GRAY COURT, South Carolina—ZF’s first PowerLine 8-speed automatic transmission just rolled off the production line in late 2023, but the company expects to be able to produce 200,000 this year alone, the German-based OE announced at a media event at their Gray Court plant on Feb. 6.
According to ZF, the 8-speed automatic transmission delivers up to a 10% improvement in fuel efficiency and 30% faster shifting when compared to automated 6-speed transmissions.
Since 2021, ZF has invested $200 million upgrading the plant, located about 25 miles south of Greenville, for production of the PowerLine transmission, which was designed to meet the rugged performance needs of Classes 5-8 commercial vehicles, but shift as smoothly as a car. (A brief test drive after the press conference confirmed that smoothness to this reporter.)
To get this blend of power and control, ZF leveraged its “know-how of automatic transmissions” and applied it to the needs of the CV industry, explained Prof. Dr. Peter Laier, member of the Board responsible for Commercial Vehicles globally at ZF.
Key specs include:
- Weight: 375 lbs.
- Length: 29.7"
- Gear Ratios: 4.89-0.64
- Max Torque Rating: 1,000 ft.-lb.
And because its modular design can be used for hybrid vehicles, it will also work to lay ZF’s foundation for a future of electrified commercial vehicles.
“With today’s launch, ZF can now provide our North American customers with a highly efficient, high-performance transmission that will help commercial vehicle manufacturers and fleets meet tough CO2 targets while providing excellent total cost of ownership and reliability,” Laier said.
The PowerLine also solidifies ZF’s Gray Court facility , which employs 1,900 workers, as the company’s first North American flex manufacturing site, supporting traditional ICE and e-mobility technologies for passenger cars as well as commercial vehicles. The plant, now at over 1.6 million sq. ft., has grown by over 77% since 2010.
Transmissions and the electric transition
To help ZF meet its 2040 climate neutrality goal, the company is also planning to bring its 8HP Gen4 PHEV transmission, a line already available in Europe, to North America for 2025. The 8HP can be used for conventional, mild hybrid, and hybrid plug-in commercial vehicles, and can offer pure electric driving.
Upgrading the plant for the new line will require a $500 million investment, a necessary cost to keep up as the industry changes, according to Stephan von Schuckmann, ZF Electrified Powertrain Technology division Board Member.
“As the industries we serve evolve, so too does ZF Gray Court, which is once again at the center of mobility transformation,” he explained.
von Schuckmann stated that the investment will contribute towards ZF’s current ‘local-for-local’ strategy, a plan allowing them to circumvent supply chain holdups by producing 80% of the company’s North American content locally.
“Bringing manufacturing closer to our North American customers is an important initiative for our organization,” he concluded.