Auto Electronics

Strategy Analytics says passive sensor innovations may slow transition to active sensors

Automotive industry demand for active speed and position sensors is growing at a compound annual rate of 17% but passive sensors may make a comeback, according to a new study of the technologies by Strategy Analytics.

In other studies the research firm is predicting growth in the markets for automotive color displays, hybrid vehicles, and cell phones in navigation.

The sensor report, "Automotive Active Speed And Position Sensors Grow, But Passive Sensors May Make A Comeback," identifies the drivers behind the growth of active speed and position sensors in automotive applications from 640 million units to 880 million units by 2012.

Senior analyst Simon Schofield said the development of active, non-contacting sensing strategies based on Hall effect, magneto-resistive and variable reluctance transformer technologies is taking an increasing share of the market of passive sensors. The active sensor market is likely to grow as manufacturers look to improve reliability and reduce warranty costs, he said; however, manufacturers of passive sensor elements are developing innovative new materials that will offer longer life and higher reliability at a lower cost. “(Manufacturers of passive resistor elements are) using strengthening compounds in the resistive track, thereby reducing the rate of wear,” he noted.

"Active sensors are gaining ground over passive sensors in the automotive speed and position sensor space," Schofield said. "This is being driven by the need for improved reliability as well as increased functionality and accuracy. Alps Electric is leading the way with developments in resistive contact materials that may offer a life of 1 billion operational cycles, creating new interest in passive sensors for highly embedded situations and functions, which could be critical to reliable vehicle operation."

Automotive Displays

In "Automotive Displays-Position and Information Content are the Key Issues Not Screen Size," Strategy Analytics automotive practice director Joanne Blight concluded that decreasing LCD costs and increasing availability of new features on in-vehicle navigation, entertainment and driver information systems are likely to drive automotive display shipments to 32 million units by 2012.

Blight said that the size of the display screen in a vehicle is less important for automotive companies than the location of the screen within the cockpit, and determining what information should be shown and easily accessed. “Safety will be an increasing design factor since driver distraction is a key concern for regulators, car makers and consumers,” she said. “Strategic Human Machine Interface questions still remain over the role of displays and instrumentation clusters, compared to voice technology and haptic, touch button controls.”

Blight said that proliferation of color displays in portable and wireless devices and home electronics products is now being passed onto the automotive sector. “Lower display costs, together with increasing availability of new features on in-vehicle infotainment systems, will result in a strong market for full color displays," she noted.

"We are seeing a lot of market adoption of touchscreens from companies such as Alpine, Nissan, Toyota, as well as head-up displays (HUDs), which are available from BMW, GM, and Siemens VDO, Blight said. “These display products are starting to address some of the safety, design aesthetics, customer appeal and driver information issues that automotive companies need to tackle seriously in terms of HMI strategies."

Hybrid vehicle market to top 3 million by 2012

Strategy Analytics forecasts demand for hybrids to grow from 335,000 units in 2005 to more than 3 million units in 2013, representing 4% of worldwide vehicle production.

In "Hybrid Vehicles: Opportunity for Profits Through Electronics," senior analyst Mark Fitzgerald noted that hybrid vehicles include more electronic content than traditional vehicles.

"With hybrid vehicles using up to three times the amount of electronics found in traditional cars, they offer automotive suppliers growth potential through hybrid-specific electronics," he said.

Cell phones likely to compete with PNDs

The Strategy Analytics report, "Portable Navigation: Vendors Face Consolidation and Automotive Fightback," concludes that at the right price points, cellular phone companies and traditional automotive system suppliers can present a serious competitive response to navigation products from TomTom, Garmin, Magellan and others.

Investment and competitive pressures are also expected to drive consolidation among portable navigation vendors in the next 12 months, according to automotive practice director Joanne Blight, who predicts that cell phones may account for 30% of an 88 million navigation device market by 2010.

“Navigation vendors will soon approach a strategic crossroads as strong latent demand for low-cost basic route guidance is increasingly met,” Blight said, adding that at least 18% of drivers require maps or directions more than 20% of the time, but more than 60% of consumers spend only 5% of their travel time going beyond familiar destinations.

"There are now indications that portable navigation device (PND) growth is slowing, and the demand from the smaller but highly significant segment of consumers who require route guidance on a regular basis has practically been met by low-cost PNDs," Blight said. "The next challenge is to meet the needs of the much larger consumer segment who require route guidance on a far less regular basis.” Blight said those consumers will require products that combine navigation with other features such as road traffic information, entertainment, and location-based applications. “The automotive and wireless companies are very well positioned to mount some serious competition in this section of the navigation market," she said.

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