Major BMW, Ford, and Chevy supplier to make its US plant ‘flexible’ for ICE and EVs

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Major German car parts maker ZF Friedrichshafen is investing a hefty $500 million into its transmission plant in South Carolina – all to transform it into a “flexible manufacturer of parts” for both ICE and plug-in hybrids, and for both passenger cars and large commercial vehicles by launching production of its PowerLine transmission in the US.

In a release, ZF said it will add new product lines over the next few years at its massive 1.7 million-square-foot Gray Court plant just south of Greenville, South Carolina. The company will also produce in North America for the first time its fourth-gen eight-speed transmission for plug-in hybrids, which ZF supplies in Germany for the BMW 7 Series and X5.

ZF’s PowerLine transmission has a modular design that the company says can save up to 10% in fuel compared to other transmissions. And the PowerLine’s flexible design can accommodate both ICE and plug-in hybrid variants for a range of vehicle types, from lightweight passenger cars to trucks, buses, and commercial vehicles. One of the better aspects of the PowerLine is that it is designed for class 5 vehicles to class 8 semi-trucks, with the gear ratios stepped to deliver increased torque at launch and a higher top gear for better fuel savings – so any step in the direction of reducing CO2 emissions from the heavy-duty trucking industry is a positive.

“ZF Gray Court is our North American premier flex manufacturing facility, producing technologies for today and tomorrow,” ZF’s Stephan von Schuckmann said in the release. “This site is our first ever to mirror the transition that the industry and the world is now navigating.”

The company plans to hire 400 workers for new jobs at the plant.

The factory targets a production capacity of 200,000 transmissions annually by 2025, and is dedicating about 50,000 square feet of the factory to make that happen.

The move comes after a $200 million investment aimed at supporting three “major US commercial vehicle manufacturers.” The company says that it too is seeking federal incentives to support investment plans, although where this stands is not yet clear.

Last year, ZF announced its plan to expand its parts offering to more than 73 million more vehicles in North America by adding 285 new products to its lineup – including brake pads, suspension, and steering components for Tesla, Hyundai, Ford, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. Back in 2019, ZF signed BMW onto its roster and began producing its eight-speed automatic transmission for the German automaker at ZF’s Gray Court site, which is about 30 miles from BMW’s plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

ZF Group is reportedly also investing millions to pump up production at its Mexico facilities, pouring $194 million to build a new facility in Juarez, and nearly $40 million to expand its Toluca facility.

ZF Friedrichshafen, which makes transmissions, shock absorption systems, and chassis components for more than 55 auto brands and is Germany’s second-largest supplier after Bosch, said recently that it could lay off as many as 12,000 people in a “worst-case scenario” by 2030. The company employs 165,000 people around the world.

Photo: ZF Gray Court/Courtesy of ZF


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