ZF Eyes US Commercial Vehicle Drivetrain Sales Expansion

German Supplier Adds South Carolina Plant Transmission Capacity in Anticipation
ZF PowerLine transmission
The ZF PowerLine is an eight-speed automatic transmission designed for Classes 5-8 trucks. (ZF)

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Opportunity is commingling with ambition in the North American commercial vehicle sector for component manufacturer ZF.

Some of the company’s latest product launches are set to service the growth in trucks using nontraditional fuels.

“ZF expects significant growth in its commercial vehicle revenues in the coming years in North America,” Christian Feldhaus, vice president, commercial vehicle solutions. told Transport Topics.

ZF has three divisions: passenger, industrial and commercial, with the biggest being passenger.

But the commercial vehicle division was bolstered in the U.S. by the 2019 acquisition of Wabco.

That was followed in 2022 by the unveiling of a new commercial vehicle division, Commercial Vehicle Solutions. Former ZF board member Wilhelm Rehm said when the division was launched that it would be “the world’s largest component and system supplier for the commercial vehicle industry.”

After expanding in the U.S. through acquisition in recent years, organic growth is now front-and-center for the German company, especially at the Gray Court manufacturing plant in South Carolina.

Some $500 million of capital expenditure at Gray Court is underway.


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As part of a $200 million investment announced in 2021, ZF is now ramping up production at Gray Court to 200,000 transmissions per year by 2025 to satisfy demand from U.S. commercial vehicle manufacturers.

ZF said the first PowerLine eight-speed automatic transmissions for commercial vehicles rolled off the production line in late 2023 at Gray Court.

Powerline is an eight-speed automatic transmission designed for Classes 5-8 trucks. The gear layout has ratios optimized to deliver increased torque at launch and a higher top gear for improved fuel economy. These gear ranges utilize intelligent software to help further improve shift quality, safety, acceleration and overall performance, according to ZF.

What's Trending?

Four key trends in Class 8 trucks:

  • Electrification, which, at the moment, has range challenges.
  • Fuel cell electric vehicles, where he sees limitations in terms of technology and hydrogen costs;
  • Optimization of existing ICE engines with a different type of fuel.
  • Hybrid trucks, in which the applications are based on regulation or environment.

Source: Christian Feldhaus, ZF commercial vehicle driveline systems director in the Americas 

Almost 50,000 square feet of space at Gray Court is dedicated to PowerLine production.

PowerLine was first produced for internal combustion engine vehicles. The product replaced a six-speed transmission product line.

The transmission is now ready for hybrid engines.

“PowerLine for hybrid engines is currently a pilot product and has not been fully launched,” Feldhaus said.

ZF sees a market for hybrid Classes 5-8 commercial vehicles, particularly where there are restricted options, such as in California.

“PowerLine is a short-term greenhouse gas reduction enabler,” he said. “Hybrid vehicles are a bridge technology for some of our customers if electrification is not going as quickly as they would wish, particularly with battery costs still relatively high.”

Peter Laier


Peter Laier, ZF management board member responsible for commercial vehicle solutions, noted of the hybrid option: “With its modular design, PowerLine can offer mild hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants, making it a true technology bridge to future mobility and bringing advancements to the important commercial vehicle market, one of the workhorses of the global economy.”

In specific applications, ZF said, PowerLine offers fuel savings of up to 10% and may promote enhanced acceleration performance.

The hybrid option for PowerLine is the latest product for alternate fuel commercial vehicles ZF has introduced.

At the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in May 2023 in Anaheim, Calif., ZF unveiled its AxTrax 2 electric axle platform. The powertrain system is available for light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.

Serial production of AxTrax 2 is expected to start in the U.S. in 2025, with production scheduled to begin in Europe late this year.

The platform comes in two options: with one e-drive and AxTrax 2 dual with two integrated e-drives.

AxTrax 2 works for Classes 5-7 commercial vehicles with a single e-axle in a 4x2 or 6x2, or a Class 8 truck with two e-axles in a 6x4 configuration.

Did You Know?

Electric axles are designed to replace the engine, transmission, driveshaft, differential and conventional axle in the electrification of a commercial vehicle.

Meanwhile, the TraXon automated transmission system also is being introduced for alternate-fuel Class 8 commercial vehicles, although it has been available for eight to nine years for conventional drivetrain vehicles, said Feldhaus. TraXon 2 is set to start serial production this year.

The new products are leading to changes at Gray Court.

Gray Court previously produced 1 million transmissions per year, nearly all of which were for passenger cars.

The 1,687,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, which opened in 2012 and employs 2,700 staff, is the first in the U.S. to produce the PowerLine transmission.

Gray Court is likely to see an expansion of the manufacturing of products for commercial vehicles in the coming years, Feldhaus told TT, with further announcements expected in the coming months.

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