Mr. Hartung, you started as a Bosch boss almost five months ago in the middle of the corona crisis. The war in Ukraine came on twelve weeks ago. How much does that affect your day-to-day business?
It’s a big burden for all of us. We cannot work through the problems one after the other, we have to face them at the same time. But don’t let it overwhelm you. I remain pragmatic: the causes are not in the company, but come from outside.
Do you think business as usual will return?
There is never a return to the past. And certainly not after events such as a pandemic and war. Employees have lost their lives in the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine is a humanitarian catastrophe with people dying and suffering. And the framework conditions are and will remain difficult, including the supply of raw materials and energy costs. But we also have to look ahead.
What are the biggest risks for Bosch at the moment?
Every single topic carries risks: Corona, the war, delivery bottlenecks, inflation. The greatest challenge lies in the simultaneity and it is currently particularly difficult to assess how China is progressing in the fight against Covid. We know lockdowns from time to time and have also gone through it all in Europe. But now parts of this large, important market and production site are standing still and it is not foreseeable how long. That drives me a lot.
The supply chains have broken at times, and there are still bottlenecks. What do you learn from this?
Corona has shown us that demand can change massively in a short time and that not everything is always available as we would like or have been used to for years. We actually no longer experienced supply bottlenecks, neither as a company nor as private individuals. High inflation is also a new experience for most of us. However, economic principles are not invalidated just because they have not appeared for a long time.
Isn’t the business model of the globalized, networked economy at stake if supply relationships no longer work?
I do not think so. Things are changing at breakneck speed and there will certainly be adjustments to make global supply chains more robust. But you can’t build a semiconductor factory in two weeks. For this reason, the problem of semiconductor shortages will not be solved quickly by local capacity building. And when the ports in China are blocked, world trade falters. There is no question that the global economy, and therefore also our business, is facing challenges. And yet I am convinced that globalization will not be reversed and that we must continue to think globally. Because producing and selling everything locally will not work.
Not everything, but maybe more.
We already produce where our customers are, where it is possible and sensible. It has also been shown that it is good to have a second or third supplier. But if one fails, the other cannot double its production overnight, because we always deal with very large quantities. And there are resources that are not available everywhere. For example, qualified specialists for a wide variety of tasks. That’s why we have to strive for the best specialists worldwide, for example in the software sector.
Europe is trying to become more independent in key technologies, in semiconductors, battery cells, software. But investments are just beginning. Isn’t that too late for your fast industry?
It makes sense to expand skills and production that only exist in Europe. For example, the equipment and machines for semiconductor production are manufactured in Europe. We need more of that. But there will never be self-sufficiency with certain raw materials or technologies. This is already shown by the example of primary energy, 70 percent of which Germany has to import today.
Stopping gas supplies from Russia would paralyze Bosch?
We are also dependent on gas to supply our own production, for example in semiconductor production in Dresden or Reutlingen or for thermal processes in our plants. But these are small amounts. Much more critical is that we need a lot of preliminary products – steel or chemical products, for example – that are very dependent on gas. We therefore need a stable supply of gas – at the moment also from Russia, even if it hurts. Politicians will have to do a lot to find alternatives. However, our prosperity also depends on security of supply.
In Russia, Bosch has almost completely shut down its business with 3,500 employees. Do you believe in a new start after the war?
It is currently not possible to design a post-war scenario. I don’t know if and how Bosch can stay in Russia in view of the sanctions, because no one knows when and how this war will end. Certainly we will not be able to return to the previous state. It will be a different world that we have yet to build.
Do you also fear that the world will again be divided into hostile blocs, with corresponding economic upheavals?
No, even if there has always been a tendency to divide the world into political spheres of influence. But that phase is actually behind us. I am optimistic because humanity will only get climate change under control together. The past few years have also shown that there is a good basis for global cooperation. As a global company, Bosch also proves every day that cooperation between people from different cultures and worldviews can work very well. However, it is conceivable that the competition between the world regions will become tougher – hopefully in the struggle for the best solutions.
It is not in your hands as a company. Politics sets the framework.
I think politics has gained points in the past few months. I have seen politicians who decide quickly, act adaptively and are deeply involved in the issues on a daily basis. I experience this almost every week in exchange and am positively surprised. The federal government had to react to crises from day one. Germany cannot solve the world’s problems, but it can still make the right decisions. And respect, some of them are in top form.
Bosch recently announced major investments in component manufacturing for hydrogen production. Are you as happy with the government when it comes to openness to technology?
Openness to technology not only makes sense because all CO2-free technologies should be developed and made available. It is also necessary because not all energy sources are sufficiently available in Germany. We have to keep all options open.
Also the hydrogen option for cars?
We’ll see. Europe is now fully committed to electrification when it comes to mobility, and we support that with great energy. Here we invest a lot and bring products to the market. The technologies must be CO2-free. The market decides where they are used. Hydrogen and fuel cells are already an option in heavy-duty transport over long distances. The fuel cell will also find its way into passenger cars via light commercial vehicles. We will also see internal combustion engines that run on hydrogen – for example in heavy machines that need a lot of power and drive slowly.
Why? The production of hydrogen and synthetic fuels is inefficient, the scarce green electricity is used elsewhere.
In 2030, it is estimated that only around 30 percent of the 1.6 billion vehicles worldwide will be electrified. The capacity will not be enough for more. So all technologies are needed. Incidentally, also clean diesel – for decades to come. Because time is ticking! It doesn’t help if only Germany or Europe can achieve CO2-free mobility. The entire globe has to make it.
Are rising energy and raw material prices slowing down the transformation – or are they acting as an accelerator?
Expensive raw materials make batteries more expensive and therefore electric cars. Expensive oil makes fuel more expensive and combustion engines less attractive. One thing is clear: there is no going back. Petroleum-based fuel will never be as cheap as it used to be.
So are electric car prices going up?
At least they won’t go down as fast as we originally thought. But that does not mean that they will become less attractive compared to combustion vehicles.
If critical raw materials remain expensive in the long term or supply chains are permanently insecure – can that stop the entire transformation of mobility?
We all remain committed to combating climate change, companies, politics, society. That’s out of the question, no matter what’s happening in the world. It may be slower in the short term. We also do not yet know at what price level and with what loss of prosperity the transition will succeed. Sustainable living could be associated with less prosperity – but it doesn’t have to be.