Bosch has outlined its technology development strategy aimed at improving safety and reducing emissions, as well as meeting demand for low-cost cars in emerging markets.

In a statement, the company said that major up-front investments in research and development are paying off and that it expects a major boost to its international business as a result. In 2006 Bosch spent EUR2.7bn on automotive technology R&D, equivalent to around 10% of sales from this sector.

The company expects tighter environmental regulations to ensure worldwide growth in demand for highly efficient automotive drive technologies and exhaust gas treatment. CEO Bernd Bohr highlighted developments in injection systems for bio fuels and battery-supported automotive drive concepts as examples of future growth possibilities.

Bohr emphasised that automotive suppliers increasingly have to bear the brunt of the considerable up-front expenditure associated with this work.

“Both sides – suppliers and automobile manufacturers – need to see themselves as partners in innovation. A partnership like this calls for a long-term mindset and the realisation that the payback time for development costs must not be postponed into the distant future,” Bohr said.

After adjusting for currency effects, the company expects sales growth of around 4% for its automotive technology business in 2007. This sector accounts for 62% of overall Bosch Group sales and employs approximately 160,000 workers at 120 locations in 25 countries. The supplier now has almost 19,000 engineers at 50 development centres worldwide.

Bohr also said that Bosch is targeting low price small car production in emerging markets. “In 2010, we expect to achieve sales of EUR1bn from equipping low-price vehicles with our products and solutions,” he added. That corresponds to a share of around 25% of the segment.

“Suppliers looking to get a piece of the action in this strong growth environment need to adapt to new technology and pricing challenges,” said gasoline systems division president Wolf-Henning Scheider who used the newly developed ‘value motronic’ control unit platform to make his point.

From the outset, the development and manufacturing costs of this new control unit for petrol engines were kept to a minimum. As a result, moving into this new market segment benefits Bosch in two ways: “We have competitive products and can incorporate the know-how we have acquired into product development for other classes of vehicles,” said Scheider.

On safety, automotive electronics division sales chief Rainer Kallenbach said: “We are working flat-out on developing the ‘sensitive car.’ This will soon be able to ‘see’ what is happening all around it thanks to sensors and ultra-high-performance electronic systems.”

Bosch plans to gradually develop new driver assistance systems to series production readiness. “We are networking these safety and comfort systems so that they can exchange information among themselves. This allows us to create new functions – such as automatic emergency braking or the parking assistant that can manoeuvre itself into a parking space.”

[Both of these are already in production at Toyota which fits them as standard to its top Lexus LS series models. Aisin supplies the ‘Intelligent Park Assist’ system but development to integrate all the components (screen, electric power steering, sensors, etc) was done by Toyota’s own R&D staff.]

A major Bosch development is the combination of radar and video sensor technology intended to make the vision of accident-free driving as much of a reality as possible. “Using this approach, the ‘predictive emergency braking’ function allows us to diminish the results of accidents,” said Kallenbach. Market launch is scheduled for 2009.

The first camera systems with intelligent image interpretation are expected to be available a year later.