ZF Transmissions gears up for growing demand

By Liz Segrist
Published Feb. 13, 2013

GREENVILLE, S.C. — ZF Transmissions LLC has nearly sold 800,000 of its future Laurens County-produced transmissions before the plant has started production.

In addition to Chrysler, ZF has four other, undisclosed customers for its eight- and nine-speed transmissions to be produced locally, said ZF CEO Lu Reckmann, who addressed last week’s S.C. Automotive Summit.

ZF Transmissions CEO Lu Reckmann said demand for both the Upstate plant and its suppliers will be challenged by the demand for transmissions. (Photo/Liz Segrist)
ZF Transmissions CEO Lu Reckmann said demand for both the Upstate plant and its suppliers will be challenged by the demand for transmissions. (Photo/Liz Segrist)

“The combined volume of all those customers will use our installed capacity completely,” Reckmann said. “We are pretty much sold out.”

ZF plans to produce 120,000 transmissions in the local plant’s first year of production, which is set to begin in the second quarter, and ramp up to 800,000 transmissions produced by 2016.

“This is a huge challenge for everybody,” Reckmann said. “Not only us, but for our suppliers.”

ZF has the option to expand with another 400,000 square feet in the future. ZF is considering when and how to do that as demand ramps up for its transmissions, Reckmann said.

Opportunities abound for automotive suppliers to come into the region. The German transmissions manufacturer needs more local die-casting suppliers, Reckmann said.

Of ZF’s 85 suppliers, 18 are in the Southeast. Seven current, undisclosed suppliers are located in South Carolina.

“There is a huge growth opportunity here for suppliers to come here to support us and other automotive companies in the Southeast,” Reckmann said.

The company had $23 billion in sales for 2012, marking 12% growth in sales globally and 35% growth in sales for North America last year.

ZF announced plans to build a facility in Laurens County in 2010, later adding onto initial investment projections with plans to invest $430 million and create more than 1,200 jobs at the facility.

Construction began on the 947,000-square-foot facility off Interstate 385 in Gray Court in February 2011. The company moved equipment in last month. A grand opening is set for July.

The company has hired 450 employees with plans to hire 1,200 total employees by the end of the year. The recruitment of skilled CNC operators, manufacturing engineers and quality maintenance technicians has proved to be a challenge for ZF.

ZF Transmissions partners with ReadySC, Greenville Works and HTI Employment Solutions for recruitment and preparation of skilled workers. Piedmont Technical College has created a training program. ZF also runs an internal apprenticeship program for new hires and sends workers to Germany for training at its other facilities.

The ZF Group, based in Friedrichshafen, Germany, is a worldwide automotive supplier for driveline and chassis technology. The company has 75,000 employees and 117 locations in 26 countries. ZF has 22 plants in North America, with 16 in the U.S. and six in Mexico.

ZF parts are in car brands, such as BMW, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Lincoln, Ford, GM, Toyota, Volkswagen, Buick and Hyundai Kia Automotive, among others.

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