STUTTGART -- Within six months, Robert Bosch plans to choose a battery partner for its hybrid technology.
But Bosch will not bring its gasoline- or diesel-hybrid system on the market before 2007.
And that market could be Europe, North America or Asia, said Bernd Bohr, Bosch's automotive chief, during an interview at Bosch headquarters. The company is talking to all major automakers, he said.
Some in the automotive industry have criticized the world's second-largest auto supplier for being late to hybrids. But Bosch did try before.
"We did the first prototypes 20 years ago," Bohr said. "Then we did -- with a European OEM -- a mild hybrid in 1998-1999, which actually reached a driveable status [but] was then canceled by that OEM." He would not disclose the automaker.
Now is the right time to try again, said Bohr, the chairman of Bosch's automotive technology business sector and a member of the board of management.
"If we look outside of the Japanese market, there is, up to this point, no relevant market for somebody supplying into the hybrid systems," he said.
"This is on the verge of developing. Could we have been half a year earlier? Or one year? Yes, maybe. But we think we have the timing well set up here."
Bosch has formed a cross-functional group to work on hybrids and will have pulled together 100 engineers by the end of the year. But the company is missing one area of expertise: batteries.
Bohr would not disclose which battery manufacturers the supplier is in discussions with. But Johnson Controls or Exide Technologies could be candidates or Bosch could opt for a Japanese partner. Bosch once owned a battery manufacturing operation but sold it.
In addition to finding the right battery partner, Bohr said, "one of the challenges will be to generate economies of scale out of the different technical approaches of the OEMs. We're seeing many different roads to hybrids, which could be a parallel of mild hybrids to concepts which go in the direction of the [Toyota] Prius to concepts which go beyond Prius."