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Here Comes Bosch!

The German giant is spreading it technology mix to include hybrids

by Julian Edgar

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It’s a common idea that car makers drive technology. But for the last few decades it’s actually been the components suppliers that do much of the research and development. Companies like Bosch, Siemens, BorgWarner, Ricardo, ZF and a host of others drive automotive technology development. Components suppliers develop the technology and then sell it – or license it – to the auto makers.

Bosch is a leader in this approach - the company has been largely responsible for cutting-edge technological innovation that has seen its products very widely used. Some would argue that the technical edge that German car manufacturers like BMW, Mercedes and Audi have had for so long can be sheeted home to Bosch.

The development of L-Jetronic electronic fuel injection in the late 1970s and early 1980s is the classic example of Bosch influence: the technology first appeared in German products like Volkswagen and BMW but then rapidly spread to cars across the world. There are very few Japanese, European, American or Australian cars of that era that didn’t use Bosch developed L-Jetronic fuel injection.

But in more recent years, Bosch has been struggling in vision. Its Eurocentric focus has blinded it to the greatest automotive technological development of the last decade – the development of hybrid vehicles, led by Japanese carmakers Toyota and, to a lesser extent, Honda. (These companies have their own, in-house R&D companies. Significantly, the Korean car manufacturers are taking the same in-house approach.)

Like their car company customers, Bosch was dismissive of hybrid cars. So despite Bosch being probably the most experienced automotive components manufacturer in the world, especially in the very electronic and electric areas that hybrid technologies demand, the company did effectively no hybrid development.

But now, with the public acceptance of hybrids and their resulting sales success, that’s all changing. In short, here comes Bosch.

However, the company is not putting its eggs in one basket. Rather, it is now developing a whole swag of technologies aimed at reduced emissions and improved fuel economy. No one should underestimate the muscle Bosch can apply!

Let’s take a look at what the company now says is the future...

“Climate change and CO2 emissions have only recently become the focus of public debate,” says Dr. Rolf Leonhard, Bosch’s Executive Vice President Engineering, Diesel Systems.

“The issues being examined include CO2 emissions, climate and environmental protection, and diminishing fossil-fuel resources – with the focus firmly on the role of the car in all these areas.”

“We are pursuing the ideal of pollutant-free mobility. Nevertheless, it is already clear that in 20 years' time the internal combustion engine will still be the drive of choice for the car. Indeed, it still offers a great deal of development potential.

“The big difference, however, is that there will be more alternative fuels to gasoline and diesel. Alternative drives will also begin to make a bigger impact in smaller market segments.”

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Bosch says hybrid drives offer great potential for cutting fuel consumption and thus CO2 emissions. On the company’s figures, petrol engine hybrids emit 25 percent less CO2 than conventional petrol engines and diesel hybrids 20 percent less than non-hybrid diesels.

Bosch is now actively developing hybrid drivelines, with the main focus being on parallel hybrids, where the electric motor can drive the wheels independently of the internal combustion engine. In their system, the electric motor is sufficiently powerful to drive the vehicle for short distances on electric power alone. Compared with what the company calls “distributed hybrids” (code for Toyota’s system), Bosch predicts that by 2015 half of all hybrids will use parallel hybrids.

Besides mild and strong hybrid concepts, Bosch is also now developing simpler and cheaper start-stop techniques.

“Our new start-stop system switches off the internal combustion engine when the vehicle is at a standstill in a traffic jam or at a red light,” Dr Leonhard says.

“As soon as the driver depresses the clutch pedal to put the vehicle back into gear, the system automatically restarts the engine. The electronics ensure that the driver can save fuel and cut CO2 emissions without compromising on convenience. Depending on the vehicle, these savings can add up to eight percent in urban traffic. The system is being used for the first time in the new BMW 1-series.”

An indication of how far behind the Japanese carmakers Bosch has fallen can be seen in one simple fact: the Honda Insight, first sold to the public in 1999, used just this system.

Bosch says that improved operation of the vehicle’s alternator can also improve fuel efficiency.

Dr Leonhard: “An optimized generator from Bosch can reduce consumption by one to two percent. Intelligent adjustments to generator regulation mean that a proportion of the energy produced when applying the brakes can be used to charge the battery. This helps save two to three percent on consumption and CO2 emissions.”

Christopher J. Qualters is Director of Sales & Marketing for diesel systems at Bosch North America.

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He says that both for cost and strategic reasons, the United Sates now becoming much more focused on low fuel consumption. However hybrid vehicles are not the total answer.

“The possibilities for hybrid vehicles are still limited,” he says.

“Last year approximately 16.5 million cars and light trucks were sold in the U.S., and around 240,000 of them were hybrids. That's just 1.5 percent of all new vehicle registrations in the United States. By 2010, global production capacities for hybrid vehicles are expected to reach a million units.

“But that will only cover six percent of demand in the U.S. market and around two percent of global demand for new vehicles.”

However, Mr Qualters suggests that hybrids are the most effective way of meeting increasingly tougher emissions legislation.

“Stricter [US] exhaust gas requirements to be introduced in 2009 will play an essential part in progressing modern engine technologies and alternative fuels to the series production stage.

“Hybrids stand the best chance in states with tough environmental legislation, such as California, and urban areas.”

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The penetration of diesel passenger cars in the United States is much smaller than in Europe, where diesels make up about half of all new car sales. However, US buyer perceptions of diesel passenger cars are changing. A recent Harris Interactive survey found that 31 percent of informed buyers of new vehicles would select a clean diesel engine for their next vehicle over other available powertrains, including hybrids.

“Modern direct-injection diesel engines consume around 30 percent less fuel than similar conventional gasoline engines that rely on port injection systems,” Dr. Leonhard says.

“Consequently, the energy efficiency of diesel makes it a more environmentally friendly vehicle drive system. And that is why we will do everything we can to help diesel break through in North America and Asia as well, following its success in Europe.”

The diesel technology that Bosch has available also lends itself to renewable bio-diesel. But alternative fuel quality legislation is lagging.

“Current quality standards for biodiesel are not adequately established, and extended storage can lead to ageing of the product and damage to fuel systems,” Mr Qualters says.

“Legislation is urgently needed to establish binding standards.

“Only when these and other challenges are overcome will alternative fuels become a truly viable, widescale option.”

As with most predictions, Bosch suggests that over the next few decades, internal combustion engines will continue to dominate.

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Concludes Dr Leonhard: “The next likely technical developments will enable the automotive industry to come to grips with the foreseeable tightening of exhaust emission limits. Alternative drives such as the hybrid will make a major contribution to cutting CO2 emissions in certain driving cycles.”

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“In addition, we are creating the technological conditions that will allow internal combustion engines to run on alternative fuels – particularly biofuels from renewable raw materials – that will improve the CO2 balance.”

So how serious is Bosch about hybrids?

“We expect to be able to supply hybrid technology for series production for the first time next year in Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche vehicles,” Dr Leonhard says.

The hybrid and alternative fuels technological horizons are just about to get a lot wider....

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