A compelling glimpse of a complex future

The Engineer

Often vague, sometimes noncommittal and frequently contradictory, auto industry crystal-ball gazing isn’t always particularly helpful. While one OEM will confidently talk up the “inevitable” dominance of the EV, another will favour the hybrid. While some predict the demise of the IC engine, others see years of continuing dominance for the incumbent technology.

But this week in Germany – at its biennial international press gathering – Bosch Automotive set out a technology roadmap that was both comprehensive, compelling and complex.

It’s hardly surprising, the company is one of the world’s largest automotive tier suppliers and its survival and growth depends on covering every base and second-guessing the appetites of tomorrow’s drivers.

Bosch has been running the event for a number of years now, and while it’s always an intriguing bellwether of change in the auto industry this year’s presentations were full of disruptive technologies that not so long ago would have caused even the most broad-minded commentator to splutter into their coffee. 

Outlining the priorities of an r&d program that will this year alone will benefit from 3.2 billion euros, the company’s chairman Bernd Bohr predicted that the continuing development of driver assistance and safety technologies will usher in an age of autonomous motoring, that a range of hybrid systems will pave the way for an era of “electromobility” and that growing markets in the developing world will drive down the cost of  automotive technology.

Despite a heavy focus on electromobility, there was also plenty to excite  and reassure fans of the combustion engine. Indeed, Bosch predicts that continued advances in engine optimisation will soon lead to  efficiency savings of around 30 per cent on today’s most advanced engines. One particularly intriguing technology demonstrated on the company’s Boxberg proving ground was a start-stop system that temporarily switches off a car’s engine and allows cars to coast. The company claims that vehicles fitted with the technology will use 9 per cent less fuel.

Interestingly, as the technological priorities of the car industry change, Bohr noted that the lines between the automotive sector and other areas of industry are becoming increasingly blurred.  In Bosch’s case, the firm’s well known power-tools expertise is proving increasingly useful in its work on electric vehicles and battery technology. But the need to look beyond its traditional areas of expertise is perhaps a lesson that the UK’s resurgent car industry would also do well to heed.