By Edward Taylor
FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German auto supplier Robert Bosch [ROBG.UL] has seen a surge in demand for radar systems and video sensors as automakers race to add driver assistance features and automated functions to cars.
The company said on Tuesday it expected sales of radar systems to leap by 60 percent and of video sensors by 80 percent this year.
It forecast sales at its Mobility Solutions division, which makes sophisticated safety systems as well as autonomous car components, would grow around 7 percent this year, benefiting from a broader push to make vehicles more intelligent.
Last year, Mobility Solutions - which employs 227,000 staff - generated 43.9 billion euros ($49.8 billion) in sales, boosted by deliveries of crash avoidance technologies.
"We are growing faster than the market," management board member Rolf Bulander said.
Bosch delivers advanced safety systems to all of the world's largest automotive companies as well as start-up carmakers. It developed the electric powertrain and steering for Google's prototype autonomous vehicle and is a supplier of driver assistance systems to Tesla.
Bosch has around 3,000 developers working on highly automated driving systems, a market which is booming as simple anti-collision technologies like automated braking systems evolve into sophisticated crash avoidance programs using camera and radar to detect obstacles and avoid collisions.
Last year, sales of driver assistance systems, which include radar and video sensors used for emergency braking and cruise control functions, reached 1 billion euros, with the company receiving orders for a further 3.5 billion worth of assistance systems, Bosch said.
Beyond this, the company is expanding into areas such as software, services, internet-connected devices and electric cars.
In doing so, it is moving into new businesses like short-term motorbike rental, giving it direct access to new consumers and also potentially putting it in competition with its traditional clients: car and motorbike manufacturers that have also launched short-term ride hailing and rental services.
"While there are market segments where we are clearly a supplier, there are markets which are not yet developed where new players are emerging, this includes us," Bulander said.
Bosch declined to detail which emerging mobility markets, like for example ride-hailing, it is targeting next, but said by the end of 2017, its mobility solutions business would have 48,000 research and development staff, increasing its headcount by roughly 4,000.
Bosch forecast significant growth in the market for electric scooters and microcars, driven mainly be demand from China and countries like Taiwan. Already this market has seen sales rise from 58,000 in 1998, to more than 30 million per year in Asia.
Separately Bosch appealed to regulators in Europe not to ban diesel vehicles on fears that a European Union target to cut carbon dioxide gas emissions, which are blamed for causing global warming, could be jeopardized.
"If all the diesel cars were replaced by equivalent cars with petrol engines, average fleet emissions would rise by 16 grams," Bulander told Reuters.
Diesel cars are around 15 percent more efficient than petrol engined cars, but regulators have sought to ban some older versions because of their emissions of nitrogen oxides which are blamed for causing respiratory disease.
(Reporting by Edward Taylor; editing by Maria Sheahan and Mark Potter)