Bosch charges into future of mobility, powertrains

DETROIT – As German supplier Bosch spins up its electric vehicle and fuel cells businesses, it is also continuing to invest in traditional technologies, all with the goal of maintaining its ranking as the world’s largest auto industry supplier.

Paul Thomas, executive vice president of Bosch North America, told Automotive News Congress on Monday that the company has invested $6 billion over the past few years on electric vehicle and fuel cell technologies. But the company, Thomas says, has no intention of abandoning some of its core products, such as fuel injectors and braking and fuel system components as it transitions to EVs and other alternative technologies.

“We want to be in all industries as long as we can,” Thomas said. “We believe there is a future for the internal combustion engine and that each region will approach the ICE in different ways.”

Thomas also said Bosch will continue to support its legacy products, an acknowledgment that consumers are keeping automobiles longer than ever, more than 12 years, according to some surveys. “A vehicle is something in the world for a long time,” he said.

Bullish on fuel cells

Thomas said Bosch believes hydrogen-powered fuel cells have strong potential to replace some diesel powertrains in larger trucks, especially for fleet operators. The company recently began retraining workers at one of its U.S. plants that had once made diesel engine parts to instead make fuel cell components.

Fuel cells use high-pressure gaseous hydrogen to generate electricity through a chemical process in a fuel cell stack. That electricity powers electric motors to drive the wheels of a vehicle.

“As you move into one- and two-ton vehicles and class six and class seven [vehicles], we see applicability. It depends on what the fleets are used for, long or short haul,” Thomas said. “I see a good mix of hydrogen in the fleet. I believe density of [fuel] and the range of the vehicle is an opportunity for the industry.”

Thomas said Bosch has changed its business strategies as new technologies emerge. Partnering with other companies, he said, is essential for success, mostly because of the heavy capital requirements to develop new components and bring them to market with the quality Bosch has established and because of the specialized skills other companies have.

“Capital is becoming more important as you start this transformation,” he said. “As you go through the evolution … industry has to come together and partnerships are showing it makes sense to make investments together.”

One of the guardrails Bosch uses to decide on investing in new products with new partners is if it makes sense for the company. For instance, Bosch decided not to produce battery cells for EVs, but it would invest in products that the battery packs need, such as power electronics, cooling and heating systems and other parts, Thomas said.

“We took a look at the technologies and decided we want to help make batteries better, how to manufacture them better and put them in a pack better. It’s a decision we made to stay engaged in the environment of the battery,” Thomas said.

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