FRIEDRICHSHAFEN, Germany—Among executives at ZF Friedrichshafen's global headquarters in Germany, there's no sugarcoating the magnitude of COVID-19's economic impact. ZF, the world's fifth-largest auto supplier last year, says its sales forecast is in line with current economic forecasts that suggest the moment represents the "most significant crisis since 1929."
Most of ZF's factories in China have resumed production, and executives believe their gradual ramp-up in other regions will benefit from lessons learned from ZF's China experience. Personal protective equipment will be issued to employees, cafeteria times staggered and sick people prevented from entering buildings.
ZF has instituted pay cuts for salaried employees and furloughs in some instances. Some temporary and permanent layoffs have been made, but the company did not specify the number of employees affected. Despite the responses, ZF says it remains committed to its long-term advanced driver-assist system and self-driving development plans.
"The automotive industry must balance the short-term needs of our new market reality with the essential need to push ahead on our efforts to make clean mobility a reality," the company said in a statement. "The development of ADAS and automated driving will continue to be one of ZF's primary goals for next-generation mobility—we will continue to support further investment there."
Just before the pandemic struck, the company inked an important partnership with self-driving truck startup TuSimple to develop and commercialize autonomous-trucking technology.
In the short term, the company said there are no anticipated changes related to its pending acquisition of braking-controls supplier WABCO. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter, pending regulatory approval.
Meanwhile, ZF has called on its experience in sewing and manufacturing airbags to produce face masks. The company has made more than 100,000 face masks in locations around the world through a partnership with Detroit Sewn, a nonprofit connecting makers of personal protective equipment with those who need it.
Other ZF employees have taken 3D printers home and are using them to make plexiglass face shields. In some cases, they're running the machines 24 hours a day to help front-line workers counter COVID-19.