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A Few Minutes with Detroit's Automotive Ally

Detroit automakers, Bosch has your back.

I was humbled recently to speak with Mr. Peter Marks, chairman, president and CEO of Robert Bosch LLC, the North American arm of the world's largest automotive supplier. Marks also is a member of the global company's management board.

And his office sits right here in Farmington Hills. Not New York City. Not Los Angeles. The supplier's North American headquarters is right next door to Detroit, where the car is still king.

Sure, the region is trying to diversify. We're dabbling in movies, life sciences, nanotechnology, wind power. Yet Detroit remains the Motor City for better or for worse.

That's why it is heartening to hear Marks say Bosch is determined to helping the automotive companies. Yes, they're tied up here as much as any of us. But it's still nice to have someone this powerful on your side.

Marks has been with Bosch since 1977. His job is to coordinate all of the company's businesses in North and South America. For the board, he is responsible for manufacturing, investment planning and environment protection globally. This is no slouch.

In the Metro Detroit area, Bosch employs about 1,700 people among six sites: Farmington Hills, Plymouth Township, Flat Rock (proving ground), Ann Arbor, Lake Orion and Rochester Hills.

Automotive Technology is Bosch's largest business sector in North America, with sales of approximately $5.3 billion (3.6 billion Euros) in 2008.

Bosch's main role in Detroit is to develop, manufacture and market technologies that help automakers to meet new emissions and fuel-economy standards while also focusing on vehicle safety, Marks said. No easy task.

Q: What's a nice company like yours doing in Metro Detroit?
A: We're here because that's where our customers are. We need to be close to them. We have our application and product engineering here, and that means we need access to our sales base. … The ups and downs of the automotive industry are the same ones felt by their suppliers. That hasn't discouraged us.

Q: You're sure you're staying here?
A: We're well rooted. We definitely have an investment in Southeast Michigan.

Q: What does Michigan bring to the table?
A: We are here for our customers, but this region has been here for us. There are many quality people here. We're a technology company, developing cutting-edge technology for the automotive industry. We need great engineers. There are many fine universities here: University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Kettering, Michigan Tech.

Q: What are you working on now? What is the biggest project?
A: We applaud the new standards that require automakers to reduce emissions and improve fuel economy. (In the U.S., the federal government has proposed a national program to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and increase corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) target by 5 percent annually for model year 2012 to 2016 that results in a 35.5 mpg average for automaker fleets by 2016.) There is no silver bullet to 35.5. We have a big task ahead. We're bringing a lot of new product and technology to market and we're ready to support our U.S. customers with fuel efficiency advances. The technology is here – like diesel. It is the perfect technology for this country, but we haven't embraced it yet.

Q: What about electric vehicles or other products now in development?
A: We want the automakers to be realistic. The technology will be expensive, so the market penetration won't be significant. By 2015, it is estimated there will be 90 million cars produced worldwide. About 5 million will be hybrids and half a million will be fully electric.

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