22.–23.05.2024 #polismobility

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Out of the robo-dream

ZF Friedrichshafen launches its own autonomous shuttles

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ZF is realigning itself and abandoning its plan to offer autonomous transport systems and fleet management. What happens next?

Futuristic minibus with lots of glass elements and no driver's cab in a major American city

© ZF

In January 2023, ZF proudly presented the next generation of an autonomous Level 4 shuttle at the Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. It was primarily intended to be used in mixed traffic in the city, for example as an autonomous bus line.

However, less than a year later, the company announced that it would discontinue its own production of autonomous shuttles and instead focus on engineering services and the further development of components for autonomous driving. The company justified its reorientation in the press release with a "slower market development than expected and the need for strict cost orientation due to the ongoing, multidimensional crisis and the progressive shift towards e-mobility".

The shuttle models from ZF subsidiary 2getthere, which are produced and sold by US licence partner Oceaneering, are not affected by this decision. They are designed for use on dedicated roadways. The RABus research project, in which ZF Friedrichshafen provides the technical components for the operation of the partially autonomous bus lines, will also continue as planned. An on-demand line with level 3 automation is set to go into operation this year and will provide better access to the new Franklin district of Mannheim. It could be driven by an eVito minibus converted with ZF technology.

ZF in trouble

Automotive supplier ZF Friedrichshafen is in a difficult financial situation, struggling with billions in debt and the complex challenges of the drivetrain revolution. In order to improve the situation, the possibility of an IPO is repeatedly discussed. At the moment, the Group is almost exclusively owned by the municipal Zeppelin Foundation. The works council fears that the Group intends to cut 12,000 jobs in Germany over the next few years. Two sites in North Rhine-Westphalia are to be closed, while the situation for others is still uncertain. There has been repeated speculation about the end of the company's own, very capital-intensive business with robotaxis.

It is also possible that ZF has recognised that the market for autonomous shuttles is not yet ready. Consumer acceptance and trust in this technology is still low. By focussing on engineering services, ZF can continue to work on the development of autonomous vehicles while waiting for the right time to enter the market.