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Company history

Challenges of globalization

Since 1990

10 mins read

The Iron Curtain came down, Asia provided new markets, and software opened up new opportunities for Bosch. The last three decades have brought rapid economic change, which the company has to face head-on.

Drawing of an open boom gate, symbolizing the opening of Eastern Europe.

The collapse of the Warsaw Pact and opening of Eastern Europe

The fall of the Iron Curtain also heralded a new era for Bosch. By 1994, it had companies of its own in 13 countries of the former Eastern Bloc. Bosch went on to open manufacturing facilities in Jihlava and České Budějovice in the Czech Republic, Wrocław in Poland, Miskolc and Hatvan in Hungary, and Engels and Samara in the Russian Federation. The share of sales generated outside Germany rose from 51 percent in 1990 to around 72 percent in 2000.

IFA Trabant 601 in the workshop at Brandenburg Bosch Car Service (1992). The Trabant was the standard passenger car in socialist East Germany till 1989, so Bosch testing technology needed adapting to work with this popular model of vehicle.
IFA Trabant 601 in the workshop at Brandenburg Bosch Car Service (1992). The Trabant was the standard passenger car in socialist East Germany till 1989, so Bosch testing technology needed adapting to work with this popular model of vehicle.
One of the most important locations in the Hungarian regional organization that was founded in 1991 is Hatvan, where products for automotive electronics are manufactured, for example sensors. (1998)
One of the most important locations in the Hungarian regional organization that was founded in 1991 is Hatvan, where products for automotive electronics are manufactured, for example sensors. (1998)

Seizing opportunities — new sights set on Asia

In India, Japan, and the countries of south-eastern Asia, Bosch was either long-since present or busy gaining a foothold in emerging markets. But it was the gradual opening of the Chinese market that was of greatest strategic interest. Up till 1994, the only Bosch presence in China had been in the form of licenses and a representative office in Beijing, established in 1989. After that, Bosch was also able to gain a foothold as a regional producer in this market, too.

Billboard advertising for professional power tools for the construction industry on the roads of Shanghai. (1996)
Billboard advertising for professional power tools for the construction industry on the roads of Shanghai. (1996)
Advertising placard in downtown Shanghai. Spark plugs are some of the first products Bosch manufactured in China. (1998)
Advertising placard in downtown Shanghai. Spark plugs are some of the first products Bosch manufactured in China. (1998)

Micromechanical sensors

A mite on a micromechanical sensor (MEMS) to indicate scale (1995)

Mini monitoring devices

Bosch developed micromechanical sensors for use in automobiles during the 1990s, which work like sensory organs for measuring acceleration, rotation, pressure, and sound. They relay information to electronic control units, letting them know exactly when to inflate an airbag in an accident, for example. In 2005, Bosch also started manufacturing sensors for consumer electronics, such as smartphones or games consoles. The smallest MEMS are just 1.5 millimeters wide. A Bosch research team invented the “plasma etching” process for manufacturing these miniature parts. Bosch has produced around 5 billion MEMS since 1995 and is now the market leader, manufacturing some 4 million units each day.

Photo: A mite on a micromechanical sensor (MEMS) to indicate scale (1995)

Drawing of a light bulb with a car inside.

From ESP to ACC — tighter focus on innovations

The ESP® electronic stability program launched in 1995 was a technological milestone. It prevents vehicles from skidding. The same year, Bosch unveiled its TravelPilot navigation system with route guidance and voice output. In 1997, the Common Rail high-pressure diesel injection system reduced fuel consumption, as did the DI Motronic gasoline direct injection in 2000, while driver assistance systems such as Adaptive Cruise Control and Night Vision improved safety.

After around a decade of development work, the first Bosch navigation system, called TravelPilot, was launched on the market in 1989. Route guidance and voice output were added in 1995.
After around a decade of development work, the first Bosch navigation system, called TravelPilot, was launched on the market in 1989. Route guidance and voice output were added in 1995.
ESP tests in northern Sweden (1995). The test vehicle is being filmed from the helicopter for a TV program.
ESP tests in northern Sweden (1995). The test vehicle is being filmed from the helicopter for a TV program.
Components of the Common Rail high-pressure diesel-injection system (1997). Fuel is stored in the rail at up to 2,500 bar for injection.
Components of the Common Rail high-pressure diesel-injection system (1997). Fuel is stored in the rail at up to 2,500 bar for injection.

The company undergoes change — new fields of business

Following the sale of the telecommunications section, Bosch acquired industrial technology specialist Mannesmann Rexroth in 2001. This strengthened the industrial technology section and balanced the company’s structure. The remaining parts of the telecommunications section formed the Security Systems division. Bosch expanded its thermotechnology section with the acquisition of Buderus AG in 2003. Bosch parted with other new fields such as the solar energy section it had set up in 2008.

Visual check of a 6-inch wafer in the Reutlingen plant (1999). Nowadays, more than 1,000 microchips for circuits and sensors can be manufactured on one wafer.
Visual check of a 6-inch wafer in the Reutlingen plant (1999). Nowadays, more than 1,000 microchips for circuits and sensors can be manufactured on one wafer.
A Junkers gas boiler being manufactured for domestic heating. Bosch expanded its thermotechnology section considerably with the acquisition of Buderus AG. (2015)
A Junkers gas boiler being manufactured for domestic heating. Bosch expanded its thermotechnology section considerably with the acquisition of Buderus AG. (2015)
Tunnel boring machines with hydraulic components from Bosch Rexroth are used to construct long mountain tunnels. (2015)
Tunnel boring machines with hydraulic components from Bosch Rexroth are used to construct long mountain tunnels. (2015)
The Solar Decathlon House, co-developed by experts from the Technical University of Darmstadt and Bosch, can produce all the energy it needs. It won the prestigious U.S. “Solar Decathlon” award in 2007.
The Solar Decathlon House, co-developed by experts from the Technical University of Darmstadt and Bosch, can produce all the energy it needs. It won the prestigious U.S. “Solar Decathlon” award in 2007.
Drawing of a man on a bicycle riding up a hill and a stylized display.

Smart screwing, cycling, cooling, and steering

With the IXO electric screwdriver, which surprisingly quickly became the best-selling power tool worldwide, Bosch established a new business field in 2003 for small, lightweight devices with lithium-ion batteries. Entirely new fields also emerged, such as e-bicycle drives in 2011. At the same time, Bosch expanded its traditional activities, for example with the buyout of former joint ventures such as ZF Lenksysteme and Bosch und Siemens Hausgeräte – which formed the crucial basis for future scenarios such as web-enabled household appliances and self-driving automobiles.

Lithium-ion batteries enable the design of the very compact and handy IXO, launched in 2003.
Lithium-ion batteries enable the design of the very compact and handy IXO, launched in 2003.
Production of electric motors to drive electric vehicles at the Bosch Hildesheim plant (2015). These form a cornerstone of future e-mobility alongside power electronics, inverters, and technology for energy recovery.
Production of electric motors to drive electric vehicles at the Bosch Hildesheim plant (2015). These form a cornerstone of future e-mobility alongside power electronics, inverters, and technology for energy recovery.

Automated driving

Test vehicle for automated driving with a rotating 360-degree high-speed camera (2015)

Traveling on autopilot

Automated driving is no longer limited to science fiction. Bosch researches, develops, and tests this technology in laboratories and on the German autobahn network and Californian highways. Bosch launched a distance radar as early as 2000. The next generation system was then capable of automatically braking an automobile to a stop and accelerating it in turn in queueing traffic. As sensor technology and software develops further, this will gradually also become possible on highways by around 2020, on country roads by 2025, and in urban traffic by 2030.

Photo: Test vehicle for automated driving with a rotating 360-degree high-speed camera (2015)

Venturing into new territories — IoT and Industry 4.0

The Internet of Things and Services opens up many new lines of business for Bosch. Besides traditional products, this also includes software, new internet-based business models, and data protection. The company has set itself the aim of combining these four fields in the long term. This covers everything from automated driving to smart homes and autonomous communication between factory machinery.

Pilot project for an electric vehicle charging station infrastructure in Singapore. The aim is to develop optimum software that harmonizes the docking search, charging, and billing to provide a smooth and customer-friendly service. (2011)
Pilot project for an electric vehicle charging station infrastructure in Singapore. The aim is to develop optimum software that harmonizes the docking search, charging, and billing to provide a smooth and customer-friendly service. (2011)
Real-time production analysis. The data harvested this way helps achieve the networked environment of Industry 4.0, in which machines can communicate with one another independently, thus improving production processes.
Real-time production analysis. The data harvested this way helps achieve the networked environment of Industry 4.0, in which machines can communicate with one another independently, thus improving production processes.
Recognizable from a distance on the busy autobahn from Stuttgart to Munich, near Stuttgart airport – the Bosch logo and emblem lit up at night. Each letter is eight meters high.
Recognizable from a distance on the busy autobahn from Stuttgart to Munich, near Stuttgart airport – the Bosch logo and emblem lit up at night. Each letter is eight meters high.

Robert Bosch: The Man, the employer, the visionary