ZF: Hybrid Drive Is Not Just A Bridge Technology

DEC 10 2018 BY MARK KANE 25

ZF is… gearing up to electrify everything

ZF, the German supplier of transmission systems and axles components for cars and buses, is bullish on the future of hybrid and plug-in hybrids (as well as full EVs).

Most recently, the company said that it expects hybrid drive to take 50% of the market in a few years (up from about 5%). ZF says it expects growth of the electric range of PHEVs to go up to 80-100 km (which would be more or less in line with BMW/Daimler goals for next-generation PHEVs). So maybe the end of the Chevrolet Volt was premature?

Wolf-Henning Scheider, CEO of ZF Friedrichshafen AG said:

“The share of hybrid drives in production will increase tenfold over the next few years – from five to 50 percent,”.

“We see the increasing market penetration of advanced hybrid drives as an opportunity, which in our view is much more than just a bridge technology. With longer ranges between 80 and 100 kilometers, they can complete the majority of all journeys electrically and thus help e-mobility to achieve a breakthrough more quickly.”

Seeing changes on the market, ZF is investing more than €3 billion worldwide in new products and its production network for transmission technology. Besides general improvements, some €800 million (€910 million) to be spent on the Saarbrücken plant in Germany for transmission technology for electrified vehicles. The market for transmissions for conventional cars is expected to shrink (just as with the overall ICE market).

“Over the next four years, a total of €800 million will be invested in Saarbrücken, the lead location of ZF’s transmission technology. With this investment, the location will be made fit for the transition from conventional to electric car drives. ”

“For the Saarbrücken plant, the ongoing electrification of the powertrain is both an opportunity and a challenge. ”

“ZF’s order books show that the hybrid technology is in great demand. ZF is responding to this boom in demand with an investment program worth more than €3 billion for the further development and sustainability of these products. In Saarbrücken, the company’s lead location for transmission technology, ZF will invest around €800 million over the next four years in production plants and systems, infrastructure, and its supplier network.

If the development towards pure electromobility progresses as currently forecast in several studies, sales and thus also the workforce at the Saarbrücken plant will, however, decline in the long term. In view of this development, ZF has launched a number of activities in Saarbrücken that are intended to significantly increase the plant’s international competitiveness. These include, for example, a whole series of IoT projects. At the same time, these initiatives use artificial intelligence (AI) to provide quick and valuable decision-making aids for employees and thus increase efficiency.”

Stephan von Schuckmann, head of ZF’s Car Powertrain Technology Division said:

“The fact that these effects will only occur in a few years’ time gives us the opportunity to prepare for them today. We want to prepare our employees for the mobility of the future with a wide range of training and qualification opportunities and more agile work structures.”

Here is what ZF does:

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25 Comments on "ZF: Hybrid Drive Is Not Just A Bridge Technology"

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It’s great that different companies take different approaches. That way we will know (and have options for) what is best for us as consumers. Inferior solutions will not survive, and that’s OK.

I’d very much prefer an all-electric drivetrain, but as for how the energy is stored/converted, that’s a different story and one that is driven more by convenience, practicality and cost than ideals.

BEVs with high capacity, light, inexpensive, safe, fast charging battery packs would likely be the victor but they don’t exist yet.

I say bring on the options!

But it is a bridge technology. Actually they acknowledge that a little later “If the development towards pure electromobility progresses as currently forecast in several studies, sales and thus also the workforce at the Saarbrücken plant will, however, decline in the long term.”

I’d say that counts as a press release of grand denial.

Do Not Read Between The Lines

Refreshingly realistic.
They know there’s a nice 2021-EU-fuel-economy-standards market coming, but recognize that there’s a significant chance that in the long term, hybrid transmissions are liable to give way full electric, whether BEV or serial PHEV.

Phevs need to drop the multispeed transmissions for cost and weight benefits. Electric drive with the ICE coupled in to overlap and supplement electrics acceleration as it tapers at higher speeds.

35mile – 50km range is enough.

Conversely, two speed boxes are the future of EVs provided they can be done well.

It’s possible that in the future we’ll see a limited number of very high performance two-gear BEVs, but in general, a single gear seems to work quite well for mass-produced BEVs. PHEVs generally eschew the traditional transmission with multiple fixed gear ratios, in favor of an more complex infinitely variable gear ratio setup.

It’s the best solution we have at the moment, but that doesn’t mean it will be the best solution forever. Really it will be a question of what can add the most kms per kg of added mass: bigger batteries, or multi-speed transmissions, and at what price.

Most PHEV variable ratio transmissions are NOT more complex. In fact they are surprisingly simple and have many fewer parts than a typical fixed ratio automatic transmission.

Take another look at the Pacific Hybrid tear down video to see how simple it can be. (Ref Weber State University tutorials)

In stop and go traffic, the efficiency of an inverter system and slow-speed drive motor is relatively low at the start. A multi-speed (even 2) transmission will get the electric motors into a high-efficiency operating point much sooner, and the efficiency of the transmission can be in the 98-99% range. This loss is less than the excess heating of the motor and inverter in stop-and-go traffic.

I am pretty sure a large corporation like ZF also knows these facts.

Now go and tell them again that they are all wrong.

Even the use of multi-speed transmissions in PHEV’s have little to do with the electric drivetrain, and everything to do with the ICE side of the drivetrain.

The reality is that the trends are for CUV/SUV’s in the US market, and towards more AWD vehicles. It is more effective to skip the expensive transmission, and simply have two different gear ratios front and back with two smaller motors. That way the vehicle effectively has a two-speed transmission without actually having a transmission, with infinite ratios between the two gear ratios. And it gains all the benefits of AWD systems. A pair of smaller electric motors is a much better options than one larger motor with an expensive multispeed tranny.

But why take it from me, when Tesla has already put those facts into production, and no EV or PHEV in existence today uses a two-speed transmission….

Side note: Don’t worry, you don’t actually have to show any shred of thought or comprehension in your response. Your typical mindless attacks on me are perfectly fine and expected.

@ Nix

“It is more effective to skip the expensive transmission, and simply have two different gear ratios front and back with two smaller motors. That way the vehicle effectively has a two-speed transmission without actually having a transmission, with infinite ratios between the two gear ratios.”

That sounds very good.

That will result in a substantially more energy efficient EV drivetrain technology.

About 50% more range per kWh would be great.

Do you think that it will be possible to achieve 50% higher energy efficiency?

I won’t because you never answer any objections to what you say.

Uh, Chief. The Gen1 and Gen2 Volts have variable ratio operation during totally electric operation with the engine off.

You can say I have no thought, yet I anticipate more than you big experts here anyway. Unlike your buddy who supposedly knows so much more about Science and Engineering than me, (although he proves it by referring to fictional Luna Novels) , I was the first to deduce that Tesla has 48 amperes as their TOP level 2 product for charging. You heard it from ME first – and no other commenter or author noticed that prior to me. Its like that all the time with you guys.

From 5% to 50% in a few years for phevs, apparently this guy has one upped Elon, for he must really be smoking something to make that prediction.

Do Not Read Between The Lines

He’s talking about hybrids, which is a _very_ broad spectrum.
I’ve read of another company talking about hybridization becoming increasingly common, especially AWD with an electric rear axle.

If your business will be disrupted by BEVs and you want to convince your shareholders that this won’t happen, then you should push any plausible excuse that this will not happen.

It’s not a good time to be making buggy whips, ZF.


Excuse me, but they have actually made electrified products. Their opinion – no offense – is more highly sought after than yours.

Oh, it’s definitely a bridge technology. But that bridge might be useful for another decade or so, and possibly even longer in third-world countries where you can’t depend on being able to charge your car for hours every night because the electric grid isn’t reliable.

Its not believed here of course, but ZF is a serious company making innovative products. I would not dismiss out-of-hand anything they say they are convinced will happen.

They probably have more experience making drivetrains (1000 buses as a for instance), than the self-appointed big-experts here.

i think ZF got caught realizing how fast the EV transition was really happening, but already had invested in bridge/hybrid technology so just followed it through.

Auto manufacturers are all scrambling to get EVs in their lineup as quickly as possible, who have already done the outdated hybrid technology.

ANYTHING that still uses ICE technology is a bridge……….trying to get to BEV technology.

There is no need for expensive transmissions with EV’s, so ZF is fighting to keep relevance for as long as they can.

The reality is that it is more effective for EV’s to have AWD with two different gear ratios in front and rear axles than it is to have transmissions.

The real cost of a two speed transmission is not high. It is simple, and it can be made highly automatic. It is basically material costs, bearing costs and some minor machining costs. It will also be a small unit.
Manufacturers will of course claim this is the best, and will charge the customer as much as the market allowes.

Compared to a normal 7-9 speed automatic transmission, a robotized two speed transmission is dirt cheap.

Does this mean that in the future for new EV models it will be possible to have gears?

And does this also mean that in the future new EV models will be more energy efficient (more range per kWh)?

It might be more economic to put a two-speed TX into a vehicle than to say engineer systems that can do things like creep at 1mph (or less) while hauling a full load and under fine control.
This is done on many Diesel-Electric railway locos so that they can discharge/load cargo while moving. Some use electronics and others use a combination of electronics and a two-speed gearbox.
It might be that very high speed EV’s need another gear (so to speak) in order to not over rev the motor.
So… really the answer is ‘it depends’…

It seems to me like ZF has their stuff together. A broad portfolio, and they are already getting experience in a number of different markets (e.g.: buses, passenger vehicles, etc.).

I’d love to get my hands on one of those Formula-E drive units… 😛