FCAs big order for ZF eight-speed gearboxes was the suppliers second largest ever

FCA's big order for ZF eight-speed gearboxes was the supplier's second largest ever

Ignoring my little obsession with electric Nissans and ice cream (and the more serious loss of 12,000 European Ford jobs), news of another big ZF automatic transmissions sale (to FCA Group) was the most popular story on just-auto.com this week. Build it right and they will come.

This is the supplier's second largest such order ever and comes soon after the Double Whopper - an even bigger order from BMW for similar eight-speeders just a few months ago. Suppliers can be horribly cagey about who they are shipping stuff to, often bound by strict confidentiality agreements so it's good to see FCA shout from the rooftops its choice of ZF Friedrichshafen - does anyone use that full name except in press and legal statements? - as its global transmission supplier for rear wheel drive and all wheel drive vehicles with front longitudinal drive configuration. This newest version of the proven transmission has been further optimised with an integrated electric drive for hybrid variants and the plant in Saarbrueken will be the lead production facility for this new (fourth) transmission generation which starts series production in 2022. Output at other locations including the US and China is planned for later.

Coincidentally I had just a few days earlier been pedalling in and around Turin in an updated 2020 Ducato diesel van with 2.3-litres of electronically controlled, variable vane turbocharger attached to nine speeds of ZF autobox. I gave up trying to count the shifts up and down, it's so smooth and responsive, and it seems ZF has brought the conventional torque converter auto to DCT level when it comes to seamless gear changing. An impressive pairing. As was the look-but-don't-drive combination of Ducato body and all-electric drivetrain due out next year to give Renault's Master and planned PSA rivals (which share the Ducato platform and factory) competition and provide an emissions-free alternative for operators increasingly dealing with no-ICE-engine zones in cities.

If you like auto interiors and a drill-down into who-supplies-what, you'll enjoy our scrutiny of Volvo's latest XC60 cabin. They had me at Bowers and Wilkins sound. I've become a big fan of the relatively easily learned tablet-style centre display. As we note, this "iPad portrait-style touchscreen conveys the non-critical information. In making the distinction, Volvo calls this the 'now and whenever' approach, reflecting the importance of the information that is displayed by where it is visible. The huge touchscreen, flanked by a pair of vertical chrome air vents, can also be operated wearing gloves thanks to its infrared technology".

Barely a day goes by without some mention of 'connectivity'. One announcement this week: Ford and Vodafone are testing new connected-vehicle technology which could make it easier to find parking spaces in city centres. Parking Space Guidance technology displays to drivers the number of spaces offered by nearby car parks and how to get to them. Updated in real-time based on car park data, it is being trialled by Ford and Vodafone as part of the KoMoD (Kooperative Mobilität im digitalen Testfeld Düsseldorf) programme, in Germany, a EUR15m (US$17m) cross-industry project testing new connected-vehicle and automated driving technologies. As test vehicles drive through the city, they receive road status and car park information from a central computer system, based on their geolocation, along with information from nearby dynamic digital road signs. And, of course, if you ticked the option box, the car can park itself, too.

China's a mixed bag for automakers at the moment. Some western brands (looking at you, Ford) are struggling but, at Lamborghini, what sales crisis? On the other hand, Hyundai-Kia has an overcapacity problem so we took a look. China has been a tough market for Hyundai and Kia in the last few years. The most recent data released by the Hyundai Motor Group, comprising the Hyundai and Kia brands, shows sales in the country fell by 22% to 343,383 in the first five months of 2019 from 438,364 units in the same period of last year. This was a significant underperformance on the 13% drop in total vehicle sales in the country in this period – in a market that has come under increasing pressure from falling consumer and business confidence as the trade war with the US continues to stoke economic uncertainty. The introduction of minimum sales quotas for new-energy vehicles (NEVs) at the beginning of the year and new "China 6" emissions standards introduced in April are likely to have disrupted the overall vehicle market to some extent, with supply bottle-necks reported for some of the newest models. But on the whole there is substantial oversupply in China's automotive industry after 20 years of continuous investment.

Have a good weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, just-auto.com

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