February 28, 2019 / 12:41 PM / 7 months ago

UPDATE 1-ZF Friedrichshafen says held takeover talks with Wabco

* ZF, TRW confirm companies have held takeover talks

* ZF says no decision taken on whether to pursue deal

* ZF Wabco have developed automated braking system for trucks (adds details, background)

By Edward Taylor and Jan Schwartz

FRANKFURT, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Automotive supplier ZF Friedrichshafen on Thursday confirmed it has held takeover talks with U.S. rival Wabco as the unlisted German company seeks to overhaul its business for an era of self-driving trucks.

Wabco specialises in advanced driver assistance systems for trucks and trailers, key building blocks for developing autonomous driving technologies, a major growth area for car and truck makers and their suppliers.

“ZF regularly reviews strategic options such as partnerships or possible sensible acquisitions. These strategic considerations repeatedly lead to ZF talking to other companies,” the spokesman said.

“We have also held open discussions with Wabco. However, there are no decisions.”

ZF, which already helps carmakers develop gearboxes and hybrid drivetrains, has been on the lookout for a strategic partner after an analysis showed them that semi-autonomous driving functions and vehicle connectivity will develop into important new business areas.

A takeover would mark ZF’s second attempt at clinching Wabco and comes after ZF failed to buy Sweden’s Haldex, another supplier which specialises in braking systems for trucks and trailers.

Wabco, which is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium but has its executive offices in Auburn Hills, Michigan, on Wednesday confirmed that it had been approached by ZF Friedrichshafen regarding a potential takeover.

The market for advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous vehicles is expected to grow from about $3 billion in 2015 to $96 billion in 2025 and $290 billion in 2035, according to Goldman Sachs.

ZF and Wabco already jointly developed a so-called Evasive Manoeuvre Assist system, which combines Wabco’s braking, stability and vehicle dynamics control systems for trucks with ZF’s active steering technology.

In June, ZF’s Chief Executive Wolf-Henning Scheider said he did not expect any major acquisitions, including of Wabco, because the area of brakes technology was not a priority for ZF.

ZF has been prevented from pursuing aggressive takeover plans by its controlling shareholder, the Zeppelin Foundation, which has been wary of taking on too much debt.

ZF’s management and the foundation clashed in the aftermath of ZF’s 2015 takeover of U.S. rival TRW for $13.5 billion euros. Before this deal ZF had not taken on any debt. With the TRW deal, ZF added sensors, brakes and airbags to its core business of manufacturing automated gearboxes for combustion-engined and hybrid cars.

Writing by Arno Schuetze Editing by Riham Alkousaa and Elaine Hardcastle

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