Meanwhile, operating profit fell 12 percent at Continental, ZF Friedrichshafen saw its earnings fall 14 percent, and powertrain giant Schaeffler reported an earnings decline of 13 percent for the year.
Stephen Reitman, European automotive analyst at Societe Generale in London, said Bosch has been able to successfully balance operational excellence with research and investment in future products.
"They performed pretty strongly in what was quite a difficult environment," he said, noting that on a currency-adjusted basis Bosch's growth was even more impressive. "Where some companies have stumbled is spending a lot of time and management effort on new portfolio businesses — the stuff that is coming out in a few years' time. There has consequently been less focus on the day-to-day business.
"Bosch is clearly among the winners in achieving the right balance," he said.
Bosch executives pointed to a number of strong product lines that kept the Mobility Solutions unit in the black. Among them were systems and components for exhaust gas treatment, transmission technology and driver assistance.
"It comes down to focusing on your products and knowing your customers," Reitman said. He said it is critical not to become too dependent on specific automakers, given the uncertainties the industry is facing around the world. "They have demonstrated the ability to ride the waves of the industry better than some of the other suppliers."
As the automotive industry moves toward electrification, autonomous driving and mobility as a service, Bosch is seeking to position itself as a company driven by software and artificial intelligence. Large profits in those areas may not appear for many years, but Reitman said Bosch appears to be carefully targeting its spending toward those goals.
The company spent $6.9 billion last year on r&d but capitalized just $334 million of it.
"The fact that Bosch has a relatively low capitalization ratio suggests that there's a lot of fundamental research going on there" into products that might not appear for years, and with uncertain sales results, he said.