Volkswagen AG and Ford Motor Co. are set for more competition in the race to roll out self-driving vehicles as parts supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG develops its own offering in the latest sign of how technology shifts are upending traditional roles in the auto industry.
ZF plans to invest $14 billion over the next five years on electric and autonomous vehicle technology. The spending of about 2.4 billion euros annually outpaces the 2.2 billion euros ZF spent in overall research and development last year.
The project includes developing a battery-powered delivery van that can drive on its own, the German automotive supplier said.
“Our concept vehicle will be ready for series production during the next two years,” CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider said.
ZF ranks among the world’s biggest car-parts manufacturers after the $12.9 billion takeover of TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. three years ago. The privately-held company plans to test the vehicle in its hometown of Friedrichshafen in a move that will see it go head-to-head with Volkswagen’s Crafter or Ford’s Transit van.
The car industry’s shift to electric and self-driving vehicles is opening the field to new competitors. Aside from Tesla Inc., Chinese start-ups such as NIO Inc. are proliferating, and Germany’s postal service already makes its own bare-bones electric delivery vans. Autonomous vehicles are likely to first take off in commercial applications due to the challenge of finding drivers and the hopes for efficiency gains amid booming online shopping.
ZF’s van will be highly automated and able to navigate city centers on its own, recognising traffic lights, maintaining its lane even on streets without markings and moving around double-parked cars, the company said.