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Bosch: Watch out Japanese!

World’s largest supplier will make battery cells; aims to be leader in hybrid technology

STUTTGART -- Five years ago Robert Bosch was hardly thinking about hybrids. Now the German partsmaker expects to be the world’s leading supplier of the technology.

“We think that the experience we have with powertrain systems and electric and battery management systems will give us the edge over Japanese suppliers in the not-too-distance future,” said Bernd Bohr, CEO of Bosch’s automotive division, in an interview with Automotive News Europe.

Bohr said Bosch has increased its hybrid engineering staff to 400, a fourfold increase since 2004.

Bosch is developing a number of hybrid systems and will form a partnership later this year to produce lithium ion battery cells.

Bohr believes Bosch will become No. 1 in the field because Japanese suppliers working on hybrids are providing components rather than complete systems.

“There is no Japanese system supplier for hybrids,” Bohr said. “Japanese automakers keep systems integration in-house.”

Japanese companies working on parts for hybrids include Denso, JATCO and Hitachi Vehicle Energy.

More leverage

Production of lithium ion battery cells are key to Bosch’s growth in hybrid technology.

“We will go into cell production because that is where the major leverage is when it comes to costs and capacity,” Bohr said.

By making the cells itself, Bosch hopes to reduce warranty issues.

“If you just do the pack, if you are not careful you are just the insurance company for the cell producer,” he said, “because we are talking about a lifetime guarantee.”

For years, the German auto industry looked down on hybrids as a fad. But the success of the Toyota Prius, combined with increased regulatory pressure on automakers to reduce emissions, has forced a mind shift.

You can reach Douglas A. Bolduc at dbolduc@crain.com

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