ZF Group - The DLS4E10
ZF Group - The DLS4E10 is now available on your favorite podcast app!
In this episode of The DL, Diesel Laptops’ Founder and CEO, Tyler Robertson, is joined by Chirag Shah, Autonomous Vehicles, ADAS, & Braking Systems at ZF Group.
Sustainability is an integral part of ZF Group strategy. Its targets include complete climate neutrality by 2040. However, sustainability means far more to us than climate protection. In addition to climate and nature, we focus on the dimensions of people and lasting values.
As always, thank you for watching and listening!
Connect with Chirag Shah & ZF Group:
LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/shahchi3/
Website – https://www.zf.com
Listen on your favorite podcast streaming platform below:
Transcript for Next Gen Trucking - The DL S4E9:
Okay. Billions, that's billions with a capital B. I talk all the time, on all these episodes, about technology changing our industry. In this podcast, you are going to actually hear about three things that are changing our industry. You're going to hear about air disc brakes. You're going to hear about EVs, and you're going to hear about robots driving trucks, or autonomous trucking, autonomous driving, however you want to refer to it. I think it's really important for anyone... Again, working in our space, you need to understand electrical in and out. You need to be an expert at it. Everything is changing completely on these vehicles. We talk about it in the podcast.
On this one, we have Shah, with ZF, just a monsterly huge company, a worldwide, global footprint. They're the ones building the technology that you're seeing in all these EVs and advanced driver assist systems, and all these other things. I really hope you enjoy the episode. Commenting, liking, sharing, it all helps us. I'll stop yammering here and let you watch the episode. Let us know what you think about it.
Welcome to the DL everyone, another episode here with your host, Tyler Robertson, also the CEO and founder of Diesel Laptops. This is the show where you learn everything going on in the truck industry, truck repair, how trucks are built, how things are made, how things are broke, how things are fixed, all the exciting stuff we have going on. I'm really excited to have Shah here with us today, with ZF. If you don't know who ZF is, we're going to break it all down here in a second, kind of set the landscape and everything for everyone. Shah, welcome to the show, man. Pleasure to have you on here.
Thank you Tyler for introducing me and for having me on. It's always fun to talk about trucks, and what's going on in this industry, and where we are headed. We are living through exciting times. Sometimes painful, but lots of opportunities at the end of the tunnel.
We are still going to get into the excitement. I agree. I'm like, "Man, I have a front row seat for all this technology and change happening in our industry." There are a lot of things going on that ZF is right in the middle of all this. A lot of people in North America don't know who ZF is. Obviously, ZF is a very big company. I looked up your guys' financials, publicly traded. It's a $40 billion a year company, and you guys are all over the world. I know you're much bigger over in Europe and more recognized name-wise than outside the U.S. Can you just explain to people what ZF does here in North America?
You are absolutely right. ZF is a huge company. To my surprise, as well as your viewers' surprise, they indulge in everything from pass cars, technology all the way to marine engines, windmills. It's a huge corporation, and I'm excited to be a part of this. Here within North America, strong presence in the pass car industry, braking systems, sensors, suspensions, all of those things. In the commercial vehicle industry, we are leaders in braking, fundamental ABS systems.
As your viewers might very well know, WABCO was purchased by ZF. We are now part of ZF. That gives us the opportunity not only to look at the portfolio that ZF had and add to it the portfolio that WABCO brings to the table as well. Like you said, we have about 15,000 people working in just the commercial vehicle side of the business. We are in more than 27 countries, about 4 billion euros every year in R&D revenues, like you said, pretty high up there as a corporation, about 40 billion euros as well. So large presence, huge footprint, global footprint. We bring in... If products are developed to meet regulations in other markets, we bring them to the North American market as a good to have, but as an advantage to our industry as well.
For the audience listening to this, where I know ZF from... I think was actually first Meritor had something going on with the automated transmissions back in the '90s. Then we had Meritor, WABCO. Those are two separate companies, for people don't understand. That wasn't a product line of Meritor's. It was like a distribution deal here in the U.S. ZF does own WABCO now.
I guess I kind of want to get into that a little bit because advanced driver assist systems, or ADAS as I call it. I think everyone pronounces that word a little bit differently, but I kind of view it as a prelude to autonomous trucking. Right? Because with ADAS you have sensors. You've got computer systems. You got radar. You got all these things that are monitoring your surroundings around you. Obviously for autonomous trucks you need those things, those technology.
I remember being at a dealership back in the day, I think it was Eaton, with our vorad system kind of came out. Everyone hated it. It had all kinds of issues. People are like, "How do I turn it off?" Beeping all the time. The technology's changed a lot since then when it comes to ADAS systems. So where are we at today? Are these things actively installed on trucks? How good is the technology compared to then. Break it down for us.
So obviously, the sensor technology, that's one of the biggest things that autonomous vehicles require. We have come a long, long way in sensor technology, and we will keep on moving forward as well. So as your viewers and listeners might know, there are five levels of SA autonomous driving, zero through five. In the North American market, we are seeing more and more prevalence of the level two plus ADAS systems. This is truly an assist system for the driver. More comfort, more safety for the driver. Think about blind spot monitoring, collision mitigation. If you guys have used trucks that have that or if your personal vehicles have that, those are all coming fast and furious at us. We are seeing higher and higher penetration of these technologies, especially the commercial vehicles.
We as an industry have said that we would bypass level three. One of the reasons why we thought about bypassing three as an industry, not just at ZF or other places, even the larger OEMs... The amount of effort and the engineering resources that would take for us to get to level three, we thought it would be better used to go to level four. Level four now truly starts getting into autonomous driving, where it's hands off or no driver in the system as well. So again, if your listeners are aware of the fact, 33 states in the United States now allow for driverless vehicles to be on the road. So the regulatory body itself is embracing autonomous vehicles on the roads much more quickly than other parts of the globe.
Pass cars not moving as quickly enough. Pass cars will see autonomous driving. You do see a lot of Waymos promoting their driverless drivers and stuff, but truly, if... I don't know if your viewers are aware, but Google and USPS have been running autonomous trucks from in the Sunbelt states for about a year and a half now. Not to scare you guys, but the technology is there building on it. Truly, truly exciting times.
Yeah, it really is. I guess I'm learning some stuff here I didn't realize. We're like, "Okay, level two today. Forget three, we're going right to four." It makes sense as you were kind of breaking it down there for everybody. I've seen a little bit of that. I know Daimler with their Freightliner Cascadia, they got a period of time now you can leave your hands off the steering wheel. Those things are happening. You're starting to see these things more and more out there.
I guess there's two questions people always ask me. Right? I think we see... So first off, I'm just curious, maybe your opinion more anything else here in these questions. The first one really is, where do you see autonomous trucking taking place? Is it really freight across the country? Is it more in the shipyards when people just drop a trailer and truck off and take another one? Where do you think we'll see that first an actual commercial use? Not like in the hype videos and the marketing stuff that we see out there.
Very rightly put, Tyler. Definitely mining industry and yard automation, those will be coming up much, much quicker. As logically they should because they're much more contained environment. Your parameters are a lot more restricted. You know, you don't have pedestrians. You don't have animals, et cetera, coming through. So the system doesn't have to react as much as it would on the road.
Then to further build on that, that technology will come onto class eight trucks, and we call it depot to depot. So for example, if there is a warehouse in San Francisco and there is a warehouse in Phoenix, going from the roads of the warehouse to the highway, the driver would be in control. Once the truck is on the highway, that's when level four truly helps us. You have a set path. You have sensors that are constantly monitoring the 360 degrees around the truck, and like I was telling you, it's the Sunbelt state so you don't deal with weather as much.
At the same time it gives you a learning opportunity for the system to see how the system behaves and what changes need to be made, first with simulations in labs, et cetera. Then on the road as well. So like you rightfully said, in my mind and what we have seen from our customers, mining is going all for it because of the environment that they work in and their needs. Yard is coming fast and furious. There are a couple of big players doing yard automation, and then class eight, by '24 we should start seeing in the fifties to hundreds of vehicles being on the road.
Well, you just answered my second question. When is it coming? I fully agree with you. As people in the industry, as we talk to a lot of people, and go to these conferences, everyone's saying really the same thing. The point to point gets the media. Budweiser announces they hauled a load autonomously, or whatever it is, but it's really the application use will happen in those drop points. Contained yards or doing five, 10 miles an hour, whatever it is around in the yards and just a little bit safer environment. So yeah, it's really interesting.
I think when I talk to people, they're always like, "Tyler, when are we going to have trucks delivering all this freight?" I'm like, "Guys, when that's fully autonomous, that's a long ways out there. There's a lot of bridges to be crossed." Everyone I've talked, to maybe you feel differently, they're just like, "Man, getting the first 98% is not that bad. It's that last 2% that's going to make sure that we want this to work." Right?
Absolutely, absolutely. I think Tyler, the other thing not to forget is the ecosystem around it. I mean yes, the bigger players can easily have their own ecosystem build around it, but when we start getting into... If you can think about Uber, right? If you run into an Uber-like problem and Uber has Uber Freights, how do you scale it up to the level that we need to? How do you make it reliable? Scaling is one thing, but in our industry timing is everything. If you can't guarantee timing, then how do you compensate for uptime? Are these systems going to break down? We are working towards it, but those are the challenges. Like you said, 98% done, devil in the details.
Yeah, yeah. The other thing I keep saying, which you've already said, is I keep saying "Guys, people are spending billions of dollars to make this happen. It's going to happen." You said it yourself, you guys spend over $4 billion just at ZF on R&D. I know that's not all autonomous but there's a lot of money, a lot of companies. You mentioned some big name companies like Uber and Google doing these things as well. So very, very interesting stuff there.
So let's talk a little bit about another one that you guys are kind of big into, and I think it's a technology people don't understand the impact of repair shops a lot of. There's also some safety impacts, and that's air that's essentially the air disc brakes on commercial trucks. So when I grew up, man, it's all drum breaks. Now, things have changed a little bit. So ZF, you're in that space. Again, give us a little you background. What's going on there with air disc brakes?
You're right about that. I mean we were the first to the market with single-piston air disc brakes, starting about 2016, 2017. That technology now has moved on to a dual-piston air disc brake. As your listeners might very well know, or if they don't, there are a lot of advantages of air disc brakes. Stopping performance is a lot better. Noise is a lot less. Constant break performance. You are able to monitor the wear of the brakes a lot easier than you are with drum breaks as well. So all of those advantages bring to it that this technology is now also being adopted by the industry as well. People are seeing the benefits of these, and I would like to hear from you. What do you see on it? At least from our side, that's what we see.
Yeah. I mean five years ago, nobody was talking about it. You kind of the early adopters that were buying them on their trucks, and these things were happening. I think any new technology, once the price starts to come down, and the ROI really starts to make sense, things start to happen really quick. What I try to get across to our audience is like, "Look, you guys need to figure out the new technology." I've done so many episodes on autonomous driving. On EVs, we're going to talk about in a second here, new technology. Those are the skill sets the repair shops of the futures need to understand and be really good at to diagnose trucks. You said it yourself, whole bunch more sensors, whole bunch more things.
What I try to tell people is like look, if your shop is making money off of doing transmission rebuilds, well guess what, machinery is better. The oil is better. They're not found as often as they used to, and they got a million mile warranties now. Go look at brakes Right? If you're doing a lot of brake jobs in your shop, well guess what, air disc brakes are here. They take 75% less time to replace one of those versus air disc brakes. They stop the vehicle quicker. They're lighter. You can just go down the list of all the reasons to do it.
My dad owns a concrete company, and for them a pound of anything is a more pound of concrete they can haul. So they're like, "Yeah, they were a little bit more expensive." Man, just the weight savings was worth it to them with all the other things. So it's really exciting, and I know the stopping distance is another one because these things can actually stop your vehicle much quicker than the traditional systems.
Research that we have seen is drum brakes stop at an average off about 262 feet. These guys can stop at about 220. So that's safety right there. This is mechanical safety rather than talking about sensorbased safety.
Again, I always tell people, you have no idea the technology coming down the pipeline and how it affects your business. Down in our conference room, I have two of these concrete blocks, and one of them is the first concrete block my dad's factory ever built. It's got a nice picture on there. It's got my grandfather there standing next. It is in a display case. I'm like, "Oh, it's the first one my family ever did in the '70s." Blah, blah, blah. Then next to it I have the last block that they ever did in 2009, and they're like, "Well, what happened?" I'm like, "You know, it had nothing to do with their business." That was nothing to do with it. Technology changed, and people didn't understand. Technology affected a concrete block industry that's been around for thousands of years.
It's definitely going to have impact in everyone's industry listening to this, no matter what they're doing. Technology just keeps making its way in. What works, people use, and it just really changes and disrupts things. I think for a lot of us sitting around can think back to... I was just telling someone the other day like, "Do you remember using a map? Could people even get around today with a GPS on their phone?" They probably couldn't Right? These are things. It just changes so quick, and you get used to it. So it's really interesting to see technology, and especially what ZF is doing, leading the forefront of this. Because it's a whole new business market all of a sudden. A whole new revenue stream for companies such as ZF to get into this. I know a big one of those is EVs. So electrification is coming here. What's ZF doing on the EV front?
So as part of multiple divisions that we have... So I'll break it down into how we support EVs and then how some of our other divisions are supporting EVs as well. Because the biggest challenge that we find is the infrastructure, right? I mean the adoption of EVs in the last-mile market is there for the larger companies, but when it comes to smaller companies, though they see the benefits, because of the infrastructure not being there they don't use EVs as much as they would like to. What we've been doing in the EV space is of course we have all sorts of solutions for electric axles. Name it that you want, we have an entire portfolio that supports all the way from class three trucks to class eight trucks. Like we were talking about, technology is just going to get better and better as we move along.
With this latest mandate of electrification in the infrastructure bill, I think there is going to be more and more investment in the infrastructure. My personal feeling is that instead of taking a giant step towards completely electrifying a fleet, we should be looking at small baby steps to get drivers used to it, to see how the maintenance works, if the ROI is there, if you need to use one technology versus the other. Wait a couple of years for one technology or the other. Like autonomous vehicles, electrification is becoming really real, and it's coming quicker than autonomous is.
Then the other trend we are seeing is fuel cells. I'm sure you've seen major companies making headways. Toyota made some sort of a statement with Hino. I know Nikola is doing a lot of stuff. Tesla is always dipping their feet in there. So I call it alternative propulsion, moving away from internal combustion engines to some sort of electrification or some sort of battery electric vehicles. They are coming. Just hunker down, and get ready for the exciting ride.
Yeah, no. Again, I'm beating the same drum with people as I'm talking to them. Right? It's, "Hey, they're coming." You can believe all you want that they're not going to work. The government's put enough tax incentives, enough things to make it work in certain industries. Like you said with the fleet, you're absolutely right. They're not going to just be like, "We're going all EV." They're going to be like, "All right, we have this fleet. Which routes? Which trucks? Let's do a couple of them. Great, they're working, and let's keep expanding out."
There's challenges that industries had, and people can bash the whole like, "Oh, there's not enough grid or enough power plants." You know what? There wasn't enough fuel pumps when all these trucks and internal combustion engines and it got built out. So it's going to be the same way. By the way, those gas stations are probably going to be EV charging stations once there's enough volume for them. Right? So they're going to figure all these things out.
Just to add to that, I'm sure you read it in the news every single day. There are lots of EV startups coming up. So people ask us who is going to survive? Our look at it is that the technology will survive. The companies might not, but all of the progression that these smaller companies are making and contributing to the technology will contribute towards EV being commercially viable in the next few years.
Yeah, I mean you guys are well positioned. Right? Because you're making the componentry for the manufacturers to enable them to do these things. So I'm just curious, what's it outside the United States? I kind of know my little piece of the world here. Europe EVs, I mean assume you guys are kind of all over Asia and all these different places, if I had to guess.
You are absolutely right about that. The biggest move in electrification and autonomy, the US is the leader by far because of the number of companies that are in the EV space. In the EV space, there is a lot of work being done in Asia as well as in Europe, but their needs of EVs are for much smaller last-mile delivery kinds of applications. So scaling them up to class eight is something that a challenge taken over by the North American... Our trucks are much bigger. We transport a lot more freight over the roads than Asia and Europe does. So obviously we do the building up of the class eight trucks for electrification. Again, global solutions. What we learn with the miles that are being put on in Europe and in Asia, all of these add to building better products for the North American market going forward.
I think when I look at the EV market, again, everyone sees the headlines, the EV truck driving on the freeway and everything. What I see is companies like Xos, and these other ones, they're building in specific applications that really make sense. I mean even Navistar saying, "We're going to do EVs, but it's school buses." They go on the same route. They're back at a certain time. They charge during off peak hours. Check, check, check. Great. Max going after the refuse market first. Again, makes sense. Set routes, no brakes squealing and all these things happening when people are trying to pick up garbages.
I've had the pleasure to drive some of these things. So it is truly fascinating and an interesting place to be in right now. So Shah, I really appreciate you coming on talking about all these things. We could probably make an episode on each one of these things. So I know we kind of jammed a lot in here. Where can people go if they want to learn more about ZF, the technologies, or connect with you? What do you want to throw out there to them?
So I'll send you my email address, but it's spelled Chirag dot Shah at ZF dot com. Personally, if you guys want to reach out, if you need any information, that's all fair and good. Happy to connect, happy to network. Any information I can provide, ZF.com is a pretty good website to go to. That gives you a global picture of what ZF is doing. Then from there on you can narrow down to North America and see specific products that we have, specific announcements that we make. We are all at trade shows and stuff. So happy to connect your viewers with whoever, whatever information they require, be it all technology, be it new technology, anything at your service.
Well again, appreciate you coming on having the conversation with us. I love these. I learned something today. So if I learn something, I know for sure our audience learns something. So it's always great to get experts on here that really know these things and can break it down for people and explain what's going on.
You're right, your website, actually, I did so much research on the website. I'm like, "Man, that's like a wealth of knowledge on this thing." Between the videos, the PDFs, the webpages, you can tell when someone puts forth an effort on that type of stuff, but we're going to wrap this one up. We're going to call it an episode. Remember it's not just diagnostics. It's diagnostics done right. You just heard it here. New technology, more sensors, more computers, more wires, radars, all this stuff is coming. You got to get good at it now. Start today, before it's too late. All right, thank you guys. Catch you on the next episode.
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