Bosch posts record sales, expands autonomous tech

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Farmington Hills — Business acquisitions and expanding into new connected, electric and autonomous car technologies helped German auto supplier Robert Bosch LLC post record sales last year.

The supplier is increasingly moving its traditional auto business into the mobility services space with products like electric bicycles, advanced steering systems and other autonomous technologies.

“We’re tapping into a lot of promising new markets,” President Mike Mansuetti said at a Thursday roundtable with reporters. “We find ourselves in a transition in the company, having our feet firmly planted in the product business … and also moving into this new space of the connected world.”

Bosch is among a growing number of suppliers expanding their reach into driverless car component development. Suppliers, Detroit’s Big Three and other automakers and technology companies are in a race to design and develop connected vehicles.

The company posted revenue of $78.3 billion last year, including a 25 percent increase in North American sales to a record $14 billion. Its automotive revenue of $9.5 billion accounted for 65 percent of its North American sales.

Revenue growth — up 44 percent over 2014 — can be attributed to acquiring two businesses in the automotive and appliance markets.

They include a steering system business Bosch previously owned jointly with auto supplier ZF. As part of the acquisition, Bosch moved about 220 workers from Kentucky and Northville to its recently revamped Plymouth facility.

The steering business lets Bosch develop features such as lane-keep assist, start-stop and other semi-autonomous technologies. It recently showcased an autonomous concept feature that lets cars park themselves.

Bosch also acquired Seeo Inc., a Silicon Valley startup that produces lithium batteries; Climatec, a building technologies provider; Osgood Industries Inc., which makes pie fillings, jams and other liquid foods; and Kliklok-Woodman, a food-packaging company.

“We’ve been quite busy,” Mansuetti said. “This is key to our strategy in expanding our portfolio.”

Among Bosch’s new mobility offerings are the components for an electric bicycle, which executives see as a natural transportation alternative in an era where more people are moving into congested urban centers.

E-bike users pedal like they would a regular bicycle, but a 440 watt hour lithium-ion battery provides extra boost to help riders reach speeds of 20-28 mph. A detachable battery pack adds about 10 pounds to the bike and can be recharged in a little over three hours.

Tim Frasier, regional president of North American automotive electronics, said there’s tremendous momentum globally for e-bikes, but the trend has yet to catch on in the U.S.

There were 2 million e-bikes sold globally in 2015. In countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, one of every five bikes sold were electric, while less than one out of 100 bikes sold in the U.S. were electric.

The supplier is growing its non-auto business, too, offering products such as coffee machines that can be used with a smart phone, virtual reality headsets, personal 3-D printers and connected power tools.

“Every future product we produce or invent will be connected,” Mansuetti said.

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