FRIEDRICHSHAFEN, Germany -- ZF Friedrichshafen has acquired a 45 percent stake in Astyx Communication & Sensors, which develops and produces ultra-high-frequency radar sensors and modules.
ZF characterized the stake acquisition as a significant step in its move into advanced autonomous technologies.
ZF is a leading supplier of transmissions, chassis parts and steering and safety systems and is seeking to become a global force in emerging autonomous vehicle technology.
Radar is a crucial technology in object recognition -- a feature that will aid future vehicles in accident avoidance and autonomous driving.
Astyx is a small high-tech company of about 50 employees based in Ottobrunn near Munich, that makes sensors and modules for short- and long-range radar for the auto industry, satellite technology, aerospace and industrial applications. The company was created in 1997 as a spin-off from Daimler Benz Aerospace AG (now EADS).
ZF purchased the stake from Hannover Finanz Group and founding shareholders.
ZF CEO Stefan Sommer announced the transaction at a press conference Wednesday evening at ZF’s new headquarters building here. He declined to say what it paid for the stake.
“Our ‘See – Think – Act’ principal means we’re committed to giving cars of the future new senses and heightened intelligence,” Sommer said in a statement. “With our investment in radar technology, we are reinforcing the eyesight of future cars.”
ZF on Thursday released its first consolidated financial results since its $12.4 billion acquisition of U.S. supplier TRW.
The company reported revenues of 35.2 billion euros ($37.89 billion) in 2016. At the time of the TRW deal’s consummation in May 2015, the combined companies created the world’s second-largest automotive components supplier.
ZF integrated TRW operations into its Active and Passive Safety Technology Division, which is now serving as a platform to help make ZF a major player in the autonomous vehicle field. The division is continuing work, started before the acquisition, to develop radar and other self-driving technologies.
Since the TRW acquisition, ZF has launched Zukunft Ventures Gmbh, a unit formed last year to manage ZF’s additional acquisitions in technology startups.
In an interview at ZF headquarters here, Torsten Gollewski, director of Zukunft Ventures and ZF head of advanced engineering, said Zukunft’s purpose is to “support and accelerate the strategic change of ZF.
“With Astyx we now have quick access to the next generation of basic radar technology, which we will further develop with colleagues of former TRW.”
“With Astyx, we’re taking another technology leap toward complex environment recognition that will allow fully autonomous driving in the future,” he said in a separate statement.
'A very strong partner'
Astyx CEO Gunther Trummer said the partnership with ZF gives his company “a very strong partner which systematically shapes the megatrends of safety and autonomous driving.”
Last year, Zukunft Ventures acquired an interest in another emerging technology company, Ibeo Automotive Systems GmbH, a lidar and sensor fusion company in Hamburg, Germany.
ZF also bought a 40 percent stake in doubleSlash Net-Business GmbH, a software company involved in vehicle networking, also based in Friedrichshafen.
ZF, meanwhile, said it expects to achieve an adjusted operating margin of more than 6 percent and group sales of 36 billion euros ($38.65 billion) this year as it continues to absorb the TRW acquisition.
Last year, ZF's adjusted earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rose 20 percent to 2.2 billion euros, the company said in a statement released Thursday.
Group sales rose 21 percent to 35.2 billion euros, corresponding to an EBIT margin of 6.4 percent.
ZF said the company's performance was mainly due to "better operating performance and synergies leveraged by integrating TRW."
ZF was able to reduce its debt load by roughly 1.6 billion euros to 8.26 billion euros, thanks to a strong free cash flow of more than 2 billion euros, and further debt reduction remains a central target for 2017.
In other remarks on Thursday, Sommer said the company is “very worried” about the global protectionist tide that could jeopardize the free movement of goods and ideas upon which global companies like ZF have come to depend.
Asked specifically about U.S. President Donald Trump’s vow to levy tariffs on imports from Mexico and to build a border wall, Sommer said: “Yes Germany has some experience with a wall and it was a very negative experience. In the end, we tear it down and since then Germany has done quite well. I cannot understand why anyone in the world, wherever he is, tries to raise up walls. A bigger free trade area would be beneficial for the U.S.”
But he said ZF has no plans to withdraw any investments in the U.S.
“We will follow our customers. They will decide where is the best place to produce.”
Sommer said he did not believe the protectionist tide would impact the company’s operations significantly in 2017.
Reuters contributed to this report.