Federal fuel-economy requirements are helping to boost business and create jobs at the ZF Group’s new transmission plant in Laurens County.
The German automotive supplier announced Friday that it will add another 450 jobs at the plant, for a total of 1,650, as automakers show strong interest in the fuel-saving eight- and nine-speed transmissions made there.
One reason for the strong sales, ZF executives said, is that automakers are turning over every stone trying to meet a new requirement that cars and light trucks sold in the United States have an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
Ludger Reckmann, vice president, powertrain technology, for ZF Transmissions, said automakers are under tremendous pressure to meet the standard.
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One way to do it, he said, is to improve transmissions, “and we are providing the best transmissions in the world, providing the best fuel economy.”
Christian Reichhard, the plant’s senior manager for applications engineering, said ZF’s nine-speed transmission achieves 16 percent greater fuel efficiency, compared to a six-speed.
ZF also said it would spend another $175 million to expand the plant by 450,000 square feet. That brings the total investment to $600 million and the total square feet to 1.4 million.
So far, the company, based in Friedrichshafen, Germany, has announced Chrysler and Jaguar Land Rover as customers for the plant.
Jaguar Land Rover picked ZF’s nine-speed transmission for its 2014 Range Rover Evoque, its most fuel-efficient SUV, said Clinton Blair, a vice president with the automaker’s North American organization who attended a dedication ceremony for the plant Friday.
“We have a real challenge to meet across the industry to improve fuel economy, so you’re going to see new models, new technology coming into our vehicles and everyone else to improve fuel economy,” Blair said.
He said the latest Range Rover Sport has an all-aluminum body to boost fuel economy, handling and performance.
ZF first announced a presence in the Owings Industrial Park between Fountain Inn and Gray Court three years ago, saying it would spend $450 million on plant and equipment and hire 900.
Later, with the plant still under construction, the company said it would spend an additional $80 million and hire 300 more for a total of 1,200 positions.
Reckmann said the plant has made 10,000 transmissions so far and will be able to make 1.2 million a year at full production.
Also on hand for Friday’s dedication ceremony were Gov. Nikki Haley and Andreas Brand, lord mayor of the city of Friedrichshafen, which is the beneficiary of a foundation that owns the bulk of the ZF Group.