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Bosch multi-storey car park in Stuttgart - Copyright Frank Gärtner @ @ AdobeStock

Bosch relies on mobility solutions

Bosch has long been the world market leader in the field of electronics in automotive engineering. The trend towards electromobility will bring Bosch even further forward in the coming years. With complete solutions for electric drive systems and the takeover of the electric motor manufacturer EM-motive in January 2019, a market-dominant position in the field of electromobility was sought. With the construction of the center for artificial intelligence, the manufacturer wants to advance into pole position. Solid growth in earnings also achieved in 2021 despite the chip crisis. We take a look at developments at Bosch in recent years.

Tradition and progress

When Robert Bosch founded a workshop for precision mechanics and electrical engineering in 1886, he probably had no idea what rapid development his company would experience. One task was to build a magneto for a stationary motor according to a model. However, he improved the pattern and thus gave the go-ahead for magneto production. This example shows Bosch's path. Fine mechanical skills and electrical engineering in this combination should form the basis for sustained success in electrical engineering in automotive engineering.

As early as 1897, Bosch was using the structurally improved magneto igniter in automobiles, and in 1902 the high-voltage magneto with spark plug was introduced by chief developer Gottlob Honold. According to its own statements, it was the cornerstone for Bosch as a reliable supplier to automobile manufacturers. The success was not long in coming - and so within a few years Bosch agencies were established on all continents.

The technical development of cars led to higher speeds and correspondingly more safety requirements. Bosch developed further milestones in 1913 and 1914: the electric lighting system consisting of headlights, which consisted of an alternator, regulator and battery for night driving. The starter was responsible for starting the engine.

The anchor in a circle

The times during the First World War were shaped by the expropriation of agencies and the trademark. For its own brand core, the chief developer Gottlob Honold created a design with an anchor in a circle in November 1918, which is still associated with the Bosch brand as a defining characteristic.

The technical developments continued in the following decades. The prosperous motorization should secure the car a place as a status symbol of the driver in the 20th century. Accordingly, the new developments at Bosch were driven forward and placed in the car. Initially important components, such as the lighting systems, the horn or the windshield wipers after the World War, were soon followed by milestones such as the diesel injection pump and the entry into new business areas such as power tools and thermotechnology as well as new approaches to radio and television technology. The product portfolio has thus been continuously expanded.

Robert Bosch's heirs

Robert Bosch died in 1942. In his will he laid down the cornerstones for future development. The company should be profitable according to its will and use part of the profits for charitable purposes.

The foundation stone had been laid a long time ago because, in addition to production, a dense network of Bosch service branches had been established over the last few decades to ensure Bosch quality. With the development of electronic components for the automotive industry in the 1950s, the manufacturer took over the seat under the bonnet in the decades that followed. The anti-lock braking system (ABS), the Jetronic petrol injection system or the lambda probe for measuring exhaust gas have become standard.

The record sales from the past should not hide the fact that difficult times are ahead for traditional car manufacturers. The outsourcing of components and complete system solutions to the suppliers is falling on their feet right now. Suppliers like Bosch are one of the pillars for new developments in the age of electromobility.

The number of newly registered cars worldwide fell for the first time in 2018. The trade conflicts between the USA and the EU as well as China are poison for the global business model of the German automotive groups. Then there are the consequences of the diesel scandal with its legal consequences.

Shuttle Bus - Copyright Bosch
Shuttle Bus - Copyright Bosch

Linking the past and the future

In addition to the continuing threat of driving bans in the cities, the situation for traditional manufacturers is likely to deteriorate further. The EU can continue to hold German manufacturers accountable and tighten the framework with a transformation process towards electromobility. According to a statement by the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), German industry alone will invest 60 billion euros in the areas of electromobility and digitization. With its own investment program, Bosch is focusing on artificial intelligence (AI), which is used for autonomous vehicles.

As early as 2016, Bosch boss Volkmar Denner raised the issue of AI to a strategic existential question for the long-established company. Even then, a small solution was out of the question. For the future, Bosch therefore founded its own Center for Artificial Intelligence with locations in Bengaluru (India), Palo Alto (USA) and Renningen in Germany. The aim is to realize the benefits of AI through products and services in the field of research and development. At the head of this development center is Christoph Peylo. At the Osnabrück study location, he immersed himself in the subject areas of AI and computational linguistics. After completing his studies, he was initially responsible for software development at a medium-sized company. After the takeover by T-Systems, he was responsible for Cyber ​​Security, Internet of Things and Industry 4.0 at Telekom.

Bosch is building the center for AI

Then he started at Bosch with the task of setting up the center for AI. According to the company's own statements, investment costs of 300 million euros were made available. Peylo had largely a free hand in building the team and recruiting staff. More than 150 specialists are currently working and the number of staff will be increased over the next few years. Autonomous driving should become the standard in the near future and collaborative robots should make everyday work easier.

Bosch boss Denner clearly outlined the goals of the mission: "We want to build machines that can learn and act intelligently." This claim should be reflected in the entire product portfolio in ten years' time, from household appliances to power tools and industrial technology . According to Christoph Peylo, the aim is to be among the world's best. That can succeed if the spark of enthusiasm leaps over to the customers.

The research and development budget is put directly into researching drive components and complete solutions. The first experiences have already been made in cooperation with the e-mobility pioneer StreetScooter. Now the tried and tested electric drive is to be used for the mass production of delivery vehicles.

Artificial intelligence as a strategic existential question

The new trend towards electromobility, the Internet of Things and Services and the change to Industry 4.0 are the challenges for the supplier industry. In addition to traditional hardware, the fields of activity can be found in the areas of software development, internet-based business models and data security. The trends from the combination of the fields result in comprehensive system solutions from smart home to automated driving to communication between the machines in a factory.

The tendency to supply goods in cities with electric delivery vans can be seen in the increasing use of DHL vehicles. Bosch relies on two versions of electric city vans: one with and one without a gearbox. The scalability of the drives is intended for light commercial vehicles between 2 and 7,5 tons. The aim is to provide a solution for automobile manufacturers that can be quickly integrated.

The so-called "eCityTruck" drive has combined an electric motor and power electronics. The saving of components should make the drive more efficient and cheaper and, first and foremost, also make it easier for start-ups to get started in electromobility and help them get onto the market as quickly as possible. Together with the US start-up Nikola Motor, Bosch is designing a drive that uses a hydrogen system to achieve large electrical ranges.

Bosch sets trends for the future from 2020

"For Bosch, the drive technologies for delivery traffic are another building block in becoming the global market leader in the mass market for electromobility that will emerge from 2020 and in order to realize the vision of emission-free, accident-free and stress-free transport," the company announced in a press release 2018. "Bosch envisions mobility that is electrified, automated and connected."

The competition is also reacting to Bosch's ambitious plans. The automotive supplier ZF Friedrichshafen has founded its own technology center for AI and data security in Saarbrücken. Here, too, 100 AI experts are to be hired to work in research and development. Around 300 specialists are currently working on new solutions for tomorrow's mobility. A global AI platform should be the goal for the optimization of new applications, products, services and processes that have been developed or are in development.

In the development with the manufacturer Nvidia, an electronic brain is to be created for the robot cars of the future. With sales of 36,4 billion euros, ZF Friedrichshafen is the third largest German automotive supplier. The leader in the industry is market leader Bosch with sales of 47 billion euros. The battle for the top spot in the future electromobility market has broken out in full. The competitive situation will bring some interesting new developments onto the market in the next few years.

Bosch Business Development 2021 - Copyright Bosch
Bosch Business Development 2021 – Copyright Bosch

Core competence mobility solutions

dr Stefan Hartung, Chairman of the Board of Management of Robert Bosch GmbH, focused on some core competencies in the field of electromobility over the next few years. In the coming years, the balancing act between combustion engine and electric motor will still have to be shouldered. Because the worldwide success was once based on the magneto ignition, which triggers the spark in the engine. In 2022, Bosch will still have 80.000 employees in the combustion engine and components sector. The transformation towards the electric motor has already started and it is correspondingly difficult to predict whether all these employees will be able to switch to another field of employment in the next few years. An important building block for preserving jobs is further qualification of the staff in the coming years.

While electromobility is favored in automobile construction, Bosch relies on fuel cells as the main drive source in the heavy-duty sector for agricultural machinery, ships and trucks. The potential for the future lies in the most important group division "Mobility Solutions" with a turnover of over 45 billion euros in 2021. Bosch focuses on the consistent development of its own know-how and therefore abandoned the idea of ​​competitive battery production at an early stage. Markus Heyn is responsible for this division.

Due to the massive transformation processes, the strong growth in earnings in recent years had to be said goodbye. In the last financial year, however, according to preliminary figures, there was at least a 4% increase in earnings to 3,2 billion euros for the 2021 financial year. In order to defend global market leadership, billions will have to be invested in the 400 locations worldwide in the coming years. Stefan Hartung announced the target corridor when presenting the figures for 2021: “Bosch is a technological pioneer in many areas – it should remain so in the future.” Euro flow into microelectronics and electromobility. Together with Volkswagen, the partnership in the field of automated driving is to be intensified.

Addendum

Cover picture – Bosch car park Stuttgart – Copyright Frank Gärtner @ @ AdobeStock

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