Auto Electronics

Key trends to watch

While there are a number of OEM applications of powerline communications in the works and portable device connectivity is on the rise, the automotive electronics growth is slowing down and the balance of power in the industry is shifting from Detroit to Germany and Japan, said market research expert Paul Hansen at Mentor Graphics' sixth Integrated Electrical Solutions Forum on Dec. 4 in Dearborn, MI. Speaking on “Trends in the Automotive Electrical and Electronics Domain, Hansen, publisher of The Hansen Report, stated that the success of German and Japanese automakers has certainly had a negative effect on Ford, GM and Chrysler. And that has led to serious difficulties for some U.S. suppliers, especially the parts suppliers spun off from the big three.

He indicated that the market, which has been growing roughly at the rate of 6 or 7 percent per year, will slow to perhaps 5 percent as the penetration of electronics into the average vehicle plateaus. The penetration of electronics and electrical parts cannot possibly continue forever. You cannot make a vehicle entirely out of electronics, electrical parts and software, noted Hansen. Sure, new features will continue to make their way into the typical vehicle, but they will come at the expense of what is already onboard, he added. Many existing parts go down in price each year by 3 to 5 percent. Additional price reductions come as parts are eliminated by way of integration.

Twenty to 25 percent of the cost of today's average new vehicle comes from electronics and electrical parts, and that won't significantly rise until there is a fundamental shift in the powertrain — such as to fuel cells or a high penetration of hybrids.

Hansen's talk identified active safety, energy efficiency and portable device connectivity as key areas of development. Unlike passive safety, active safety is hot right now as the benefit of each additional airbag finds diminishing safety returns. Electronic stability control has been mandated by the U.S. government and may also soon be mandated in Europe, noted Hansen.

A number of warning systems — lane-departure warning, drowsy driver warning, blind-spot warning — are finding emerging markets, but he believes that carmakers will soon begin to favor autonomous systems that brake or steer the vehicle to avoid an accident, rather than relying on the driver to respond to those multiple, possibly overwhelming, warnings. He thinks the future belongs to autonomous systems.

Also, on the horizon is automatic steering, which is being enabled by electric power steering systems, which over the next several years will become widely deployed even on large cars. “Not only are we seeing cars that can park themselves, but soon cars will steer themselves autonomously: to nudge the vehicle back into its own lane, or like electric stability control, to keep it from skidding sideways, and even steer to avoid an obstacle,” said Hansen.

Seeing the road ahead is also another trend. Toward that goal, the industry is making great strides with inexpensive sensors including CMOS video cameras. Radar sensors are also becoming much less expensive as silicon germanium technology replaces gallium arsenide, according to Hansen's presentation.

Lowering fuel consumption is also a top priority. Carmakers worldwide are under tremendous pressure to tighten fuel consumption and emissions, most important, carbon dioxide emissions. Consequently, a wider selection of hybrid and diesel models are in the works, as well as many fuel-saving powertrain technologies such as variable valve timing, cylinder deactivation, homogenous charge compression ignition, six-speed automatic transmission and stop-start starter alternators are seeing wider application.

The drive for energy efficiency and CO2 reduction are also boosting greater use of electric power steering in larger vehicles.

Finally, German-initiated AUTOSAR is very much on the minds of almost everybody in the global auto industry. Once it's fully implemented, AUTOSAR promises multibillion dollars in hardware and software savings to automakers each year. However, he cautioned, that AUTOSAR's adoption is slow. Thus, it will be more than a decade before AUTOSAR's benefits are fully realized, the keynoter explained.

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