Robert Bosch aims to be a key player as the industry moves toward self-driving and electrified vehicles, but the supplier expects that clean gasoline and diesel engines will be around for the next 30 years. Stefan Hartung, who heads Bosch's automotive business, spoke with Automotive News Europe Correspondent Peter Sigal about the challenges inherent in the shift from internal combustion to electrification.
Bosch is testing autonomous vehicles with Daimler in California. What are you learning from that?
Autonomous driving is probably the biggest challenge that engineering has ever encountered. Humans are not always predictable. We can hardly accept mistakes or failures from an autonomous vehicle, even though we are willing to accept mistakes when a human is behind the wheel.
Are we on the cusp of widespread adoption of mobility as a service?
It's our belief that people want to have individual mobility. The automotive industry is not just about utility, it's about ownership and pride. Will that prevail or will it become more of a service industry? I think it will segment into some vehicles that are more service-oriented, and they will require new technology to handle intense usage. Right now ride-hailing volume is still relatively moderate, but if a mobility services player gets to the point where it wants to buy 250 to 500 vehicles a day, then it's a full factory load. At that point, ride-hailing vehicles will have very different specifications, and it's something we will have to monitor very carefully.
Can you quantify what percentage of your business is with OEMs vs new players such as Uber or Lyft?
This is an exciting time in the industry, and that's why so many players are joining in. They want to shape it and get in on the action. All the technology that's being developed right now -- IT, software, connectivity, modern powertrains -- there is a fusion where it's all coming together into the automotive ecosystem. This is just the right industry to be in right now. The question of which player you will actually make parts for is not so important. For us the question is what technologies we need to have for all these different applications, players and ideas that are arising in this industry, and therefore we are open for any player that comes in, whether they're focused on the vehicle itself, or the applications and services behind it.
Is a hybrid fuel cell system that has both fuel cells and a battery drive that can be charged externally using plug-in technology a solution for passenger cars?
The benefits in passenger cars are lower weight for the battery and you can transfer energy very fast through liquid fuel (hydrogen), so fueling times are short. It's very applicable for anything that needs long range and high power.
Bosch has a partnership with Powercell to mass produce fuel cells. Why does the company believe now is the right time to invest in the technology?
We think that in about 10 years up to 20 percent of all electric vehicles will be charged by fuel cells. It's a preferred solution for the electrification of medium and heavy commercial vehicles, especially for long range [travel].
What is holding back fuel cells?
To put a fuel cell vehicle on the road is one thing; but to commercialize the technology or put it into mass production is another, especially if you want to go to higher power ranges, which are necessary for trucks. You will need to bring it into a hybrid structure, which means integrating it with a battery solution as well as the electric powertrain components. Such a system gives you the necessary extra power for hills and extra range, but it's quite complex.
Bosch has taken over EM-Motive, its former joint venture with Daimler that makes electric motors. How does this fit within the Bosch world?
With EM-Motive, we are capable of covering the entire range of electric motors. Bosch is very fast in prototyping these motors and bringing proven industrialized solutions to the market.
What applications will the motors have, and what kind of volumes are you anticipating?
They can be used in gearbox-integrated hybrids, mild hybrids and battery-electric vehicles. In the coming years, we are looking at millions of powertrains that have to be equipped, so we want to have a nice share of that market.
Is there anything in the electric powertrain value chain that Bosch still needs to add to its portfolio?
We are not in battery cells, but we are big in battery management systems, the electronics, the motors, integrated gearbox-motor sets and even electric axles.
What role should the industry play in building up EV charging networks?
A network of filling stations was built around the world over the last 100 years; we have a gas station on every corner. We can do that with charging stations, but the problem is that because we can transport much more energy through liquid chemical energy than with electrical power, the recharging time is longer. We are working on technologies to increase the charging power and the speed, which is tricky because you're stressing your system with thermal management and high power through every component -- even the cables are liquid-cooled.
What are the charging network challenges for the industry?
The automotive industry is not an infrastructure industry, although there are activities by various automakers to build up a network of charging stations across Europe. At first, our role is to be ready to offer vehicles that fit with whatever infrastructure we have. On the other hand, we have to promote the technology, and we have to ensure that other industry players, including power generators, play their part.
Will automakers or suppliers follow Tesla's lead and build their own charging station networks?
Tesla had to do that because they were pioneers in certain areas. If electric vehicles turn into a huge industry, we will see a pure infrastructure player going into this market.
Is there a future for the internal combustion engine?
If you look ahead to 2030, about three-quarters of all vehicles will still have a combustion engine, even if many will be assisted by electrification.
What technologies can increase combustion engine efficiency?
There will be very lean gasoline engines. The diesel is already very lean burning. However, if we go for leaner burning, you will see more emissions systems. We also know that combustion engines will have a limited lifespan, maybe 30 years. The industry has to be very smart in deciding how we can improve combustion engines, but at the same time invest heavily into new technologies?