BOXBERG, Germany – If you think there is no future for diesel as automakers migrate away from the technology to electrification, think again, says Bosch executive Rolf Bulander.

“Combustion engines and electric motors will coexist for many years to come,” Bulander says during remarks here ahead of a deep dive into the global supplier’s vast automotive product portfolio, which ranges from diesel and gasoline engine parts to electric-drive units and a host of emerging connectivity and mobility-services solutions.

The two technologies must live alongside one another, he says, because the ramp-up to mass-market battery-electric vehicles will be long and gradual. BEVs and plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles accounted for less than 1% of global industry sales last year. If China were removed from the total those technologies would account for less than 0.5% of sales.

At the same time, governments around the world have committed to strict future clean-air goals achievable only by further slashing light-vehicle tailpipe emissions. France, for example, earlier this month announced plans to end sales of petrol- and diesel-powered cars by 2040.

“We have to pull out all of our engineering stops, which means that we still have to improve diesel and gasoline engines,” says Bulander, a member of the board of management at Stuttgart-based Robert Bosch and chairman of the company’s Mobility Solutions business sector.

​Bulander says by focusing on items such as friction reduction and optimized combustion the industry can increase the efficiency of diesel and gasoline engines 10% in coming years, which given the relative population of ICE-propelled vehicles compared with EVs would make a significant contribution to cleaner air.

“Let’s be realistic; we need more than electrification,” he tells WardsAuto, adding that the greater energy density of diesel fuel gives it a significant advantage over gasoline.

Diesel is becoming increasingly cleaner, too, he says. Bulander cites broader use of selective-catalytic-reduction technologies globally, as well as emerging nitrogen oxide storage converters that remove the most harmful diesel pollutants.

“The technology is available to meet emissions requirements,” he says. “It’s only a question of how fast the (vehicle) population can be changed.”

Bulander declines to speculate how the shift away from diesel by major automakers such as Volkswagen will affect profitability at Bosch, which is easily the world’s biggest supplier of the technology, because the timetable for mass-market electrification remains unclear. He also does not say whether the company’s leap into electrification, which Bulander estimates at €400 million ($462 million) in R&D spending annually, will make up for what stands to be lost in diesel business.

The longtime ICE technology executive does have a word of advice for OEMs looking to add plugs to their products: Go small.

“The smaller you make a battery, the cheaper the car,” he says. “So we believe there’s an alternative with smaller cars with shorter range.”

Bosch is betting big on a rapid evolution of small EVs. The supplier estimates 100 million light EVs, including scooters and small 4-wheeled cars, will be produced worldwide by 2020. Dense urban areas of Asia, where 30 million electric scooters are sold annually, will lead in the adoption of the 2-, 3- and 4-wheeled vehicles.

Bosch displays two prototypes at the product backgrounder, both using its integrated system of motors, control units, lithium-ion batteries, chargers, information displays and smartphone applications. The e.Go 4-passenger car and Schwalbe eScooter also use a Bosch 48V drive unit.

The e.Go uses a 14.4-kWh battery for a range of 81 miles (130 km). It will be available next year in Europe for about €15,900 ($18,400). It targets the commercial sector but the company expects to make it available to retail customers, too. The eScooter uses a 2.4-kWh battery for a range of 37 miles (60 km). An optional second, portable 1.7-kWh battery extends range to 78 miles (125 km). It is available today for about €1,030 ($1,200).

Stephan Stass, senior vice president-Chassis System Controls and Driver Assistance Systems at Bosch, says the vehicles also reduce noise pollution because of their near-silent operation. Rapid acceleration provides a “wow factor,” he adds.

“Very soon, our financial managers will likely also be raving about the (propulsion) system,” Stass says, projecting 100% annual internal growth for the 48V drive unit.

The propulsion system uses off-the-shelf automotive components, so established OEMs and startups both could bring small electric vehicles to market in a brisk 12-18 months, he says.