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75 years of car steering system production
ZF: five million electric power steering units

The ZF Servolectric power steering system only needs power when the unit is actually steered. Photo: ZF.

ZF EPS: it needs power only when the unit is actually steered.

22 June 2007.

Electric power steering (EPS) is not a luxury equipment to be only found in small cars of expensive brands. Better, is not restricted anymore to the small B-segment cars. EPS is climbing up the passenger car segments ladder to the C-segment, lower-medium sized cars (compact cars category in the US), like the VW Golf.

This growth meant at ZF Steering Systems, or ZF Lenksysteme GmbH (a 50:50 Bosch-ZF joint venture), that the 5 millionth ZF electric power steering unit was produced in the same year that the German supplier is celebrating 75 years of ZF passenger car steering systems production.

The five millionth Servolectric® electric power steering system left the Schwäbisch Gmünd line on June 20, 2007, four years after this steering system was used with passenger cars for the very first time.

Gradually, the EPS has developed into a standard component for all volume production vehicles built on the Golf platform of the Volkswagen Group, the largest European carmaker (4th largest in the world) which includes the VW, Audi, Skoda, SEAT, Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini brands. The Golf platform is used in models sold under the VW, Audi, Skoda and SEAT badges.

In comparison to the hydraulic solution, the Servolectric helps save up to 85 percent energy. It only needs power when the unit is actually steered.

How it works - The steering mechanism itself is based on the principles of a rack-and-pinion steering; in the case of the electric power steering, it is linked to high performance electronics. As soon as the driver makes a steering motion, the power steering assistance required for the maneuver is transferred via the electric servomotor to the mechanical rack-and-pinion steering.

Thanks to the electric drive, in comparison to a “pure” hydraulic servo steering system powered by the engine, the Servolectric saves up to 0.3 liters fuel on 100 km. According to ZF estimates, the new production figure of five million units means an annual savings of 150 million liters fuel, a pre-assumption based on an average driving of 10,000 kilometers per vehicle. Thus, a reduction of 3,555 tons CO2 emissions is achieved.

In addition to reduced fuel consumption, the electric power steering offers other advantages. Except for the power-steering unit, there are no other assemblies: steering valve, steering pump, oil reservoir, and high-pressure hoses are not needed. This saves weight and facilitates installation. The use of hydraulic oil for power transfer purposes becomes also redundant, which constitutes another eco-friendly characteristic

But the steering business wasn't born yesterday at ZF. In 1932, with the acquisition of a license from the American Ross Gear & Tool Company Inc., Indiana, USA,  for the production of Ross steering gears for automobiles, ZF launched the production of the so-called “Ross steering“ for the German and European market in the very same year.

At ZF’s corporate headquarters in Friedrichshafen, 10,000 units of that comfortable steering system were manufactured in 1932 and installed in various vehicle types by Audi, Maybach, and Wanderer.

In 1945, production of the Ross steering system was continued at ZF's Schwäbisch Gmünd location and soon replaced by the ZF inhouse development for cars and commercial vehicles; the latter encompassed the ZF-Gemmer worm-and-roller steering system and in 1956, the ZF spindle-type hydraulic power steering system, one of the first steering systems with hydraulic power assistance which was primarily used for off-terrain and commercial vehicles.

In 1999, the Schwäbisch Gmünd location became a 50:50 joint venture of the Robert Bosch GmbH and ZF Friedrichshafen AG companies and ever since, is officially recognized as ZF Lenksysteme GmbH, specialised in the fields of steering technology for passenger cars and commercial vehicles, with 9,400 employees at 18 locations and in 11 countries, achieving in 2006 a sales figure of approximately EUR 2.4 billion.

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