In September 1915, “Zahnradfabrik GmbH” appeared for the first time in a trade register. Consequently, 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the ZF Group presenting an anniversary year for the company and its global network of 71,600 employees. All 122 ZF locations worldwide will be involved in the anniversary activities.
The company says it is optimistic about the future, as ZF is currently facing the largest acquisition in the company’s history. With the purchase of the U.S. company TRW Automotive, ZF will join the top three in the global automotive supplier industry.
A look at ZF’s chronicles shows an eventful company history during which ZF developed from its roots as a supplier specialized on the aviation industry to a global mobility technology company – in spite of all the breakdowns and crises. Its founding at Lake Constance 100 years ago had its origins in Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH, which was headquartered there at the time and which was also a shareholding partner of “Zahnradfabrik.” The task of the newly founded company was to develop, test and manufacture “gears and transmissions for aircraft, motor vehicles and motor boats.” Only few years later, ZF offered its technology to automotive manufacturers and became an important transmission supplier within the still young German industry. By using its own know-how and acquiring licenses, ZF enhanced its product portfolio: Steering systems for automobiles and commercial vehicles were added in the 1930s, as well as drive units for field tractors. However, before and during the Second World War, armament production dominated the three German ZF locations at the time. ZF also employed forced laborers in all plants. By the end of the war, their number rose to 2,800.
After the war ended, ZF began to produce its civilian products in 1946 – starting with field tractor transmissions and commercial vehicle transmissions. Its innovative strength helped the company enter new market segments, for example with the volume production of the first multi-ratio transmission for passenger cars in 1965. Fifty years later, ZF established itself as one of the technology leaders in this segment. In parallel with this, ZF began to expand its international presence with the early construction of a production location in Brazil in 1958. Shortly after, ZF began producing locally with its own locations in the U.S. (1979) and in China (1993). ZF also used expansions and corporate acquisitions as growth opportunities: In 1984, for instance, the company purchased the Lemförder Group, thereby entering the worldwide business of chassis components and later chassis systems for passenger cars and commercial vehicles. In 2001, driveline and chassis components for passenger cars and commercial vehicles followed with the former Mannesmann Sachs AG: Real net output ratio was increased and additional innovations were brought to the market. Today, these innovations are closely linked with the name “ZF,” such as the adaptive damping system CDC (Continuous Damping Control) and the hybrid-technology.
Today’s ZF portfolio includes driveline and chassis technology products such as transmissions, driveline and chassis components, as well as complete axle systems and modules. ZF technology is used in passenger cars, commercial vehicles, construction and agricultural machinery, rail vehicles, and marine applications. The company also focuses on the wind power and electronic components business.
Activities During The Anniversary Year
“ZF’s history is an example of how to exploit entrepreneurial opportunities together,” said ZF CEO Dr. Stefan Sommer. “All ZF employees can be proud of this – from the development as well as the production departments, from the domestic company parts that have always been a part of ZF or from a part that joined ZF later.”
At all current locations around the world, ZF employees can share their own opinions on the anniversary year via an anniversary portal and exchange views. Family Days at the larger locations around the world will also include family members of the currently about 71,600 employees in the festivities. A traveling exhibition will get to the heart of ZF’s history. A special anniversary highlight awaits the ZF employees on July 4, 2015, a festival, which will take place in front of the Zeppelin hangar in Friedrichshafen. All employees will receive free entry to performances by the hip-hop band “Die Fantastischen Vier” and the former “Reamonn” frontman Rea Garvey.
The main ceremony in Friedrichshafen will take place on Sept. 9, the day of the company’s entry into the trade register at the Tettnang district court exactly 100 years ago. In the long term, the company history will have its place in the ZF forum: The new corporate headquarters at the Friedrichshafen location will provide space for permanent exhibits as well as exhibits with periodically changing themes. Access to these exhibits will be open to the public.