Car industry should benefit from semiconductor economies of scale, NXP suggests

November 15, 2012 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
In an environment where for cars it becomes essential to be "connected", the automotive industry is confronted with a growing dilemma: The design cycle of everything inside the vehicle that falls under the category "classic car technology" is significantly slower than the design cycle for consumer electronics which are brought into the vehicles by their users. These devices are not necessarily an integral part of the cars but in many cases they are providing the connectivity function for the vehicles.

To help the car designers to keep up with this challenge, the semiconductor industry is the partner of choice, said Kurt Sievers, General Manager Automotive for chipmaker NXP. He said this in his keynote speech at the electronica Automotive industry meeting, and he repeated his suggestion in an interview with EE Times Europe at electronica. "Automotive industry and chipmakers need to collaborate more intensively", Sievers said. "This would help them to speed their design cycles." Carmakers could benefit from the economies of scale already realized in commercial IT, semiconductor industry and consumer electronics.

Sievers identified four technologies that will play a major role in future car electronics designs. These are Ethernet, Near Field Communications (NFC), Car-to-car communications, and data security. "Neither of these technologies has been developed in the automotive industry", Sievers said. "But carmakers can reduce their design cycles, realize cost benefits and find answers to current and future technology challenges". Plus, they can bridge the innovation gap between classical automotive technology and the digital consumer, he added.

Ethernet is already on its way into the vehicles; in the mid-term it even could assume the role of a data backbone. About a year ago, a group of semiconductor companies including Freescale and Broadcom developed an Ethernet PHY for cars; in the meantime carmakers, tier ones and semiconductor companies including NXP have introduced plans how Ethernet can be integrated deeper into the cars. NFC, co-developed by NXP and Sony as a communication technology for mobile payment solutions, has the potential for much more. It can help consumers to conveniently access their personal content on their devices as well as in the cloud. It also can be a key element in intermodal mobility solutions which embrace several urban mobility carriers such as car sharing, public transportation and even rental bikes.

Then there is car-to-x communications with its promise of much more safety in automotive traffic. Car-to-x applications such as intersection movement