Rising fuel prices and environmental concerns are accelerating electronic innovation in the automotive industry and helping to drive the automotive microcontroller market, according to a new report from Gartner, Inc.
Gartner expects the automotive microcontroller market to reach $6.3 billion in 2012, with 50% of the market attributable to “green optimizations.” Gartner pegged the worldwide automotive MCU market at $5.3 billion in 2008.
“MCUs play an instrumental role in accelerating electronic innovations in automotives by making the vehicle lighter and more efficient, and drivers more informed,” said Gartner research director Amy Leong. “Increasing complexity in automotive electronics is amplifying the need for higher-performance 32-bit MCUs with more embedded memory.”
Leong said the improved fuel economy of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) is attributable to the addition of an electric engine to the combustion gas engine, which can take over from the gas engine when the car is stopped at lights or in traffic. In newer models the electric engine can power the car at lower speeds.
The smooth and uninterrupted blending of power between the two engines requires great computer control and highly complex software, which is provided by MCU technology with enhanced on-chip memory.
The brain of the hybrid engine control unit (ECU) is the 32-bit MCU, which provides high-speed operation up to 200 MHz and on-chip memory of more than 4 MB. This constantly monitors the driving conditions and manages the power flow between the generator, battery and motor.
HEV production is only a small part of new car production, however, and the automotive industry is moving to implement new technological innovations in combustion engine cars to improve energy efficiency. “Using more electronics in vehicles plays a critical role and MCUs inside these electronics provide higher-precision control and on-demand capability, leading to considerable improvement in fuel-efficiency and a reduction in emissions,” Leong said.
MCU-enabled applications such as electronic power steering and multiplexing/networking reduce overall vehicle weight and improve gas mileage by eliminating mechanical systems and dedicated wiring. Leong noted that many consumers are already realizing the benefits of GPS and onboard computers to help route around traffic congestion and maximize fuel economy by monitoring speed and driving habits.
“With increasingly stringent emission regulations and higher gasoline prices, the automotive industry is making strides toward cleaner emissions and better fuel economy,” Leong said. “In the next decade, we will see an accelerated adoption of fuel-efficient technologies in all cars worldwide. Additionally, we expect the revolutionary zero-emission and alternative fuel solutions to be commercialized after 2015. All of these innovations will rely heavily on electronic control systems, and therefore MCUs.”
The report, "Dataquest Insight: Microcontrollers Are Key Enablers for Green Vehicles,” is available.