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Automotive Engineer

Q&A: Dr Bernd Bohr, Bosch

The Tier One's automotive group chairman on electrification costs, downsizing, and advanced driver assistance systems

Simon Bickerstaffe in Q&A.
  • Published in Q&A.

Technology is evolving faster than ever: what's the biggest challenge you face?

We see a fundamental structural change coming in the future. But the question is when will this happen? We are investing in two key technologies in parallel: the continuation of combustion engine improvement, where we still see a huge potential of at least 30%. And at the same time we're investing in electrification: €400 million a year.

Our sales in electrification last year were €140 million so at this point in time it's an investment in the future but yet a business proposition. We think it will take at least until the latter half of the decade to make this a real business. Heavy investments upfront, and a degree of uncertainty – but for a company with a long-term approach this is not a real problem.

What about combustion engine downsizing – is this happening quickly enough?

We're seeing a huge increase in the number of downsized engines, meaning gasoline direct injection plus turbocharging. Our numbers on GDI are increasing dramatically – this year it's already a €1 billion business. We started 10 years ago and for many years it was pushed back, but now we see it going in the opposite direction. Sometimes we have a hard time catching up on delivery of GDI injectors – this has become one of my headaches in recent months.

OEMs in Europe are dealing with CO2 targets – North America has CAFE regulations. Are the technologies common?

We're seeing companies there going in the direction of GDI but the market direction is not so much into downsizing; it's more on improving the efficiency of – from a European perspective – relatively large engines. We're also seeing development towards homogeneous charge compression ignition, where you can leave the engine as it is but have a more efficient mode and get maybe 15% fuel efficiency improvement.

For the US OEMs the big question is how will downsizing – meaning fewer cylinders – be appreciated by American consumers? Such as an SUV with a high-power four cylinder diesel engine? It's an interesting proposition but would he accept this? It's one of the unknowns.

Bosch is the world's largest Tier One but you have strong competitors in powertrain and safety: given the cost presssure you face, can you see greater co-operation on some technologies?

With the need for this parallel development on the combustion engine side and on electrification we're seeing more and more co-operation. Look at us: we're doing so with Mahle on turbochargers. Both of us could have done it alone but we said let's combine our resources, and it's proving pretty successful.

We're co-operating with Denso on fuel systems – electric fuel pumps – and on base development of navigation systems. We're competitors on one hand but there are also win-win opportunities. I think we'll see this more and more as technology proliferates.

What do you think industry's greatest challenge will be in 2020 – will it still be CO2, or something else by then?

From a European perspective, I think the technology development and influx from the emerging markets could be a big challenge. Viewed from Bosch, we've put the ball where the game's going to be: CO2 reduction, driver assistance systems and working in the direction of autonomous driving. That's something which is going to have almost as much influence as electrification.

Guilty as charged: Electromobility may be the future but isn't a profitable business case yet