ZF Friedrichshafen AG and Hero Chassis Systems recently kicked off operations at their new plant in Chennai. This joint venture will be home to assembly of front and rear suspension modules for passenger vehicles and will meet the needs of BMW. Uwe Cossman, Head of ZF’s Car Chassis Technology Division, discusses the roadmap ahead in this interview. Excerpts:

What is the significance of the Chennai plant in terms of the BMW mandate?

BMW is an important customer for us and we extremely privileged to partner with them in this localisation programme for India. We supply complete front and rear axles from this location for all Indian-produced BMWs.

This is already the third facility for ZF Chassis Systems in the region serving BMW with complete axle systems which is a testimony to our quality and delivery performance. The joint venture between ZF and Hero in India is an opportunity for us to grow our ties even further. Likewise, BMW is a good start for us in terms of building a customer base for the future.

How did you meet the challenges of localisation while setting up this plant?

Clearly, the top priority was to have strong levels of local content. This is what I call the key enabler in order to be cost-competitive especially in a market like India. The business plan for this ZF Hero joint venture is to focus on local production for the local market. It is also important to be close to the customer. This facility, which took just about 11 months to get ready, is testament of our commitment to India. We will support our customers with innovative products and technology. We also want to use our global expertise and experience to provide customised solutions for the Indian market and consolidate our global market position.

Does India’s obsessive focus on cost-competitiveness sometimes come in the way of offering a great range of products?

Achieving continuous cost reduction and performance improvement will continue to be a challenge and a key focus for both the automotive OEMs and their suppliers. Suppliers will not have the luxury of focusing on one operational area only to ‘stem the tide’. To be successful in this tough environment, progress will need to be made across the board.

Keeping these factors in mind, ZF has never comprised and will never comprise on quality be it any situation. Innovation is a part of our DNA and we continue to invest in developing the local engineering team and utilise synergies with products designed for Asian customers.

What does India mean to ZF in a rapidly changing global scenario?

ZF is very bullish on the Indian market which is evident by recent launches. We further expanded our business by opening a plant in Pune and Chennai which is a clear commitment to this Indian market and its future prospects. We are also very satisfied with the engineering manpower that this country has to offer. ZF also has first hand knowledge of this market stretching back 30 years. India offers a huge potential in itself with a growing infrastructure thrust, consumer spending and a young demography. Despite the not-entirely-easy situation at present, the economy will continue to grow over the long term and we are well prepared for that.

What significance does the recent acquisition of TRW Automotive have for ZF’s India business?

This acquisition will enable ZF to optimally utilise the technology platforms from both companies to better address megatrends such as fuel efficiency, increased safety requirements and autonomous driving. ZF will now be able to grow further globally, and also meet the rapidly rising demand for new technologies that reduce emissions and improve road safety. The complementary portfolios of the two parties will enable ZF to transfer technology in other areas: ZF’s product offerings in the commercial vehicles and off-highway segments, for example, will benefit from the transfer of driver assistance technology from the passenger-car segment. Synergies such as these will reinforce our technological leadership across markets.