Walter: A car with a Bosch-sourced hybrid system was killed by the customer just before the introduction of the Toyota Prius.
"Some people say [hybrids] will be forever 1 percent [of the total market]. Some customers say the final share of hybrids will be as much as four-wheel drive, and some say it will be 1/3 diesel, 1/3 gasoline and 1/3 hybrid. Nobody knows," Walter told reporters during a recent event at Bosch's proving grounds here.
That puts Bosch in the position of needing to support its automaker customers, but working to ensure that hybrid efforts don't detract from core technologies including diesel and gasoline injection systems.
Bosch is supplying components for a start-stop hybrid car aimed at the European market for 2006, and for a full hybrid light-duty commercial delivery vehicle meant for Europe and China in 2007. The company has said it expects up to 50 separate hybrid vehicles will be on the global auto market by 2010, and it expects to participate on as many as 10 of them.
"There is an emotional feeling now to go for the hybrid, and of course we as Bosch have to fulfill the requirements that our OEMs feel. The OEMs see more hybrids coming up so we will deal with them together," Walter said. "If it is the big success we are participating. If it's just a temporary hype, then we have done our best."
Walter doesn't dismiss the emotional impact of vehicle decisions. For example, many European drivers often make an emotional decision to pay the premium for a diesel engine even when their low-mileage driving habits mean they are unlikely to earn back their investment through fuel savings.
Bosch has already lived through one wave of hybrid hype and then disappointment.
The company crafted some electric propulsion demonstrator projects with Mercedes-Benz beginning in 1973. The technology used lead-acid batteries and the initial projects would not have been viable in the marketplace, but as late as 1995 Bosch was still working with an unnamed customer to try to put a hybrid system on the road.
"The customer we worked together with finally decided that they saw no real market chance to introduce hybrid vehicles. That was, you could literally say, on the eve of the introduction of [Toyota] Prius," Walter said.
Bosch's new hybrid effort began in 2004. It has established a 100-person hybrid center in Germany to work on everything from what Bosch is calling "micro-hybrids," vehicles equipped with a system that starts and stops the engine to save fuel at stoplights or in traffic, to "strong" or "full" hybrids that combine high-voltage electric motors with internal combustion engines.
The competence center is supported, in turn, with an additional 100 engineering staff based at the various divisions with responsibility to integrate hybrid technology with existing Bosch products.
Bosch's hybrid offerings so far include its start-stop engine system and a dual-mode alternator, both aimed at the micro hybrid market.
The start-stop system operates directly on the engine drive shaft, rather than through a belt-driven or geared starter motor, while the alternator is capable of boosting its output from 14 volts for ordinary driving conditions to 42 volts to generate up to 8 kilowatts of power when heavy loads, such electric defrosting, are called for. Each technology is meant to help carmakers reduce CO2 emissions.
Among future hybrid technology, Bosch engineers envision a diesel- hybrid combination that could use electric motor power to push the diesel engine out of modes where pollutants and particulates are most heavily generated.