Bosch e-axle
Going into production next year, a Bosch e-axle for vans integrates an inverter/controller with an electric motor in a compact package for creating battery powered delivery vans.

Electrify, automate, connect the future for Bosch

With truck products already accounting for one-quarter of its sales, the component supplier plans to accelerate CV growth by expanding into connected services.

HANNOVER, Germany.  With one-quarter of its sales now coming from commercial vehicle activities, Robert Bosch GmbH is moving beyond its fuel control, sensor and component products and into services that support advanced logistics systems. With the goal of reducing emissions, accidents and stress on distribution networks, the Tier One automotive supplier is now developing both products and services that will help “electrify, automate and connect” the commercial vehicle and logistics industries, according to Dr. Rolf Bulander, member of its board of directors.

“We want [trucks] to be beasts of burden, but not a burden for others,” he said during a press conference at the biennial IAA Commercial Vehicles show.

Although best known for its advanced emissions and fuel control technologies as well as safety-related systems, Bosch is already one the trucking industry’s biggest providers of Internet or connected services, according to Dr. Markus Heyn, the second board member speaking at the IAA press event. Revenue from connected services for trucking is now growing at an annual rate of seven to eight percent, he said.

On the topic of bringing electric powertrains to commercial vehicles, Bulander predicted that 80% to 90% of all trucks on the road in 2025 will still be diesel powered, but by 2030 one-quarter of all new trucks will be electrically driven.

At IAA the company introduced a number of development projects aimed specifically at expanding CV electric options for trucks of all sizes. Expecting delivery vans to be among the first CVs to make the switch, Bosch showcased a new “e-axle” for vans that will go into production next year, allowing manufacturers to quickly develop e-powered trucks for that market.

It also showcased a stand-alone electrified trailer axle that captures braking energy to regenerate battery power. The unit could be used to eliminate diesel refrigeration units or  APUs, and might also allow trailers to be moved autonomously within freight yards without spotters or tractors.

For the long-haul segment where battery storage presents range and weight barriers, Bosch is currently working on fuel cell development with two partners, Nikola Motors in the U.S. and Weichai Power in China, which Heyn said expects to have one million fuel-cell vehicles on that country’s roads by 2030.

While completely autonomous or driverless trucks are further away than electric powertrains, driver assistance systems and other “stepping stones on the road to automation” should see “double-digit growth over the next decade,” according to Bulander. Turn assistance, blind-spot warning and predictive emergency braking based on Bosch radar sensors are already commercial products aimed at improving truck safety.

While the technical challenges are large, true driverless truck automation holds huge potential to help relieve both global shortages of qualified truck drivers and ever-increasing traffic congestion, Heyn said. Controlled environments like freight yards or “hub-to-hub” shuttles are the most likely candidates for early deployment of autonomous trucks, he said, offer solid and relatively quick paybacks for the sizeable investments required. Nearer term, truck platooning should bring both fuel economy and labor cost savings. Bosch plans participate in testing European platooning prototypes as early as next year.

On the subject of connectivity, Bosch is moving into logistics and other CV services that combine its technical depth in commercial vehicle systems with its broad IoT (internet of things) expertise, according to Bulander. The company already provides European and North American truck manufacturers with telematics platforms for services like over-the-air software updates and predictive maintenance, a business segment that is growing by 15% to 20% a year, he said.

The next step for the company is moving into business services based on connectivity, “business that is taking us beyond our role as a supplier,” Heyn said. Those services could range from monitoring and tracking freight movements to managing secure parking for trucks on the road. Company sensors that provide real-time data on cargo location and condition also offer huge potential for improvements in freight productivity and security.

“There is clearly a lot of potential to be exploited here,” Heyn said. “We call this logistics 4.0.”

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