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ZF Group expanding South Carolina footprint


By Scott Miller and James T. Hammond

smiller@scbiznews.com
jhammond@scbiznews.com

Published July 22, 2010

ZF Group of Germany today announced plans to build a plant in Laurens County to make automatic transmissions for the passenger car and light truck market as it expands established relationships with automakers throughout North America, including BMW Manufacturing Co. in Spartanburg County.

The $350 million plant will employ 900 by 2015.

The German company operates locations throughout the United States. In South Carolina, ZF already operates facilities in Lancaster and Duncan. Its Duncan facility supplies front and rear axle assemblies and front upper control arms to BMW Manufacturing Co. in Spartanburg County.

Also in the United States, ZF produces suspension components and systems, steering pumps and gears, shock absorbers, electronics components and axel drives. 

“We probably built a part of every vehicle out there,” joked Bryan Johnson, manager of marketing communications for ZF Group’s North American operations, headquartered in Michigan.

A worker at ZF Getriebe GmbH’s Saarbrücken, Germany plant assembles an 8-speed automatic transmission. (Photo/Provided)
A worker at ZF Getriebe GmbH’s Saarbrücken, Germany plant assembles an 8-speed automatic transmission. (Photo/Provided)

In Laurens County, ZF Group will build fuel-efficient, eight-speed automatic transmissions. But eventually, ZF could produce more products in Laurens County but doesn’t have plans to do so now, Johnson said. He said ZF has not released the names of customers for this plant but said product could be shipped all over North America and possibly exported in the future.

The company currently makes those transmissions at a plant in Germany.

Robert Hitt, BMW Manufacturing’s chief spokesman, said ZF Group makes all the transmissions for cars made at the Spartanburg County plant. This year, the plant expects to assemble 155,000 vehicles. Recently, BMW announced that it had finished production of its 1 millionth X5 Sports Activity vehicle. The plant also produces the X6 Sports Activity Coupe and will begin production on the X3.

“Right now they bring them from Europe,” Hitt said, noting ZF also supplies other U.S. auto manufacturers as well.

“Obviously, they have a good business case for building a plant in the United States,” Hitt said.

“To the best of my knowledge, every transmission we’ve installed here, they made,” he said. “We have a long-term relationship with ZF, both here and worldwide.”

When fully operational, ZF will be the largest manufacturing employer in Laurens County, said Marvin Moss, executive director of the Laurens County Development Corp., and second in employment only to Wal-Mart, which employs 1,000 at a distribution center there.

ZF, which will become the first tenant at the Owens Industrial Park off Interstate 385 just south of the Greenville County line, supplies to BMW, the Big Three and most major automobile manufacturers.

Gov. Mark Sanford today joined ZF Group at its headquarters in Friedrichshafen, Germany to announce the company’s decision to expand its operations in South Carolina.

“ZF's decision to make a jobs and capital investment of this magnitude, indeed the largest single infusion of jobs in the history of Laurens County, is an incredible compliment to our state,” Sanford said. “This announcement represents not only enormously good news for our state’s economy, but also is a telling dividend from our continued efforts to better the business climate in South Carolina.  Our meeting with ZF today was productive and offered a real glimpse of what is headed to our state with ZF's new operations, and I’d join with South Carolinians in thanking ZF for their investment.”

ZF plans to begin construction at the plant in January. A general contractor has been hired but has asked to remain unidentified for now, Johnson said. Specifics on ZF’s planned facility are unavailable, he said.

Hiring is anticipated to begin in early 2012 for skilled positions that include CNC operators, assemblers, production and logistics.  The state’s worker training program, readySC, will assist in the hiring process.  Information will be posted at www.sctechjobs.com as jobs become available. 

ZF has 123 production locations in 27 countries.  In 2009, the ZF Group achieved sales of approximately 9.4 billion Euro with 60,000 employees.  It is ranked among the 10 largest automotive suppliers worldwide.  For more information, visit www.zf.com.

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