Automotive parts maker ZF Friedrichshafen is set to make a big push into electrification and autonomous drive, announcing plans to invest US$14 billion (RM57.99 billion) in the areas of e-mobility over the next five years, Bloomberg reports.

The research on these technologies will be used to develop an autonomous electric delivery vehicle for the logistics industry, an arena which the company says is overtaking the passenger car sector when it comes to the automation of driving functions.

The US$2.8 billion (RM11.59 billion) annual allocation for electric and autonomous R&D is higher than the US$2.59 billion (RM10.7 billion) the company spent in overall research and development in 2017, highlighting its intent to be at the forefront in the segment. The move will see ZF taking the fight to the likes of the Volkswagen and Ford, which have the Crafter and Transit as similarly-scoped offerings.

Work on a self-driving, battery-powered delivery van is already underway, and plans to test the vehicle in its hometown of Friedrichshafen, and ZF CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider said that the vehicle will be ready for series production within the next two years.

The company said that the van will have Level 4 autonomous functions and will be able to navigate city centres on its own, recognise traffic lights, maintain its position on streets without markings and even move around double-parked cars. It will also have a “follow me” function allowing a parcel carrier to deliver packages on foot.

The report added that the shift to electric and self-driving vehicles is opening the field not just to new competitors but segments as well – autonomous vehicles are likely to take off first in commercial applications due to the challenge of finding drivers and the search for efficiency gains amid booming online shopping. Germany’s Deutsche Post postal service already has a fleet of its own fully-electric StreetScooter delivery vans.