bosch sblimotive lithion batt

Bosch and Samsung SDI started production of a lithium-ion battery in their SB LiMotive JV in late 2010 (Photo: Bosch)

With in-car assistance systems gaining in sophistication, the day is coming that drivers are no longer in charge of their car.

"Over the next 20 years, technical advances will lead to autonomous driving," said Bernd Bohr, head of automotive operations at supplier Robert Bosch.

Speaking at a press event, Bohr predicted that "autonomous driving will be introduced in steps." He said Bosch has 600 engineers working on driver assistance systems that will bring driver-less driving closer.

The Bosch executive predicted that autonomous driving will first become established in special situations such as during parking or in stop-and-go traffic. But, as systems improve, they may find more advanced application.

Bohr also said that, though the car's future may be electric, technology to improve traditional gasoline and diesel engines still has huge potential for years to come.

"Bosch is seizing long-term growth opportunities without neglecting short-term ones," he said. He projected strong short-term growth in the sales of diesel- and gasoline-injection systems as well as stop-start technology. All of these improve the fuel efficiency of traditional engines.

The Bosch executive was confident that electric-motor driven vehicles would grow in importance in coming years. But he said it was unclear when electric vehicles would have their real breakthrough. He predicted it would take at least 10 years for the industry to overcome current obstacles such as high battery costs and limited range.

In the interim, Bohr said, plug-in hybrids are a good option.

Bosch, the world's largest automotive supplier, is investing heavily in electric-vehicle technology. Bohr said the company is spending 400 million euros a year on powertrain electrification.

The supplier runs a joint venture with Samsung SDI that started production of lithium-ion batteries late last year. And Bohr said that, by 2013, the company "will start series production of electromobility products for nearly 20 projects for 12 automakers."

Bosch confirmed that it is planning to establish a joint venture with Daimler to develop and manufacture motors for electric vehicles in Europe.