BOXBERG, Germany — U.S. auto makers have not given up on the prospect of installing V-6 diesel engines in light-duty pickups.

Bernd Bohr, member of Robert Bosch GmbH's board of management, says his company, the world's largest diesel fuel-injection supplier, is working on projects with North American auto makers interested in replacing hulking, gas-guzzling V-8s in pickups and SUVs with smaller-displacement, more fuel-efficient — and higher-torque — V-6 diesels.

“We see a trend toward smaller diesel engines, taking the V-8s and making V-6s out of them in the U.S.,” Bohr tells Ward's here at the supplier's proving grounds. “We're hearing this from more than one of the Big Three.”

Diesels are hot in Europe but have stalled in the U.S. because of concerns about meeting stricter U.S. emissions regulations, scheduled for implementation in 2007.

“There is an openness at the (U.S.) OEMs for diesels in case we achieve the '07 emissions legislation,” Bohr says. Bosch is working on “development projects” to meet the U.S. legislation, which is about one-third more stringent than the Euro 4 emissions regulations, which take effect in 2005.

Most new diesels in Europe comply with Euro 4 — without extensive aftertreatment technology to filter the exhaust. Add aftertreatment devices such as particulate filters and oxides of nitrogen traps, and Bohr says the '07 U.S. target is within reach.

Bosch is considering producing its own particulate filters, made of sintered metal, which the company says will last considerably longer than current ceramic models. The lifecycle of a sintered-metal particulate filter is 125,000 miles (200,000 km), according to the supplier. Current filters must be replaced approximately every 75,000 miles (120,000 km) at a dealership.

Ulrich Dohle, president of Bosch Diesel Systems, says the company will decide this year whether to produce the particulate filter. If so, production could start in late '05.

Many European diesels are less than 2L in displacement, while the only new-generation diesels in the U.S. are in medium-duty pickups and are no smaller than 5L. The sweet spot for U.S. diesels probably lies somewhere in between, Bohr suggests.

Meanwhile, Bosch says it will continue supplying most of the unit injectors used by Volkswagen AG for its passenger-car diesels, even though VW soon will produce its own unit injectors in a 50/50 joint venture (VW Mechatronic GmbH and Co. Kg) with Bosch's competitor, Siemens VDO Automotive. Production at the new plant in Stollberg, Germany, is slated to begin in 2005.

The JV is a sensitive topic for Bosch, which to now has supplied 100% of VW's unit injectors. “We don't think it's prudent for an independent supplier to have a joint venture with the customer because it is a signal to the other customers. And we would like to stay independent,” Dohle says.

VW insisted it needed a second supplier for unit injectors beyond Bosch because the auto maker already buys them in huge volume, and the numbers are rising. This year, Bosch will produce 5.8 million unit injectors for 1.5 million VW turbodiesels. Next year, the number rises to about 7 million. Hence, VW's desire to diversify.

Dohle says Bosch could have met VW's increasing demand and could produce 10% to 15% more unit injectors with its current equipment. Bosch has three plants assembling unit injectors for VW and recently built a fourth in Turkey. Now, in light of the Siemens-VW JV, the plant will be used for common-rail assembly.

Bosch, Denso Partner in Telematics

Robert Bosch GmbH and Denso Corp. of Japan have a new 50/50 joint venture dedicated to develop a new hardware and software platform that would serve as a building block for navigation systems for vehicles around the world.

Drivers in Europe, Japan and the U.S. have specific preferences when it comes to telematics devices such as navigation systems. Rather than devoting exhaustive engineering resources to systems for each region, Denso and Bosch have partnered to establish a common architecture, which then can be adapted based on consumer demand.

The architecture will include the necessary hardware, chip set and basic software to which Bosch's and Denso's devices will adapt, says Bosch Board Member Bernd Bohr.

When installed in vehicles, consumers will be hard-pressed to draw a link between a Bosch system and a Denso system. “They will look different and feel different,” Bohr says. The architecture will appear in production vehicles within the next four to five years.