German automotive supplier ZF is looking to create 800 new jobs, “most of them in Michigan,” the company’s chief executive officer said during a news conference at the Detroit auto show. The company has a technical center in Northville.
The job openings come as ZF expands its traditional base in brake and chassis systems technologies and begins to push into the emerging field of autonomous vehicles. Even more new work could follow if ZF is able to find a U.S. market for an artificial intelligence system it has created as part of a joint venture with Silicon Valley tech firm NVDIA.
“If someone is available, they could start today,” said Stefan Sommer, the CEO of ZF, who held court at the supplier’s booth at the North American International Auto Show. While Michigan will make the biggest gain from the hiring spree, some jobs will be created in other parts of the country, including Silicon Valley, said Sommer, where the supplier has a technology center.
ZF started out as a classic producer of mechanical parts for the auto industry, but in recent years has steadily grown its business to focus on more advanced areas, such as digitally controlled suspensions. It wants to go even further.
During the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, the German supplier announced the alliance with NVIDIA which will result in a new artificial intelligence system it calls ProAI. This “black box” system can serve a variety of different purposes where the ability to learn can be critical. That includes everything from factory automation to autonomous vehicles.
In fact, Sommer said he expects a factory application would be the first for the ZF/NIVDIA technology, but he hopes his company will then be able to work with an automaker to provide some level of autonomous vehicle support. ZF could go all the way to providing a turnkey autonomous system, Sommer said.
Once his company gets orders for ProAI, the ZF CEO added, it will set up a manufacturing site for the technology, and it intends to produce the technology locally. That means it could add even more U.S. jobs if the system sells in the States.
ZF’s NAIAS stand displays many of the technologies it wants to see automakers under the skin of a concept vehicle called the Oasis. The two-seat electric vehicle was created as part of a partnership with Rinspeed, a Swiss design and engineering firm known for its eclectic concept vehicles. The Oasis includes not only a twin-motor battery drive but various smart mechanical systems.
That includes a steering system that can allow the Oasis to nearly spin in circles, Sommer noted.