ZF Debuts New Modular Inverter, ADAS Supply Deal at CES

A supply partnership with Vietnam’s VinFast, a modular inverter and a “lighthouse” roboshuttle highlight ZF’s latest technology plays.

VinFast’s largest new electric SUV, the VF9, will use ZF's enhanced SAE Level 2 functions when it launches in mid-2022. (VinFast)

ZF's long history of working with automakers now extends to Vietnam. ZF and VinFast Automotive, the automotive arm of the VinFast Global conglomerate, announced at CES 2022 that it would bring advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to VinFast's electric vehicles. Established in 2017, VinFast has begun taking reservations for its first EVs, the VF 8 and VF 9. VinFast introduced these vehicles as the e35 and the e36, respectively, at the 2021 Los Angeles Auto Show.

ZF’s new modular e-Drive Kit enables faster system development, said board member Martin Fischer. (Michael Moenning)

VinFast will use ZF's so-called “Level 2+” ADAS functions (enhanced SAE Level 2) in the new EVs when they launch in mid-2022. The ZF-VinFast partnership will lead into Level 3 technologies "over the next several years," the companies said. VinFast claims that the Eco and Plus trims of its EVs will come equipped with ZF’s “L2+” automated driving features, while the Premium trim will feature SAE Level 3 or 4 autonomous technology, but limited to automated parking situations, VinFast claims.

ZF will supply "multiple cameras, radars and lidar sensors" to VinFast, as well as a central control unit that will fuse the information from these sensors in order to offer features like traffic jam pilot, highway driving chauffeur and automated valet parking. VinFast said its EVs will be "among the first systems intended to rely on the vehicle sensor set to operate rather than pre-mapped and instrumented parking structures," when the Level 4 ZF Automated Valet Parking arrives.

"We found out that the missions between VinFast and the ZF Group are really well aligned," said ZF board of management member Martin Fischer during a press briefing. "Both of us go for safe and efficient mobility without too much impact on our environment." Fischer added that Level 3 functionality will be available in VinFast vehicles in 2023.

ZF’s new scalable and modular e-motor inverter architecture can be used in electric propulsion systems ranging from 400V to 800V. (ZF)

ZF’s ADAS sensor suite on display at CES included S-Cam4.8, a single lens camera featuring 100-degree FOV (field of view) that the company is introducing to various OEMs. ZF’s next-generation radar portfolio includes mid- and full-range options, advanced three-dimensional antennae options and radar systems with remote sensing heads that feed data into a central processor for 360-degree sensing.

VinFast has a battery leasing policy for its EVs aimed at keeping vehicle costs low. The company is accepting refundable reservations in both Vietnam and the U.S. for the new EVs using "blockchain technologies" to certify the reservations, payments and, eventually, vehicle ownership, the automaker said at CES.

For U.S. buyers of the VF 8, the $200 reservation is worth a $3,000 discount on the final purchase price, and it's worth $5,000 towards a purchase of the VF 9. The MSRP for the two EVs starts at $41,000 for the VF 8 and $56,000 for the VF 9; both prices are without battery subscription costs, ADAS or Smart Services packages or other fees. The reservation window closes April 5th, 2022.

Modular eDrive kit

ZF at CES also announced a new scalable and modular e-motor inverter architecture that can be used in powertrain systems ranging from 400V to 800V. But it's the other flexibility built into the system that will likely attract the most attention in the face of the global semiconductor crisis. The new inverter architecture is not dependent on predefined semiconductors, ZF said, and was designed "to support vehicle manufacturers in bridging the silicon-to-silicon-carbide transition while also being prepared for future semiconductor trends."

This next-generation inverter, called the Modular eDrive Kit, "[optimizes] the link between the power semiconductor boundary conditions and control software in order to gain the full potential from the semiconductor configuration," ZF said, especially when used with silicon carbide chips. The Modular eDrive Kit will be ready for production by 2025 but the real benefit might be in the way this set-up helps automakers shorten their product development lead times.

Fischer said by using different semiconductor chips, whether traditional silicon or silicon carbide, and the different voltage ratings, ZF has created a platform that can be easily shaped and configured for customer applications. "When we started early, we had the comfortable situation of three years between getting the order and shipping the product," he said. "We target cutting that in half."

Autonomous shuttles

Partnerships are vital to ZF bringing new vehicles to market, Fischer said. An autonomous shuttle ZF has been testing for a few years now is a good example. In late 2021, ZF announced it would deploy the first of these shuttles on the road in Germany some time in 2022. At CES, ZF said it will also bring these shuttles to North America. "[The shuttle] is truly a ‘lighthouse’ project when it comes to new technology at ZF, and software is responsible for most of its functionality," Fisher said. "By now it is really, really well acknowledged by the industry that software defines the future."

For the shuttle, ZF is cooperating with KPIT on the middleware, which is a sort of digital "mediator" that allows functions to move between controllers, Fisher said, so ZF doesn't have to start development from scratch going from one microcontroller to another. ZF is also working with Oceaneering on the shuttle project, offering the vehicle, the "driver" and the services required to operate the shuttles to potential customers like fleets, mobility providers and airports.

Fischer didn't say where the first shuttles would be deployed in the U.S. other than to say the Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina, area is one location where ZF is engaged in "important conversations."