Hermann Scholl presided over a huge expansion at Robert Bosch GmbH while he was CEO of the German supplier from 1993 to 2003.
During his tenure, the company increased its work force by 50 percent to 232,000 employees worldwide. It is now the world's largest auto supplier, with original-equipment parts sales of $28.4 billion in 2005.
Scholl, 70, continues to influence Bosch's long-term decisions as chairman of the foundation that controls the group. He talked about the future of fuel cells and explained why Toyota Motor Corp. beat Bosch to market with hybrids when he spoke with Automotive News Europe Editor Arjen Bongard and Staff Reporter Douglas A. Bolduc.
What is slowing the development of fuel cells?
There must be a reasonable economic incentive for establishing new technologies. Look at diesel engines as an example. They grew because diesels offer a big reduction in fuel consumption compared with a gasoline engine. And, it is nice to drive a modern diesel. Those aspects drive the acceptance of new technologies. The question is, who is ready to invest billions of euros in hydrogen systems?
So further reductions in emissions for the next 10 to 30 years will come mostly from improvements to the combustion engine?
Bosch passed Delphi last year to become the biggest supplier in the world, based on sales. Was becoming No. 1 a stated goal when you were head of Bosch?
It was not a primary goal within Bosch. The goal was to grow faster than the market. I think we achieved that over the last two or three decades. Being No. 1 is nice. But our primary goal is to satisfy our customers; to establish a solid, long-term business; and to make money.
Do you think diesel will finally have a chance in the United States?
We think there is a good chance. Diesels could reach a share of about 15 percent of newly registered light vehicles in the U.S. within the next 10 years. Diesel will be in strong competition with hybrids. You read more and more reports that people are not satisfied with the mileage of hybrids because in day-to-day life, there are significant differences between what is printed in the manuals and the actual fuel consumption.
I'm not saying the figures in the manuals are wrong, but the conditions under which they are derived are very different from the way people actually drive. If we compare a diesel and a hybrid, we find that in general there is no advantage in the mileage of a hybrid. In the U.S., the average yearly distance driven is almost double that of Europe. That's the reason why many people are not satisfied with the hybrid, because the hybrid shows its advantages in city traffic and not in the long distances typical for the U.S.
Why did Toyota beat Bosch to the market with a hybrid?
When I was in charge of Bosch's electrical business in the early '70s, we were working on electric drives based on battery storage. We had experience in that area because we were also a supplier of electrical equipment for battery-driven forklifts. At that time we decided that an electric car based on battery power would never succeed. Therefore we reduced our work on electric drives substantially. In the '80s and '90s, we had several hybrid projects with OEMs in which we had test fleets of about 20 to 50 cars. But none of those projects proceeded past the testing stage. At that time the battery storage technology that is used today by Toyota was not available. Toyota was first to merge the gasoline engine and the electric drive successfully.
Will we soon see a diesel hybrid?
In the long term, I would give the diesel hybrid a better chance of succeeding than the gasoline hybrid because you start with the diesel as the base engine. You end up with even lower fuel consumption than with the gasoline hybrid. I think we will soon see those hybrids.
Before the end of the decade?
Should the auto industry have taken the green movement more seriously, and should it have done more politically to slow the pace of emission requirements?
The European automobile industry is taking its obligations to protect the environment seriously. It has promised to reduce CO2 emissions according to (the European Automobile Manufacturers Association's) voluntary commitment. And, it has made far more progress when it comes to CO2 emissions reductions than the industry in the U.S. or Asia. The European car industry has frequently launched vehicles with exhaust-gas emission levels that are below the requirements.
You may e-mail Arjen Bongard at [email protected]
You may e-mail Douglas A. Bolduc at [email protected]