baby 8. It supports engine ratings of 1,000 lbs.-ft. and vehicle weights of 57,000 lb. GCVW and covers the broad medium-duty range with just one product,” Christian Feldhaus, ZF’s head of truck & van driveline technology for North America, said at NACV on Sunday.

Feldhuas said that ZF PowerLine offers the best-in-class power-to-weight ratio and enables up to 30% faster acceleration compared to conventional 6-speed transmissions. The transmission features a high torque engine-driven PTO interface on both sides. The factory-equipped features include Neutral at Stop, Parklock at 50,000 lbs., Auto Park, Adaptive Starting Gear, Quick Lock up and others.

The 8-speed gear layout combined with cutting edge twin-torsional damper torque converter enables more than 10% fuel efficiency improvement and greenhouse gas emission reduction compared to 6-speed transmissions. “ZF’s PowerLine proves equal, but in most cases, higher efficiency than other transmissions with 9 and 10 speeds. With fewer moving parts and less weight than the competition, ZF PowerLine ensures an extended life and reduced maintenance for best-in-class TCO,” Feldhaus said. “PowerLine will set the benchmark standard for torque converter automatic transmissions in the North American commercial vehicle market.”


“As we look to the future, we must be able to offer customers zero-emissions driving solutions, and PowerLine has an eye toward emissions-free trucks, as it will be hybrid-ready upon production, with a future version compatible with electric drive,” said Feldhaus.

To help the transition to local zero-emission commercial vehicles and low-emission logistic transport trucks, ZF is providing commercial vehicle manufacturers with in-house developed and produced eMobility products and system solutions. ZF offers an extensive and diverse electrified drive solutions portfolio for commercial vehicles, from small vans to heavy-duty trucks.

AxTrax, its electric drive axle, powers the Freightliner Innovation Fleet eCascadia, Feldhaus said. “The ZF electric drive axle, AxTrax, offers zero-emission driving with maximized performance and minimal noise emission – ideal for battery electric vehicles, hybrid drives, and fuel cell technology. It enables trucks the efficient entrance into zero-emission city zones.”

About the Author

Josh Fisher | Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Josh Fisher has been with FleetOwner since 2017, covering everything from modern fleet management to operational efficiency, artificial intelligence, autonomous trucking, regulations, and emerging transportation technology. He is based in Maryland. 

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