Electrons, Combustion, and Bosch

Bosch global propulsion head Uwe Gackstatter.

As president of the Powertrain Solutions Division at Robert Bosch, veteran engineer Uwe Gackstatter wrestles the challenge of cultivating new electrified technologies while continuing to evolve those that make IC engines cleaner. At the 2021 IAA Munich show, he greeted SAE Media with the news that electrification is moving quickly as a core business of Bosch, with more than one billion euros in turnover thanks to electrified drives, e-axles and power electronics. “We expect to reach 5 billion [euros] in a few years,” he beamed. “We are well prepared for all the battery-electric vehicles that will be built in the future.

Many experts see the ICE continuing through 2045-2050 in various applications. How do you see the ICE evolving during what could be a long transition to electrification?

As a market leader in powertrain in all vehicle segments, our approach is country-by-country and customer-by-customer. In Europe for example, the big bet by the European Commission is on battery-electric vehicles. BEV will be the main- stream of the pass-car segment. It’s no longer an ‘open technology’ approach. By 2035 at the latest, every vehicle has to be a BEV. And from my view, fuel cells if the hydrogen comes from renewables.

We see real differences in other markets: much more of an open-technology approach. The ICE business in Japan, China and the U.S. is still existing and cannot be switched overnight to BEVs or fuel-cell vehicles.

The second path I see is alternative fuels for ICEs, but not in Europe, which has gone all-in on BEVs. But in other regions such as Japan, they want to develop an H2 society. I think we will see all kinds of powertrains there. Same in China. We’ve seen in China’s latest five-year plan a clear commitment in the direction of what are being called “H2 engines;” these are ICEs fueled by hydrogen, and there will be hydrogen fuel cells. Luckily, Bosch is active worldwide, so we can bring all of our solutions to the market.

What about hybrids?

In Europe, hybrids are coming under pressure. By 2035, the hybrid solution will disappear due to the CO2 [vehicle emissions] targets. We as a supplier, and also our customers, have to react. In Europe, plug-in hybrids will come under more pressure. This could be different in other markets where we see different legislation. It also depends on the vehicle range; the BEV is a perfect solution for driving only in urban areas. But hybrids can be the best solution if you need longer range.

And with alternative fuels, the ICE can be CO2-neutral. Unfortunately, those fuels are not available at scale. We have to consider what can be used in existing flees.

The politicians are still ignoring the fact that on this planet we have more than 1.3 billion cars and they won’t all disappear in the next 20 years! At Bosch for our internal fleet, we use biofuels; this brought our CO2 balance down. This is also possible worldwide, for existing fleets. We are working with partners on solutions for bringing more alternative fuels to the market.

Does Bosch’s development of evolutionary technologies for ICEs continue?

Yes. We cannot stop developing the ICE, because they power 99 percent of new vehicles in some countries and the numbers will remain high for many years. Vehicles run for up to 40 years. Recently, we were awarded by a German agency a prize for the most efficient diesel engine we developed for a Chinese company.

It makes sense to still develop the ICE because we will see many new vehicles to come with a more-efficient engine.