Bosch Creates a Risk-Taking R&D Environment

Last week Robert Bosch GmbH opened a research campus in Renningen, Germany.

Last week Robert Bosch GmbH opened a research campus in Renningen, Germany. The company invested some €310-million on the site. The physical plant includes a main building, 11 laboratory and workshop buildings, two site maintenance buildings, and an automotive test track.

The Renningen campus will be the working home of 1,200 employees and 500 PhD students and interns.

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The areas that they’ll be pursuing are software engineering, sensor technology, automation, driver assistance systems, and battery technology.

Want a list of the important technologies for the next several years? There it is, in that previous paragraph.

Bosch is a company that believes strongly in the importance of research: in 2014 it invested some €5-billion, or 10% of sales, for research activities.

Dr. Volkmar Denner, chairman of the Bosch board of management, says that Renningen has an advanced development pedigree, as it was there, some 20 years ago, when Bosch engineers used the surface of an airfield there to develop Bosch’s electronic stability control (ESP).

During his presentation at the opening of the campus, Denner made an observation about technology development that is worth quoting at length because it underscores some technocultural differences between the U.S. and Germany, and it emphasizes that there is an awareness that some people in Germany, like Denner (and it happens that Federal Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel was at the Renningen ceremony, so she got the message, too), have regarding the importance of risk-taking and entrepreneurship, something that too many people in the U.S. might start taking for granted.

Anyway, Denner said:

“Many people seem to believe that Europe can become some kind of ‘Silicon Valley.’ In reality, however, there are neither the opportunities nor the willingness to establish start-ups. This is not just about a lack of venture capital, therefore, but also a lack of boldness. It has to be a matter of concern for us that only 25 percent of Germans can imagine setting up a company, while the figure for the U.S. is 40 percent. To make matters worse, fear of failure is the reason cited by 80 percent of Germans, while in the U.S. this figure is only 30 percent. Especially among its young university graduates, this country needs more start-up spirit. In this respect, universities have to do more than prepare their students for exams in highly specialized fields. For example, a lot could be gained by university chairs that combine technological subjects with the development of business models. If the ‘Silicon Valley’ model really is to be the way forward for Europe, we have to learn to take risks.”

Make no mistake: while Bosch is based in Germany, the company has 360,000 associates based in offices, factories, laboratories, engineering centers, and other facilities around the world. It is global.

Just as products from Silicon Valley are revered and sought-after around the world, it is clear that Denner recognizes that this sort of development is something that is important for Bosch.

And it is important for every company in the auto industry. Perhaps not all can afford €310-million, but none can afford not to make the investment in the future.