What The Next Era Of Automotive Design Will Require

Everybody wants to get into the car business, but it’s not so simple.


ARM, automotive, automotive electronics, lower-power processors, ADAS, automated driver assist, smart cars, autonomous vehicles, TECHnalysis,

Your father’s automotive market, with its long design cycles and reluctance for change, is in the rear-view mirror— a spec on the horizon in fact. The industry’s enthusiastic embrace of electronics — and the astonishing cost, functional, safety and consumer benefits this has wrought — is seen routinely in charts that suggest that electronics will comprise half a car’s cost in 2020, up from 20 percent in 2000.

IHS last year reported that semiconductor revenue for the automotive segment was expected to reach $31 billion in 2015, up from $29 billion in 2014.

Relentless efficiencies in the semiconductor and design ecosystems have helped enable three key areas of innovation:

  • Electrification of the drive systems
  • Advanced safety systems
  • Information and entertainment

“Everybody wants to get into the car business,” said Will Tu, ARM Embedded Segment Marketing Director. “Cars are sexy again.”

With this come extraordinary design challenges and a stepped-up need for much more robust processing capabilities, especially in those three innovation areas.

Bob O’Donnell, TECHnalysis Research Chief Analyst and a longtime automotive electronics observer, notes “Automobiles present some of the most challenging requirements of any device or any activity that consumers engage in, so the need for tremendous processing capabilities is going to make tomorrow’s digital engines as essential as today’s analog ones.”

Look down the road: Today there are roughly 10 high-performance chips in a premium vehicle, but that’s expected to more than double by 2020, according to Richard York, ARM’s vice president of marketing for the embedded segment.

Industry experts believe that 90% of the innovation in a vehicle is connected to or enabled by electronics, York said, adding “where there’s that kind of innovation, there’s value.”

Weighty issues
Where else will electronics innovation drive value? Look at weight, a core concern in automotive design. Trimming 20 kilos of vehicle weight cuts emissions by a gram of CO² for every kilometer driven.

Why does that matter? York points to the miles of cabling that run through cars, which contributes an average of 100 kilos per vehicle.

“If we can cut that though fewer and more powerful electronics modules, we can save a lot,” he said.

In addition, consider electrical power consumption. Every 40W of power cut out of a car saves 1g of CO² per km driven. Since most of the wire in a car is heavy, expensive copper, cutting electrical power through more efficient components would help manufacturers switch to aluminum wiring, which is half copper’s weight, York added.

O’Donnell, the analyst, recently laid out some of the electronics design opportunities in this white paper (Digital Engines for Smart and Connected Cars). He also hosted a podcast with Tu and Arwed Niestroj, the CEO of Mercedes-Benz R&D North America (Sunnyvale, Calif.). (Blog excerpt can found here).

It’s pretty clear that it’s no longer our father’s automotive market. It’s ours.