What’s ZF about?
Markus Wittig: ZF has been around for almost 100 years, and we are one of the top 10 automotive suppliers. All key European automobile manufacturers are our customers. We are also involved in other areas of automotive transport, such as light rail and buses. We also see the need for us to develop more into the field of electro-mobility in order to keep up with the challenges of the future, and we are currently working towards that goal.
Most people would associate ZF with gearboxes, but in fact, we specialise more than just gearboxes. We do complete axle assembly for certain carmakers. We also manufacture shock absorbers and other chassis components. Gearboxes are just one of our core products. Anticipating the changes in the world, we realise the importance of coming up with different solutions. That is key. At ZF, we also believe that we need to take care of the whole life cycle of the car, which is why we have a business unit called “ZF Services” that take care of the components once the warranty has ended. The aftermarket business is a key factor for us, in terms of providing both the product and service for our consumers.
Could you share more of ZF’s presence in Asia?
We have been involved in the Asian region for more than 25 years. We have, in Asia Pacific, a total of about 11 countries, with Singapore chosen as the HQ. We have about 500 staff in the aftersales sector in Asia taking care of services, distribution and marketing. We have service partners who are trained to repair our products in Asia Pacific. We are expecting to grow this region by 20% over the next couple of years.
What automotive parts are in demand at ZF?
ZF supplies a wide range of products to the aftermarket, including transmissions, axle parts, shock absorbers, clutches, suspension parts and steering systems. Some of the parts we have seen strong demand for include shock absorbers and axle components. We believe that the demand for parts in the aftermarket industry will remain strong and continue to grow steadily in the near term as the average age of car population continues to rise. Based on our observations, Singaporean car owners are choosing to keep their cars for longer as the cost of purchasing a new car has become prohibitively high.
At ZF, we recommend that car owners purchase spare parts that are in ‘Original Equipment’ (OE) quality. This basically means that the component is the original part used by the car manufacturer on the car when it was manufactured and is also made available for sale in the aftermarket. The benefit of purchasing parts in OE quality is that car owners can be assured of the quality of the product – the replacement will provide the same performance as the original part being replaced. On this front, ZF also supports its dealers and local workshops with the relevant technical training and materials to ensure that the parts are fitted to specifications.
Are there plans to develop products for Asian cars?
Currently, we supply gearboxes for a couple of truck manufacturers in Asia. Passenger car transmissions at that stage are mainly used by European and American carmakers. We are talking to some of the Japanese carmakers, and there will be a press release regarding this topic soon. In addition, our products, such as the 8-speed gearbox, are mainly for RWD vehicles. Majority of cars in the past were front wheel drive, so we did not have a product at that time. Now, we have a very nice product and fuel-efficient product in the form of the 8-speed automatic.
We have had talks and requests in terms of development, but they are still in the early stages. I think that there might be a change in the market in Japan, and there is a possibility that we could get a footprint in that market. However, gearboxes are just one of our products. We have shock absorbers, and some Nissan cars are using ZF shock absorbers. Of course, it depends on the region. Some Japanese cars that have a presence in US or Europe are using ZF products.
What advice would you give to car owners in Singapore with regards to the maintenance of their vehicles?
Car owners usually turn to the independent aftermarket and car workshops for parts and services when their vehicles are 3 to 4 years old – after the warranty from the car manufacturers has expired. There is no fixed timeline for the replacement of specific components in a car as it will vary between the different car makes and models, as well as factors such as frequency of use and individual driving patterns. Drivers typically choose to replace worn-out parts in their vehicles to ensure optimal performance, reliability and comfort.
It is interesting to note that a Singaporean driver covers close to 20,000 km a year – much more than the UK and Australia who come in at 10,825 km and 14,000 km respectively. This is somewhat of an anomaly as we would assume that car owners in Singapore would drive less simply because distances to their destination are short. One of the reasons put forth for this phenomenon is that car drivers in Singapore tend to maximize the use of their cars to justify the high cost of owning it.
In addition, driving in urban or city areas taxes the vehicle more when compared to driving across long and straight distances. The high frequency of stop-and-go traffic especially during rush-hours and the high number of road humps and turns that a car goes through in significantly increases the rate of wear and tear of the undercarriage of the car.
Singapore’s tropical and hot climate also leads to a higher impact on parts such as the car engine and transmission. This is one of the reasons why regular transmission fluid changes are necessary, to maintain the transmission. As more Singaporean car owners look to maximize the lifespan of their cars, they will need to service their vehicles more frequently and also replace certain components in their vehicles sooner, even though the age of the vehicle may be relatively ‘young’.