ZF Expands Transmission Output, Attracts New Customers – Toyota Next?

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The German transmission maker ZF Friedrichshafen AG has decided to invest $215 million in the U.S. to expand production of its 8- and 9- speed transmissions. Could Toyota join the growing number of automakers using their transmissions?

ZF Expands Transmission Output, Attracts New Customers - Toyota Next?

German transmission maker ZF has expanded its U.S. operations. Could Toyota be their next customer?

ZF made the announcement that they would invest in their South Carolina plant that just opened in June. Apparently, the popularity of its transmissions has grown so fast, so quickly, they are already expanding to keep up.

Remember that the ZF 8-speed transmission is the new one powering the Ram 1500. It is part of the reason for increased fuel economy in that pickup and (for Ram fans) a reason to hope the transmission problems of old are over with.

ZF’s U.S. sales have tripled since 2008 to $2.3 billion in 2012, a company official told AutoNews.com.

“Even before starting production, we have so much demand for the nine-speed that we decided on a further expansion of almost 50 percent, another 400,000 nine speeds,” ZF Chief Executive Officer Stefan Sommer told MLive during an interview Thursday in South Carolina. “This shows what big growth opportunities we have, and the opportunities with this product.”

ZF’s 9-speed transmission up close:

The plant currently is expected to produce 1.2 million transmission annually with 400,000 8-speed and 800,000 9-speed when construction is completed in 2016.

Chrysler, Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Land Rover are the customers that use the 8-speed. ZF says they have more customers shopping them, but has so far declined to name who they are.

Their 9-speed transmission is said to be the “world’s first” and will be used in the new Jeep Cherokee and Land Rover Evoque.

These new 8- and 9-speed transmissions are currently the talk of the industry when it comes to meeting the 2016 CAFE regulations. Ford and GM have both announced plans to develop them for themselves. GM is using an 8-speed transmission in the 2014 Cadillac CTS sport sedan from Aisin AW Co. (a Japanese supplier).

Having a transmission maker expanding operations in the U.S. means less import costs to manufactures and could be a simply solution to improving fuel economy with less R&D costs. Could Toyota be next to sign up for the new transmission? Who knows really with the tight-lipped Toyota executives and their standard line “we cannot comment on future power train developments.”

It makes some sense though. Toyota could easily develop a new licensing agreement like Chrysler did and bring the new technology in house – quickly. For the bean counters at Toyota, this would be a less expensive way to buy known technology without spending the time and effort to develop their own.

The real knock to this approach, is that if the transmission is found to have quality concerns, those concerns are reflected on the brand and not the supplier. For example, Toyota’s issues with air injection pumps, blown steering racks, cam shaft leaks, etc… are blamed on Toyota NOT the third-party supplier where it should be. Using third-party suppliers is a BIG risk for automakers yet the savings can be quite significant.

What do you think? Should Toyota outsource the transmission or spend the time developing their own?

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  1. Goldie says:

    Toyota will not be using the ZF transmission. They always use Aisin transmission because Aisin is part of the Toyota Group. Toyota owns 51% of Aisin AW and was the first to have an 8 speed automatic in the 2007 Lexus LS460.

    • Goldie says:

      It’s also interesting to nota that the Porsche Cayenne and Panamera S Hybrid and Diesel uses the Aisin 8 speed instead of the ZF.

    • Tim Esterdahl says:

      The Aisin is another option. I’ll have that story next week. 🙂


  2. Mickey says:

    Good to know info Goldie.

  3. Larry says:

    This will be interesting. Toyota is a very larger company world wide but, I have my doubt that the heavier version of the 8 speed ZF needed for the trucks with 6.0L engines will be anything but a US product.

    There are no pickups in Euorpe in the consumer market. Same for most of the world. It will be a costly thing for Toyota to develop a new transmission for just a few Tundra trucks so, licensing another’s design is possible.

    Ford and Toyota are big enough that they may wish to develop their own transmissions. I have read that Ford already has done development on 8 speed units which are licensed designs of ZF. I read this a long time ago so I no longer have the source. I could be wrong on this but it would be worth digging into.

    I somehow can’t see Toyota using a German ZF trans.

    Published input power ratings I have seen are 516 foot/lb for the 8HP70 and 665 foot/lb for the 8HP90. One will run in the V6 platforms and the second in the bigger v8s. The cummins motor is above that so it won’t be seen with the ZF transmissions for now.

    The jury is still out as to the use of these transmissions in trucks. The first use of these transmissions seem to be in high power cars. Work trucks in most of the world are small diesel with manual transmission.

    I’m not much for fancy new stuff but this is one segment of the market where R&D is well spent.

    God help us if one of these transmissions needs a rebuild after a few years. I would have to sell my house to pay for the rebuild.

  4. LJC says:

    “The 2014 Ram 1500 equipped with the Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 will now receive a maximum tow rating of 7,450 pounds, thanks in large part to the addition of a stronger parking gear in the standard TorqueFlite eight-speed transmission.”

    If that ZF tranny needed a larger parking gear, I wonder what else it will need to hold up under truck use.

    Toyota doesn’t need this tranny as pointed out earlier.
    The European’s make nice looking rides, but their reliability is crap.

  5. Anonymous says:

    When I was dreaming of a new 2014 in the driveway – I was anxious to hear Toyota put an 8 speed in it. I was coming from a 2004 with 4 speed that was only 3 when towing. That ship has sailed, couldn’t afford new and got a 2011 with 6 speed. Still not used to all that shifting… Not sure more than 6 ratios are needed, I am at like 120km/h at about 2000 rpm – how close to idle can we get at highway speeds. I think 6 may be great but maybe a wider spacing to the gears where 1 is lower and 6 is higher with a higher rear end ratio.

    Could Toyotas change of the transfer case to US sourced part be saying something about the future? Also noted that Truck Trend said all wheel drive is gone from the GMs… Its 2 or 4 now only. This caught my eye as I hoped Toyota may add this mode to 2014 too.

    • Tim Esterdahl says:

      It would make sense to me for Toyota to use more US sourced parts since the quality of them has improved and they need to stay competitive while keeping R&D costs low. I’m looking into it with my PR contacts and I’ll let you know if I find anything out.


  6. Anonymous says:

    Here’s a thought…

    Toyota rolls out a HD Tundra – would have added capacity and performance right…

    Imagine the HD did this, what comes of regular Tundra…?

    There has to be something significant between the reg and HD so the HD does not canabilize reg sales. At only $1000-$2000 apart – with all else being about same, half reg buyers will get HD instead and HD will bring in or retain ‘some’ new buyers who now get needs met by added capability. Combined sales of both just being a little higher than reg Tundra would have done meens much lower reg sales volume. The profit will not justify the expense for Toyota to do it.

    What makes sense to me is come 2016 – reg becomes a little less overbuilt with big improvements to FE to help bring ‘new’ sales for it which can be allowed by (F150 becoming a beer can and) added capability of availabilty of HD that may use tune for power rather than FE.

    To have both reg and HD means big change to both – that is if volume is the plan – but Toyota seems maxed out for production in Texas and content (for now) with that – so may be an HD will be a low volume special (niche) package that is added beef to the reg.

    Toyota can not evolve one half ton to these big numbers either and stay in half ton segment – it will get compared favourable to 3/4s or poorly to competitors 1/2s.

    • Tim Esterdahl says:

      It is fun to speculate what exactly this news means and how it fits with Toyota’s overall strategy. Plus, the production questions looms LARGE. We here at THQ have been lead to believe that is one of the main issues with building one. I’m really not sure at all how this impacts that and how it gets built.

      The truth is we simply don’t know enough right now. All I do know is that now I have multiple sources telling me Toyota is working on it. Agreed, none of those sources is from “Toyota.”


  7. Mario says:

    Even with all these new transmissions coming out, why is it that all the other manufactures are not offering a 4.10 gear ratio as a standard. I looked up some of the diesel and it seems like the only ones that give the 4.10 gearing are duallies. I see they’ll offer a gas engine with a 4.10 gear, whats the point of that if a diesel is made to tow. Seems a little pointless to have 3.73 gears and a diesel engine.

  8. […] of the 8-speed Aisin transmission used in the Lexus LS460 (which does use Toyota ATF WS fluid). ZF Expands Transmission Output, Attracts New Customers – Toyota Next? | Tundra Headquarters Blog I know at least for the ZF in the RAM they had a tow/haul switch and another switch if you had to […]

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