The supplier ZF is increasingly developing into a holistic system supplier that not only supplies the mechanics, but increasingly the digital elements. Nevertheless, the experiences from the analogue world are still important, as can be seen with the steer-by-wire system. We’ve already driven the system.

price question. Which manufacturer will launch a software-defined car next year? So? No one? Well, one more hint then. It’s not a German carmaker. If you also factor in the fact that this is the first mass-produced automobile with steer-by-wire, i.e. a steering system without a steering column that transmits commands to change direction via electrical signals, the circle gets smaller. We suspect a US or Chinese manufacturer. They are technology-driven enough to use the future of driving right now. Because that much is clear. Without steer by wire there will be no autonomous driving. In connection with the Cadillac Lyriq, the term software-defined is used relatively often. The E-SUV is based on GM’s new Ultium platform. So it could well be that this is the solution to the riddle.

When asked about the carmaker who is heaving the system into series production, the Swabians are as silent as the famous grave. That is the crux of a supplier. Do good and talk about it as little as possible. After all, the OEM should be able to hold the reins of action and tell the technology story. So we are left with only guesses. But what we can already say is that the new ZF steering works pretty well. That’s quite a lot when you consider how difficult it is to create a natural steering feel without a real connection between the front axle and the valance. “That is the supreme discipline. We already have several large customers,” says ZF boss Wolf-Henning Scheider. So soon after the mysterious foreign client, a German car manufacturer will also proudly present the system.

During our test drives in a VW ID.3, we clearly felt the difference between smooth asphalt and cobblestones, we noticed when the front wheels started to scrape and the car started to understeer. In short: the steering feel was pretty natural. The developers should have corrected small weaknesses such as jerking when stationary at full lock by next year. All in all, ZF has the edge over Schaeffler-Paravan. Even if the system of the brave men from the Swabian Jura is also very well developed.

“We already have large-scale series experience with safety systems,” explains Manfred Meyer, head of active safety, steering and braking systems at ZF. The Friedrichshafen-based supplier has many years of expertise in integrating brakes, rear-axle steering, brake-by-wire and, of course, electromechanical steering. This process reliability is what tips the scales. Simulations and the test engineers’ famous popometer do the rest. The background supplier also helps when it comes to redundancy. The software plays a major role here. “Basically, we recognize errors before they occur,” says Manfred Meyer and goes on to say that the system is not immediately switched completely offline as soon as a malfunction is announced, but rather it runs through various stages. In addition, the ZF steering system uses two electric motors. The minimum number when it comes to redundancy.

The steer-by-wire system is another step in the transformation of the supplier. “We’re moving away from gears towards semiconductors,” Scheider sums up the company’s change in vivid words and adds: “The software-defined vehicle will bring more changes than electromobility.” And that’s where ZF wants to lead the way and not be a fast follower be. Because in the digital business models, it is truer than ever that the second is already the first loser. Products such as the cubiX software platform together with the Chassis 2.0 concept and Vehicle Motion Domain Controller were unthinkable a few years ago. The new orientation of the company philosophy is also manifested in the fully autonomous shuttle vehicle that ZF is already testing. Here the Germans offer an all-round solution including payment system and maintenance. “If you want, we can also take care of the cleaning.” It’s an all-inclusive company.