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Autoparts suppliers duke it out in electric, self-driving tech

Bosch, Denso buzzing with team-ups and investments

Germany's three largest autoparts suppliers are all competing in autonomous-vehicle technology.

WOLFSBURG, Germany -- Four of the world's largest car parts manufacturers are battling for leadership in technology for electric and self-driving vehicles through a flurry of new partnerships and acquisitions.

Robert Bosch, the world's largest supplier, already mass-produces parts for electric vehicles. The German company's tech has found its way into 30 electric and hybrid models. Bosch also began development in 2016 on 11 new projects in China. It is developing technology affordable to people in the world's largest electric-vehicle market, said chief executive Volkmar Denner in an annual news conference Thursday.

Continental logged sales of 1.2 billion euros ($1.31 billion) in fiscal 2016 for electric and hybrid parts and systems. The second-largest German supplier will expand sales of its simple and cheap "mild hybrid" system, which makes combustion engines more fuel-efficient.

Japanese parts maker Denso announced last month an investment in electronics company Ibiden to cooperate on product development for electric vehicles.

Competition to develop self-driving technology is also intensifying. Bosch is teaming up with fellow German giant Daimler to begin mass production of self-driving cars by the early 2020s, and with American technology company Nvidia to develop computers for such vehicles.

ZF, another top German parts supplier, announced Thursday a partnership with French parts maker Faurecia to develop safety technologies for the "cockpit of the future" in autonomous vehicles.

Continental moved in 2016 to purchase a division of an American company that makes laser light sensors, an indispensable technology for enabling self-driving cars to precisely track their distance from other objects.

Denso is stepping up investment in self-driving technology. Its research and development budget will rise 4% to 425 billion yen ($3.77 billion) in the year ending March 2018 -- a level in line with top German suppliers. A third will go toward developing such self-driving technologies as artificial intelligence.

Denso aims to strengthen software development capabilities for self-driving cars with a deal to turn automotive electronics company Fujitsu Ten into a consolidated subsidiary.

Nikkei staff writer Yusuke Yokota in Nagoya contributed to this article.

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