Robert Bosch saw a drop of 4.4 percent in turnover in 2020 to €71.6bn from 2019, which was iteslf down from turnover of over €78bn in 2017 and 2018. Profits dipped again in 2020 to €1.9bn after restructuring costs, down from €2.06 in 2019 and half that of the stronger previous years. 

“Despite the effects of the pandemic, we were able to achieve a very positive result,” said Dr Volkmar Denner, chairman of the board of management of Robert Bosch. Only the consumer division, which includes the medical activity on test systems, saw growth.

“By investing in areas of future importance, such as sustainable mobility, the internet of things, and artificial intelligence, we are further expanding our innovation leadership,” he said.

In particular, Bosch believes that AIoT – the combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT) – will create growth opportunities in markets worth billions. “We want to become a leading AIoT company,” said Denner. “On the strength of our broad domain knowledge and extensive expertise in electronics and software, we have more at our disposal than most of our competitors.”

Bosch has already sold some ten million connectivity-enabled power tools, home appliances, and heating systems, and the number of active users is growing. “The next step is to turn technical expertise into business,” said Denner.  The Bosch Centre for Artificial Intelligence (BCAI) was set up in early 2017 and currently employs 270 staff working on more than 180 projects in the domains of mobility, manufacturing, smart homes, and agriculture.

The new Cross-Domain Computing Solutions division with its roughly 17,000 hardware and software specialists will also play an important role in what Bosch says is its journey to becoming an AIoT company. “The new division brings together hardware and software development for new automotive electronics architectures,” Denner said. “This is our gateway to an emerging market driven by higher levels of intelligence in cars.” In the second half of 2020, Bosch saw orders for its vehicle computers worth around €2.5 billion euros. Further deals worth billions are set to follow this year it says.

Next: Bosch AIoT plans 

Bosch is developing AIoT applications across all its business sectors. One example is Aviotec, a video-based fire detection system that uses artificial intelligence to detect smoke and flames even with infrared as the only light source. Another is an application platform for visually inspecting workpieces which deploys AI to help detect even the tiniest surface scratches. And in fitness trackers, a new self-learning sensor featuring edge AI minimizes latency and power consumption.

But sales plummeted in wake of the spring lockdown affecting many countries and industries, but recovered substantially in the second half of 2020 says the company. “We are very satisfied with the way business developed overall in 2020 despite the crisis,” said Prof. Stefan Asenkerschbaumer, CFO and deputy chairman of the board of management. “We acted quickly to align our costs and capital expenditure with the decline in sales – without neglecting promising new areas of business.”

Part of this was saving €1bn on capital expenditure.

It points to its goal to be carbon neutral across the company, which is achieved at all 400 sites in March last year just before the pandemic hit in earnest. “According to in-house calculations, Bosch became the first globally operating industrial enterprise to achieve climate neutrality in spring 2020 – earlier, with fewer offsets, and more cost effectively than planned,” said Denner. An independent audit is currently being carried out. He also restated the goal of a 15 percent reduction in CO₂ emissions along the supply chain by 2030.

For electric vehicles, he points to a €5bn investment in electrical powertrains and this year, Bosch will spend €700m on developing electrical mobility solutions, including fuel cells. This is nearly 40 percent higher than last year.

“In the foreseeable future, electromobility will become one of Bosch’s core businesses. Our goal is to become the market leader in electromobility for battery- and fuel-cell-powered vehicles,” said Denner. Since 2018, Bosch has worked on 90 powertrain electrification projects, including 30 last year alone worth 7.5 billion euros. More than 2.5 million vehicles around the world currently feature Bosch electric powertrain components.

The Mobility Solutions business sector, which was hit particularly hard by manufacturing shutdowns in the automotive industry with sales of €42.3bn despite a year-on-year decline of 9.5 percent. Consumer Goods increased its sales by 5.2 percent to €18.6bn.

The Industrial Technology business group was unable to escape the prolonged market weakness. At €5.1bn, overall sales were 16.0 percent down on the previous year. The Energy and Building Technology business sector saw sales of €5.4bn.

Bosch expects the global economy to recover slowly in 2021. After contracting by around 4.5 percent last year, Bosch anticipates growth of just under 4 percent in the coming year.

“The crisis is not over,” said Asenkerschbaumer, as political developments such as Brexit and continuing strategic competition between the U.S. and China with its potential for trade restrictions could also impact global economic development. “Despite all the challenges, it remains our goal to grow more strongly than the markets in the sectors and regions that are important for us.”

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