A Concept Car As Collaboration Platform

ZF's AUV features a front axle steering angle of up to 75 degrees (Image credit: ZF)

Concept cars are nothing new in the automobile industry, and they’re particularly common now that companies outside the business are vying for attention. ZF, the giant German car parts maker, debuted an updated Advanced Urban Vehicle, or “AUV,” not only to promote its vision, but also to serve as a platform for its innovation. According to Stefan Sommer, ZF’s CEO:

“We wanted to make a statement about the future.”

That future was as much about the company as the megatrends it was addressing. ZF closed on its $12.4 billion acquisition of TRW only two months before it revealed its updated AUV to the media. The car was intended as a tool for “making the first real statement” about the integrated capabilities of the new company, according to Sommer.

“We didn’t have to explain the opportunity to the engineers,” he said. “TRW has expertise in active and passive safety, and systems digitation, so we saw the complementary benefits of integrating that technology with ours.”

“It was easier to explain it to the rest of the organization with a car instead of a PowerPoint.”

The AUV illustrates many of the developmental opportunities that will find their way into production vehicles long before we see cars driving themselves down the Autobahn: A front axle that allows the wheels to turn 75% and literally move sideways into parking spaces; a control function from the steering wheel or smartphone (i.e. you can park it while standing on the curb); and a cloud-based service that learns commonly-driven routes, and moderates torque and braking to maximize safety and fuel economy.

“If the next step change is autonomous driving, you need to give customers value along the journey,” Sommer said. “Not just steering, but give them better experiences.”

Not surprisingly, the AUV is not a single concept, but an evolving idea. ZF plans to share an iterated version at next year’s CES; while it won’t reveal specifics, it’s working on intelligent braking, transmission improvements, and a redundant, failsafe intelligence for safety that could include things like airbags on the outside of the car.

“We want to meet and collaborate with new players,” Sommer said.