December 7, 2017 2:00 PM, EST

Troubled ZF Friedrichshafen Appoints New Chairman; CEO Steps Down

ZF Friedrichshafen AG headquartersZF Friedrichshafen AG headquarters in Lake Constance, Germany (ZF Friedrichshafen AG)

German automotive and commercial vehicle supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG announced Dec. 7 ZF CEO Stefan Sommer will step down immediately. Until a successor is appointed, deputy CEO Konstantin Sauer will assume the role of CEO on an interim basis.

On Dec. 4, the company appointed Franz-Josef Paefgen as its new chairman as a shakeup of key executives got underway at the global company.

Paefgen, a member of ZF’s board since 2008, succeeded Giorgio Behr.

“It is vital to settle down now and concentrate on our business and the future transformation of the automotive industry,” Paefgen said.


Although Behr left first, as initially reported in Handelsblatt, a leading German language business newspaper, Sommer’s tenure was viewed as short-lived, too.

Industry sources told Handelsblatt that ZF’s majority owner, a foundation representing the town of Friedrichshafen, had encouraged Sommer to resign from the world’s fourth-largest car parts maker.

At issue is ZF’s next strategic step — with the majority shareholder reportedly wanting the company to pay down $15.5 billion of debt and redirect its focus after two unsuccessful attempts to buy Wabco Holdings Inc., according to the Düsseldorf-based paper. Another board meeting is scheduled for Dec. 12.

Sommer and Behr led ZF’s $12 billion acquisition of TRW Automotive in May 2015, then integrated it within the organization as the active and passive safety technology division.

Last year, Wabco announced in its second quarter earnings report a joint development with ZF to connect active steering to Wabco’s extensive active braking capability. Adding lateral control to Wabco’s full longitudinal control of both truck and trailer is an industry-first milestone on the path to autonomous driving for commercial vehicles, Wabco said.