“We’re showing a festival of innovations”
Matthias Zink has been CEO Automotive at Schaeffler since 2017. Since 2019 he has held this role solely and has been responsible for the Engine and Transmission Systems, E-Mobility, Bearings, Chassis Systems and New Mobility business divisions, plus Research and Development of the Automotive Technologies division and Global Key Account Management. Zink, who has a degree in mechanical engineering with a major in automotive engineering, calls himself a “car guy.” He started his career with Schaeffler at LuK in 1994 and soon afterwards assumed leadership responsibilities and corresponding roles in the company. We talked with him about the automotive highlights at the Schaeffler Kolloquium 2022 (more about the event).
Let’s start with a question to put things in perspective: Going forward, what significance will the automobile continue to have in the mobility mix?
Matthias Zink: Basically, I feel that people’s desire for mobility, especially personal mobility, has remained unbroken. The declining automotive market in the past three years can be attributed to issues like the pandemic and shortages in the supply chain, but not to people wanting to be less mobile. A look at the global markets shows that the number of vehicles per 1,000 people remains as high as ever. However, we’re seeing that personal mobility has changed quite a bit and will continue to do so. Sharing services, for instance, are going to play an increasingly important role and the difference between interurban and urban mobility will increase. That means that in the future the mobility mix will become more varied and “colorful.”
“We want to maintain this positive intensity at high levels and continue to fuel the courage for change.”
From the mobility mix to the powertrain mix: In 2017, Schaeffler put its head above the parapet, predicting that, in 2030, 30 percent of new vehicles sold will have all-electric powertrains, 40 percent will have hybrid-electric powertrains and 30 percent will continue to have ICE powertrains. That’s the Schaeffler 30/40/30 formula. Now you’re re-honing your prediction by increasing the ratio to 40/40/20 in favor of battery-electric vehicles. What’s the source of such certainty?
Certainty is a great thing in times like these (laughs). Obviously, we’re not 100 percent certain, but the following consideration explains it: At the most recent Schaeffler Kolloquium four years ago, we put our head far above the parapet because our statistics encouraged us to make that prediction – albeit with large unknown quantities for our scenario. Now – about five years later – this forecast has almost become a reality. That’s the reason why we’ve re-honed this formula. Sustainable mobility is here to stay and will clearly increase. We’re convinced of that. By the way, we’re reviewing this powertrain mix scenario on an annual basis and obviously by using a magnifying glass for the various regions – the American market has a totally different development than the Chinese and especially the European markets. But aside from looking at the realities there’s a second reason – which is very important to me from my perspective as the executive who’s responsible for Automotive: issuing this bold scenario has been beneficial for our own transformation. We want to keep this positive intensity at a high level in relation to our employees and continue to fuel the courage for change. That’s another reason why we’ve ‘honed’ our prediction to 40/40/20.
Especially in times of change, effective communication with employees is becoming even more important than before. How can that be achieved?
Subjectively, this is the most challenging as well as the most exciting time in my 27 years in this business. We have a market crisis and, especially in the Automotive sector, a reputation crisis as well. Plus, there’s a transformation process toward electric mobility with which we show how important achievement of the climate goals is. We want to and have to engage our employees in this process. We’ve been on a consistent course for growth for 75 years, have always been successful with mechanical components and suddenly many products in the marketplace are no longer needed due to electric mobility. Whether I’m a mechanic or electronics specialist makes a difference. People have two fears that we want to dispel: a general fear of the future and the fear of having to pursue further education, in other words to creatively deal with what’s going to be required of them in the new world. We actively take on this transformation and team up in making plans for the future. A willingness to work together and to embrace change within the company develops not least with a view toward forward-thinking scenarios such as 40/40/20.
Your forward-thinking plans also include the fact that Schaeffler does not exclusively focus on electric mobility …
Exactly. We’re talking about sustainability in general and that discussion is no longer strictly about sustainable powertrains for vehicles. It’s about the big picture and the energy transition process with all of its facets. When you analyze sustainability, you’ll soon get to the subject of hydrogen and, in the automotive sector, to the short-term use of synthetic fuels as well. At Schaeffler, we strongly advocate an unbiased approach to technology – including an unbiased approach to energy – if you could put it like that. Especially in view of the current political discussions that’s absolutely necessary.
Let’s talk about technologies. What is Schaeffler going to show at the Kolloquium?
A festival of innovations. Let’s start on a small scale – with major effects. We’re going to show two innovations in the area of our core competency, with bearings. With our high-performance ball bearing with an integrated centrifugal disc and our TriFinity product, we’ve achieved innovations that have been optimized once again in terms of mechanical precision, performance and efficiency. Many manufacturers are systematically searching for every gram of CO₂ savings and inquire about relevant bearings enabling them to achieve that. In the area of transmissions, as well, we’re going to show innovations, for instance dedicated MultiMode hybrid transmissions with which we’re reimagining the combination of electrical drive and mechanical systems using all-new approaches.
An endurance and smooth-running performer
Dedicated “MultiMode” hybrid transmissions
Let’s jump to something “large”: autonomous driving. What progress is Schaeffler making here?
This is another area for which we’ve defined a scenario and objectives for the various automation levels. It’s generally harder to make specific predictions than in the case of electric mobility but it’s clear that automated driving will arrive. For the highest level of automated driving, for instance, we’re developing our Rolling Chassis , a flexible, scalable platform for driverless mobility solutions – for hauling passengers as well as goods.
Let’s take a look underneath the car, into the area of the chassis. What’s ready to go there?
Our intelligent rear-axle steering system iRWS, for example. In the context of electric mobility, that’s an increasingly important subject, starting as early as in the upper mid-size car class. Due to the batteries in the underfloor, wheelbases are getting larger and larger, which reduces maneuverability. Rear-axle steering compensates for that. We’ve got several projects for the automotive industry ready to go there. Steer-by-wire technology without a steering wheel is another subject. We’ve been working on that for quite some time and are also using it in motorsport. An electronic instead of a mechanical transfer of the steering motion is a prerequisite for autonomous driving. I’d say that in ten years’ time, we’re no longer going to have a steering wheel in every automobile.
Innovative chassis systems
More range, more convenience
Key component for numerous applications
Then let’s take a general look at the Kolloquium: How would you classify this event – compared to the previous one and in general terms?
Compared to our Kolloquium four years ago, I’d say that this event represents the so far largest technological leap in the direction of future mobility. Plus, overall – after half a century of colloquiums – it’s the one featuring the largest number of innovations. It’s really – and I don’t mind repeating myself – a festival of innovations we’re going to celebrate there. Only one of the 18 presentations at the Kolloquium will be about the classic internal combustion engine. Just in terms of demo vehicles, we’re going to have twelve of them – which sets another record. We can all justifiably be proud of what we’ve established in terms of new fields of activity and dared to do in terms of innovations in the four years since our last Kolloquium – in partly very difficult times. By the way, that also shows our consistent execution of the Roadmap 2025 for our division, and I’m pleased to show that to our customers at the Kolloquium. But it’s also simply a great pleasure to see how our employees drive and live these innovations and Schaeffler’s transformation. Let me tell a little story in this context: I test-drove our demo vehicle with a fuel cell drive system from Schaeffler today. The on-site team included two electrical engineers, one of them a clutch engineer and the other one from the transmission team – so both of them were from the ‘old guard.’ I was totally thrilled to see their enthusiastic engagement in this project. Exactly that is the typical Schaeffler DNA and the strength of our company. That was an absolute highlight for me. At Schaeffler, we’ve always gone into the next responsibility of the system levels in evolutionary ways, but the change in the past four years has really been exceptional. I’d like to also thank our employees for that.
In closing, we’d like to venture a look into your crystal ball: What will be shown at the Kolloquium 2026?
I think that we’re going to talk a lot more about energy storage systems then. Of course, we’ll continue to optimize drive systems, but storage systems and the entire area of energy engineering will be topics on the agenda. Automated driving is a second major topic that I’m seeing. I think that we’re going to see the first production vehicles in four years’ time that will be operating autonomously in separate areas. Vehicles without steering wheels with all-new controls – I can also imagine that really well.
Thank you for the interview!