Im Dialog mit Dr. Wilhelm Steger

ZKW Group GmbH

Im Dialog mit Dr. Wilhelm Steger

CEO at ZKW Group GmbH

Change is a powerful force, one that drives innovation, transforms industries, and reshapes the future. In the dynamic world of the automotive industry, embracing change is not just an option, but a necessity for survival and success. The ZKW Group is a leader in developing innovative premium lighting systems and electronics and drives the future of mobility on the road – together with LG, with »bright innovative minds« and sustainability focus.

ZKW is undergoing a remarkable transformation. You are driving the change within the group worldwide. Can you describe this change?
Since ZKW’s foundation in 1938, ZKW has established a significant footprint in the global automotive sector. This journey of growth took a strategic turn in 2018, when ZKW joined the LG Group as part of the LG Electronics Vehicle Solutions. This pivotal move marked ZKW’s transition from a family-owned business to a key player within a global corporate framework.

Today, ZKW continues to develop and manufacture cutting-edge lighting and electronic systems tailored to all mobility concepts, underlining its commitment to innovation in automotive lighting. In 2023, ZKW’s global workforce numbered approximately 10,000 employees, and the company reported sales reaching about 1.54 billion euros. This integration presents a wealth of opportunities for ZKW, enabling it to scale new heights and redefine its role in a rapidly evolving industry.

It is all about change inside and outside of the top companies! How would you describe the transformation of the automotive industry? What will be the role of light in the future?
The automotive industry in Europe is undergoing a remarkable transformation. When we are looking back, one terrible year has followed another in recent years. The global automotive production has been hit by several setbacks since corona-virus, including the war in Ukraine, huge increases in energy costs, high inflation and instability in supply chains. At the same time, the industry still has to make the complete transition to electromobility and the digital networking of vehicles, combined with disproportionately high increases in development costs and investments.

The switch to electric vehicles can be seen as an advantage for ZKW, as we see a higher demand for high-quality and large lighting systems. The role of light in autonomous vehicles will be fundamentally different from today: it is no longer important to illuminate the road well in order to improve visibility. The light will be much more responsible for communicating with non-autonomous road users.

What are the markets you are focusing now and in the future?
ZKW’s regional business development is in line with global market development. Our aim is to have a balanced regional portfolio. Currently, just over two thirds of our sales come from Europe. This share will fall to less than 50% by 2027. Growth can mainly be realised in North America and Asia. Meanwhile, Europe will stagnate – which is due not only to market factors but also to poor location conditions.

In general, China is the largest market for automotive headlamps. North America is one of the top 3 markets for automotive lighting – for ZKW it will be the second largest market in 2028.

It is no longer impor-tant to illuminate the road well in order to improve visibility. The light will be much more responsible for communicating with non-autonomous road users.

Which innovations have been become possible in the alliance with LG?
Together with LG, we work on the Mega Trend »Customer Experience«. With the »Digital Lighting Experience« vision and strategy, we are taking our portfolio to a new level. This also marked our world premiere, which we featured together with LG at the CES in Las Vegas at the beginning of this year 2024. The LG Concept Car »Alpha-able« with the high-resolution MicroZ module – which is based on an LED light source with thousands of individually addressable pixels – gives an insight into the future of automotive entertainment. The »Head Lamp Projection Theater Display« enables a 100-inch image that can be used to display a wide range of entertainment content based on Over-the-top-communication via the Internet (e.g., Netflix), transforming the car into a mobile cinema experience.

What are future projects and innovations?
First of all, we are working on »Innovation by software for lighting«. Driven by increased traffic in urban areas we developed a Scene-based Digital Light. This feature assists the driver with light adapted to the current scene. The sensor input controls the required visibility level. We are fostering security on the road and focus on better detection of vulnerable road users. It helps also to detect wild animals or pedestrians crossing on country roads in the dark.

In addition, we enable the car to become your »Journey Curator«. For example, when you are driving to the opera, the car delivers an extending home mood, pulling destination mood, gives information about the play, music is added, etc. Driven by megatrend »Software-Defined Vehicle«, Lighting becomes likewise a software-defined service available to individual purposes. Services enable new revenue streams, which are powered by a new ecosystem.

Im Dialog mit Dr. Wilhelm Steger
Im Dialog mit Dr. Wilhelm Steger
Im Dialog mit Dr. Wilhelm Steger

ZKW has earned a lot of recognition for its latest product innovations?
ZKW takes pride in its award-winning designs and collaborations, like the mechanically transformable Volvo EX90 lamp, which features a unique »wink« effect. The company also collaborates with Swarovski and BMW to integrate crystal optics in the BMW i7, enhancing vehicle aesthetics with light.

What is your commitment to the sustainable development goals (SDG)?
ZKW is committed to protecting the environment and reducing its environmental impact. The goals are the continuous reduction of resource consumption and the avoidance of fossil fuels.

We focus on sustainability along the entire product life cycle. We promise to make our production facilities CO2-neutral by 2025 and all products CO2-neutral by 2038. How we do that? We are living sustainability through eco-design, use of recycled materials and green electricity. In the manufacturing phase we are focusing the use of biogenic and recycled materials for our products, sustainable product design.

As CEO of a global company with 10,000 employees, you are faced with the challenge of promoting a corporate culture that also respects local differences. How do you deal with this challenge?
The transformation from a family-owned company towards a global player in the automotive sector as part of a stocklisted company LG needs time and also causes uncertainties. During the past multiple crisis it has become difficult for all the employees globally to stay always positive, that’s clear. ZKW’s core DNA is: »TOGETHER we can achieve everything. Anything is possible and nothing is too difficult for us«.

We are promoting the identification with ZKW as a global company – in form of respect and acceptance for the diversity of everyone. We are a company that values and promotes diversity, because »even in light all colours are united«. We see diversity as a driving force for innovation and take measures to raise awareness of diversity within the company, promoting women in management, inclusion of people with disabilities, promoting intercultural diversity, reconciling family and career.

We understand that cultural change is not a one-off project, but a continuous process. A key starting point here is communication: we rely on open dialogue with leadership information, townhall-meetings and our internal »myZKW«-employee app with translation into 18 languages, which gives all employees the opportunity not only to be informed about the company news but also to contribute their ideas and concerns.

How is your outlook for the future?
I am confident about the future of ZKW. Our position on the global market is strong, which is illustrated by our order backlog of over 9 billion euros. This solid foundation shows that our customers have confidence in our products and innovations and that we are recognized as the partner of choice in the automotive industry. Integration into LG’s network has provided us with additional resources and expertise that will enable us to remain at the forefront of developing advanced lighting systems and electronic solutions for all mobility concepts.

In short, our future looks very bright and I look forward to continuing to lead ZKW on this exciting journey.

Dr. Wolfgang Eckelt, High Performance | Top Company Guide