The internal combustion engine has made Robert Bosch GmbH the world's largest auto parts supplier.
Now the company hopes to use that position to become the leading supplier of zero-emission components for electric vehicles.
Bosch plans to invest about 400 million euros ($448 million) a year in electromobility.
It may also compete with Asian heavyweights Panasonic, LG Chem and Samsung by industrializing the assembly of battery cells.
"We are No. 1 in the market for combustion engine systems and we aim for this spot as a supplier for electromobility," Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner told reporters last month in Stuttgart.
Although Bosch estimates that about 85 million vehicles built in 2025 will still run solely on fossil fuels, it believes nearly 20 million others will be hybrids or EVs by then.
To tap into that opportunity, Bosch's automotive arm plans to form a separate electromobility business unit within its new Powertrain Solutions division. By next year, Bosch expects to have 88,000 employees developing propulsion technology.
Denner hopes to decide by then whether to also invest in the mass production of battery cells — a risky undertaking if a company bets on the wrong chemistry.
Bosch's new electromobility unit will
1. The supplier wants to boost powertrain efficiency, including a proposal to integrate the transmission, power electronics and electric motor of a vehicle within its axle.
2. Bosch also aims to improve battery performance at the cell-chemistry level, and it is investing in liquid and solid-state cell r&d with the ultimate goal of doubling the energy density of batteries by 2020.
Bosch's new thrust is being aided by its Seeo business unit, a U.S. company specializing in solid-state cells, which Bosch acquired in 2015.
Bosch believes solid-state cell technology offers greater safety. The company is concerned that battery cells relying on liquid electrolytes to transport energy-carrying ions can be damaged if an accident occurs, resulting in dangerous leaks. Once the chemical reaction is no longer under control, the heat generated can feed upon itself, triggering a chain reaction that results in an explosion.
"If you can eliminate electrolytes as a source of thermal runaway, you can apply more aggressive cell chemistry," Denner said. "The problem with solid-state cells, however, is that they do not conduct electricity as well."