This column is an overview of key driving forces that are changing automotive electronics systems.
The figure below summarizes my views of the most important technologies changing automotive technologies. I used an earlier version of this figure during my keynote speech at the EE Times’ virtual conference called Roadmap to Next-Gen EV & AV. All conference presentations and exhibitor information are now available on demand. My presentation was on March 24, 2021. If you want to see and listen to my presentation this link will get you to the registration page.
The figure below shows four categories of driving forces—technology push, customer pull, software defined car and business model disruption. I will summarize each segment in the rest of the column.
At the bottom, in black color, are the Technology Push factors. They are advancing and disrupting automotive system architecture. Four technology push categories are included below.
IC technology has been, by far, the most important factor and this is not ending any time soon. All of the electronics technologies continue to be driven by chip advances. The progress is slower than a decade ago, but other technology segments are creating new advances—with innovation in chip packaging technology as an important factor. SIP or System in Package is an example of this trend.
The rapid sensor improvements are also mostly due to IC technology advances. Cameras and radars are crucial for ADAS and AV products and continue to progress. Lidar and far-infrared are undergoing rapid advances in cost and performance and will be important for autonomous vehicles.
Connected car technology is approaching 25 years since the first telematics systems appeared in late 1996. It took a while until connectivity became mainstream, but it is now a required and indispensable technology with lots of functional expansion taking place.
Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) are currently the most disruptive technology because it is now moving much faster than expected a few years ago. Hence all the auto OEMs are scrambling to get their strategy, product planning, battery supply-chain and transition from combustion engines right—with lots of uncertainty of what “right” is.
AV technologies are emerging and will dramatically impact auto and transportation industries in the next decades. There is strong competition in developing the winning software platforms with both high-tech and auto OEMs investing to be a among the long-term winners. AV safety and reliability are key challenges with new standards and regulation appearing with more to come.
The left side of the figure, in blue color, summarizes key software technologies and platforms—the main factors in the software-defined car. Domain ECUs are expanding the software-defined car as it requires more advanced software platforms and middleware platforms. Cockpit domain ECU is the leading segment today with ADAS domain ECU becoming the next growth segment.
Connected car apps have been on a growth path but is becoming a high-tech domain as the smartphone app are taking over as part of infotainment systems. Most car users prefer the user interface they have on their smartphones for infotainment as they are usually better than what the auto OEMs developed. The smartphone won this battle and the high-tech industry is taking charge of infotainment content.
Over-the-Air (OTA) updates and cybersecurity have become required capabilities. The auto OEMs have been slow to deploy both OTA and cybersecurity, but this now changing—at least for OTA. OTA is capable of both cost-saving for software updates and generating new revenue through functional software updates.
Cybersecurity is on a slower track than OTA but will be deployed by all OEMs sooner or later. A cybersecurity standard, UNECE WP.29, has ben passed and will be deployed in many regions. Arm’s new architecture, V9, has some built-in cybersecurity features that should be good for future automotive cybersecurity.
The auto OEMs have ambitions to develop an increasing part of their software in-house. So far, to do so has been harder than expected and I believe it will take some time to build in-house expertise. But the auto OEMs have to increase their long-term software capabilities and it is the right strategy.
Cloud SaaS platforms are impacting auto software at multiple stages with Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure gaining new automotive customers. Cloud SaaS platforms have been proliferating in many industries and it is time for an auto industry bloom. My recent column on AWS activities is a good wake-up call on how important cloud platforms are becoming: Breaking Down Amazon AWS in Automotive Context.
The right side of the figure, in red, shows the impact from business model disruptions. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is emerging slowly with multiple use-case testing in several regions with U.S. and China leading. Four AV-based use-cases are receiving investments—autonomous trucks, robotaxis, goods delivery—local and long-haul, and to a lesser degree—fixed route AVs (due to fewer shared rides during the pandemic).
The SaaS business model is increasing software opportunities in the automotive industry with cloud platforms becoming a must have technology. Even some car functionalities implemented or paid by SaaS or pay-per-use.
Pay-per-use is similar to SaaS but is listed separately as it increases revenue potential and often results in better financial valuations by the stock market. My recent column on automotive software has additional perspectives on SaaS trends: Changing Roles of Automotive Software
New aftermarket business models are also developing in the car use phase. A good example is data monetization or Data-as-a-Service (DaaS). Functional software updates are also a major new opportunity for auto manufacturers and is a key reason for speeding up OTA deployment.
3D printed parts are emerging for the auto industry and will become an important strategy for cost savings and new revenue opportunities. 3D printing is probably the most important none-electronics segment in the auto industry. The long-term promise of printing a needed part instead of spare-parts inventory is very desirable. With continued 3D printing advances, it is also likely that the original part can be upgraded to a better 3D printed part in a decade or less.
The top section of the figure, in green, shows the Customer Pull factors. It is important to realize that some of this impact is from safety and related regulations.
Price and cost are always important and especially playing out between BEV and Internal Combustion Engine Vehicle (ICEV) technology—purchase price, operational costs and maintenance costs. BEVs lead in operational and maintenance costs and will reach purchase price parity with ICEV by 2025 for many auto segments. It is likely that BEVs will have all the advantage well before 2030 or when charging infrastructure is acceptable to the vast majority of BEV use patterns.
Safety is growing in importance for car buyers with NCAP (New Car Assessment Program) and IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) ratings growing and influencing car buying decisions. It looks like this trend will continue with the possibility of more safety regulation being introduced in the next five years.
Recalls has been an increasing factor in auto safety—especially software-based recalls. OTA will become a significant help to get better results from the recall procedure. It would be nice to see the completion rate by auto model for all the recalls to get perspectives on how many cars did not get the required hardware and software repair. I have not found this data anywhere.
Anyone can download the NHTSA recall database and it is an eye opener. It is a large database going back to 1967 and includes all vehicles and tires.
The HMI-UX quality issues continue to be sales killers due to difficult operational manipulations for simple tasks. The auto OEMs have lost the battle for providing infotainment to new car buyers as they prefer the smartphone apps HMI for infotainment and related content.
There are also lots of auto rankings that sway and influence the car buying public. I trust Consumer Reports most but look at many other awards, reviews and rankings. All are important for various car buying segments.