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Bosch Business Humming Amid Trade Talk Uncertainty

Executive Summary

“China is an important part of an intricate, global supply chain,” Bosch USA President Michael Mansuetti says. “Tariffs will be a hurdle. Lower tariffs are always better. There is a lot of uncertainty.”

FLAT ROCK, MI – Bosch USA President Michael Mansuetti expects the industrial conglomerate will enjoy sales gains this year across its North American business segments, driven by demand from automotive customers for its emerging mobility technologies such as advanced-safety and autonomous-driving equipment, but admits international trade talks cast some uncertainty over future business strategy.

“All the sectors are seeing positive growth, led by mobility,” Mansuetti tells WardsAuto on the sidelines of a Bosch event showcasing company technologies such as a Level 2 autonomous Maserati, infotainment systems using artificial intelligence and vehicle-to-everything communication.

The outlook reiterates a recent forecast from multinational parent Robert Bosch, which calls for global sales growth of between 2% and 3% this year compared with $95.2 billion (€78.1 billion) in 2017. North America accounted for $13.7 billion (€10.3 billion).

As a privately held company, Bosch is not obligated to disclose financial information, but the industrial titan’s outlooks and decision-making are closely watched as a barometer of global and region economic health. The company warned in its April 25 forecast of a difficult economic climate, specifically citing trade negotiations between the U.S. and China posing global repercussions.

The world’s two largest economies appeared to have made progress earlier this week when China announced plans to slash import tariffs. But the U.S. since has poured cold water on the news saying an entirely new trade framework needs to be negotiated. President Trump has threatened steep tariffs on U.S. imports from China to move talks along.

“China is an important part of an intricate, global supply chain,” Mansuetti says. “Tariffs will be a hurdle. Lower tariffs are always better.

“There is a lot of uncertainty,” he continues. “We need certainty to make determinations.”

The U.S. also is in talks with Mexico and Canada to modify NAFTA, but negotiations have stalled over U.S. demands for higher wages for Mexican auto workers and more U.S. content in auto parts. However, Trump, who last month imposed steep tariffs on steel imports to the U.S., hinted about good news coming for auto workers and it could signal a deal is imminent.

Mansuetti says Bosch USA continues to work closely with its Washington lobbyists, including the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Assn., to provide input to NAFTA stakeholders and feedback has been encouraging. From that perspective, it is business as usual, he says.

“Our strategy has not changed,” Mansuetti adds. “We are still local-for-local (sourcing) and we are investing in our plants. Mexico is emerging as a market, and we have a lot of (industry) customers in Mexico with export business and we are delivering to them.”

Beyond wages and content rules, the NAFTA negotiations also tinker with work visa rules companies rely on for high-skill professionals, such as engineers to cross borders for work. Trump wants to slash the number of so-called TN visa renewals as part of his “Buy American, Hire American” campaign pledge.

“We value the diversity we get from all (job) candidates, and we also value free trade and immigration,” Mansuetti says. “We hope some of these policies can continue to work.”

Also on the personnel front, Mansuetti reports Bosch USA employment grew 5% last year to 34,500. He specifically called out the company’s Silicon Valley R&D center and Plymouth Twp., MI, engineering operation for adding employees. Much of the hiring is driven by future-mobility work, although Bosch USA continues to fortify its core automotive business with talent because it supports investment in future technologies.

“We still have a tremendous need,” he says.

Bosch USA invested $470 million in its operations last year and more than $1 billion in the U.S. alone in the past 10 years to prepare for the transformation in automotive, but also coming breakthroughs in manufacturing, home connectivity and the Internet of Things.

Mansuetti also says the company surpassed $20 million in corporate giving last year in the U.S. and Canada, funding that targets science, technology, engineering and math education to help widen the talent pool industries need for the future.


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