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Saab signs up ZF to build chassis parts

Under the skin: ZF designs, engineers and produces a wide range of automotive componentry, including front and rear axle assemblies like those it will provide to Saab.

ZF to open chassis factory on Saab’s doorstep to help with all-new 9-3 platform

25 Mar 2011

GERMAN automotive technology giant ZF will set up a new Swedish operation to develop and deliver chassis components for the next-generation Saab 9-3 when it enters production next year, as well as future products from the rejuvenated Scandinavian brand.

ZF, best known for its vehicle transmissions but also heavily involved with chassis technology, will establish its first-ever Scandinavian factory on existing Saab-leased premises in Halvorstorp just three kilometres from Saab’s Trollhattan production facility.

The pre-production plant, expected to employ 50 people, will supply front sub-frames and complete rear axle assemblies for the new 9-3 and future Saab models that will share the company’s newly-developed ‘modular vehicle architecture’ platform.

Saab’s stamping plant will produce large sub-frame pressings and deliver them to ZF where they will be welded together and fitted with chassis mountings. ZF will also fit suspension and brake components to the rear sub-frames before passing them to Saab’s production line for installation.

 center imageLeft: Saab PhoeniX Geneva concept.

Saab says this is the latest step in its “entrepreneurial” business strategy and the first time it has had a chassis supplier set up shop on its doorstep.

Benefits of the scheme are said to include reduced transportation costs, lower inventory requirements and fewer exchange-rate liabilities – as Sweden has not joined the Euro currency.

Operating the local satellite plant, which will employ ‘just in time’ lean production methods, is also hoped to enhance Saab’s relationship with ZF and ease the joint development of components while improving quality control.

Saab vice president for vehicle product development Mats Fägerhag said, “This is a significant step in the development of our engineering capabilities.

“It gives us close access to ZF’s world-class engineering expertise, which will become an integral part of our product development program. It is a win/win situation for us from both a business and an engineering perspective.”

Curiously, Saab hints in its press release that the move also opens the door for ZF to act as a local supplier to “other Swedish manufacturers,” or in other words domestic rival Volvo, which is headquartered 70 kilometres south of Trollhattan in Gothenburg.

The PhoeniX concept was based on Saab’s new flexible platform that will make its production debut on next year’s 9-3 replacement. Like Aston Martin’s ‘VH’ architecture, the platform is designed to be flexible enough to underpin a variety of vehicle sizes.

As GoAuto reported last September, Saab and BMW announced a deal that enable the Swedish brand to use the Mini’s turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine to power the next-generation 9-3.

The PhoeniX concept’s hybrid drivetrain featured the BMW-sourced petrol engine, supplemented by Saab’s ‘eXWD’ system comprising a rear-mounted electric motor and generator powered by a small battery pack charged by regenerative braking.

The company – rebuilding after its purchase by sportscar maker Spyker Cars from General Motors in January 2010 – is choosing its friends wisely, combining the best of German engineering from BMW and ZF with its own Scandinavian design – led by a former Ferrari stylist Jason Castriota.

ZF employs 64,000 people worldwide and supplies 123 companies in 27 countries while BMW’s global workforce of 96,000 is represented across 140 countries, with 24 production facilities in 13 countries. By comparison Saab is minnow-like, with 3800 staff in Sweden.

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