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Wolf-Henning Scheider is the new CEO of ZF

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D he 55-year-old graduate in business administration, Scheider has many years of management experience in the technology groups Bosch and Mahle. 'As CEO of Mahle, Wolf-Henning Scheider has shown a lot of competence in a groundbreaking transformation process,' says ZF Supervisory Board Chairman Dr. Franz-Josef Paefgen.

Born on May 6, 1962 in Saarbrücken, Wolf-Henning Scheider studied business administration at Saarbrücken University and RWTH Aachen University and graduated in 1987. He then joined Robert Bosch GmbH with a trainee program. From 1989 to 2010 he held various positions there, including managing director for power tools in France, CEO of the Car Multimedia division, Hildesheim, and CEO of the Gasoline Systems division, Schwieberdingen. From 2010 to 2015 he was Managing Director of Robert Bosch GmbH, and from July 2013 he was also spokesman for the Automotive Technology division. In April 2015 Scheider moved to the management of the Mahle Group and took over the chairmanship of the management there in July 2015.

In a message, Paefgen thanked Mahle for the company “the quick and uncomplicated change from Wolf-Henning Scheider made possible “.

Sommer loses power struggle

This was preceded by a power struggle at the automotive supplier ZF in the course of which the then ZF boss Stefan Sommer left the company. Previously, the chairman of the supervisory board had thrown out. Until a successor was appointed for Sommer, his deputy, CFO Konstantin Sauer (58), also took over the duties of CEO.

The basic conflict existed between the CEO and the owner. ZF is 93.8 percent owned by the Zeppelin Foundation, headed by the Friedrichshafen Mayor Andreas Brand. Most recently, the mayor no longer wanted to keep up with the expansion of the summer when making acquisitions. Among other things, ZF had incorporated its US competitor TRW with a billion-dollar deal. The new chairman of the supervisory board, Franz Josef Paefgen, conducted the talks about the termination of the contract. They dragged on for several days. Sommer still had a contract term of over four years. Financial details were not mentioned.

In an interview with auto motor und sport in January, ZF boss Sommer talked about the path to purely electric and autonomous driving, customers such as Google and Apple and the upheaval before the automotive supplier stands, uttered.

ZF recently published very good figures. Nevertheless, you are pushing ahead with the restructuring of the company. Why?

Summer: Our numbers are indeed good. In 2016 we achieved the target return of six percent, which we want to improve slightly in the new year. For 2017 we are planning a growth rate of around five percent - and therefore growing faster than the market. The pressure to change does not arise from the current economic situation of the company, but rather from the changing markets.

What changes do you mean specifically?

Sommer: There are, on the one hand, megatrends such as the increasing digitalization of the car, but also the dramatic loss of confidence by politicians in the auto industry in the wake of the exhaust gas scandal, which will lead to major changes in vehicle technologies. At ZF, there is also the fact that we have some catching up to do with regard to our role in global competition. We want to be a system provider for complete electronic and electromechanical solutions in the automotive sector.

There is currently intense debate about when the famous turning point will be when the electric drive will replace the combustion engine becomes. What do you think?

Summer: That is a difficult question. The fact is: Most automobile manufacturers are preparing for volume use of electric cars between 2023 and 2025. We can see that in the activities that are currently taking place in development, purchasing and along the value chain for our customers. Until then, a lot has to be done with the charging infrastructure. Another question will be when the costs for the electric drive train will be competitive compared to the internal combustion engine with its increasingly complex exhaust gas purification. I don't expect that until after 2025. Unless new, stricter legislation pushes the costs of the internal combustion engine up even faster.

The engine used to be an important one Part of the identity of a car brand. This is different with the electric motor. Does that open up new opportunities for ZF?

Summer: Indeed, because you don't have that much opportunity to differentiate, for example in terms of smooth running or noise development, with an electric motor. However, we still see a lot of potential for increasing efficiency and believe that we are very competitive there. That is why we invest in our own development and production of electric motors. Increased efficiency means more reach. In the end, this will be a key differentiator.

So far, most ZF employees are still working in the field of traditional technologies. What does the upheaval mean for jobs?

Summer: I don't think our industry is like thatwill experience disruptive change, as many predict it will. It will take a decade or two before we move from a purely mechanical transmission to a purely electric drive. We will use this time to implement the upheaval in our plants in a way that is compatible with employment. At the end of the journey there will certainly not be as many production jobs left as there are today. But we have already started to convert training qualifications, for example in the direction of the digital world, networking and management of data.

The US presidential election ensures that this is not the case everywhere in the world will go quickly?

Summer: I think so. After Donald Trump was elected President of the USA, it can be assumed that the internal combustion engine and the pickup truck with our transmissions will have high numbers there for a long time to come despite the fact that change can endanger Germany as a business location?

Sommer: Let's not kid ourselves, the strength of the German automotive industry is a mechanical strength. Nobody masters mechanics as well as we do, across the entire value chain down to the smallest supplier. If this is no longer necessary in the future because other competitors are successful with less mechanically complex concepts, we will lose jobs in Germany.

Isn't it shameful for the Germans Auto industry that the new electric car fleet of Deutsche Post comes from a start-up?

Summer: Start-ups question certain development processes and come with the creativity and speed that such projects make possible. I think that's a red flag. It has at least recognized that the German automotive industry has to get faster. On the other hand, those who believe that they can maintain their product with a software update every six months will learn that this is not possible in automotive engineering.

How is your contact to Google or Apple?

Summer: We are in contact on a wide variety of projects. Sometimes they just want to buy a conventional part like a brake, but we also talk about new technologies.

How do you rate these companies?

Summer: Certainly there is still something missing from the overall vehicle understanding. In this respect, I don't believe that a car from Apple or Google, for example, can crowd out established brands. The product of these companies will be one that will play its special role by combining the functionality of a smartphone with the car.

How do you see the path to fully automated driving? When will the technology be ready?

Summer: Autonomous driving will come in several steps. Firstassistance systems increase road safety. The fact that we get into the car and drive hundreds of kilometers on any road without steering it will not be so far in 20 years. This is why ZF is concentrating on topics such as lane keeping or steering algorithms and fully automated driving in certain protected areas. One example is autonomous parking in specially prepared parking garages. This is already technically manageable today and relieves the driver of a tiresome task. In any case, I would rather pay a surcharge for it than being able to take my hands off the steering wheel for half an hour on the motorway.

When will autonomous parking come into series production?

Summer: We will set up a pilot factory here in Friedrichshafen, which should be ready in a good two years. There we want to show how trucks can maneuver autonomously in a logistics yard, for example. This is very useful, because the driver has a break and then longer driving times on the motorway, and that brings noticeable cost savings for the freight forwarders. There is great interest in this technology in the industry.

A classic ZF transmission is no longer necessary for an electric car. This makes the recently introduced electric axle drive, which ZF plans to bring into series production in 2018, all the more important. Do you already have a customer for this?

Summer: Yes. We already have a lot of experience when it comes to electrifying cars. We delivered the electric motor for the first hybrid drive in the Mercedes S-Class back in 2008. With this know-how we then developed the first plug-in hybrids and now all-electric drives.

In 2015 you took over the automotive supplier TRW. A company that was almost as big as ZF Friedrichshafen itself. How is the integration going?

Sommer: TRW is a global company that we bought because of its technology know-how. More than 50 percent of this expertise can be found at locations in Germany. For example for the steering in Düsseldorf, for the brakes in Koblenz and the airbag technology in Alfdorf near Schwäbisch Gmünd. There, but also internationally, the integration is going very well, better than expected. A small example: The colleagues from Düsseldorf come to Friedrichshafen and have small transmissions in their electric steering systems optimized. There is certainly a problem in one place or another, but ZF and TRW are organizations with tens of thousands of employees. The important thing is: We haven't lost any business as a result of the integration work, we have even increased our combined market share slightly.

It didn't work out at Haldex, so Knorr-Bremse won the bid to get. How annoying you are, because the brake specialist would have been good to ZFFit, right?

Summer: Haldex would have been a great fit for us. I am particularly sorry for Haldex, because the company developed the same strategy independently of us to grow with new technologies and only lacked the capital. We were very willing to invest in the event of the takeover.


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