Cars keep driving demand of the chip industry

February 28, 2013 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
The past two decades saw the semiconductor content in cars rise constantly. There is no end in this hike in sight. But after engine control units, driver assistance systems and infotainment, what will be the semiconductor sinks of the future? A study from market research company IC Insights gives answers.

New automotive technologies that go beyond touchscreens, satellite radio and voice-activated GPS commands are being tested and improved, and will soon begin to appear in many more new car models, finds IC Insights. According to the recent study titled "IC Insights' IC Market Drivers—A Study of Emerging and Major End-Use Applications Fueling Demand for Integrated Circuits", the applications currently in the R&D pipeline of the automotive industry, will generate a solid growth for the automotive IC market through 2016.

Night-vision systems to identify pedestrians, animals or road hazards in low-light conditions; airbags stowed in shoulder harnesses of seatbelts; and the ability for drivers to customize the appearance of their dashboard instrument panels are examples of systems that are available in a select number of cars now, but will soon become available in many more vehicles. Along with backup cameras, more sophisticated driver assistance systems such as adaptive cruise control, and many other systems, emerging electronic systems are forecast to help the automotive IC market grow 52% from $18.2 billion in 2012 to $27.7 billion in 2016.This growth translates to an average annual increase of 11% for the automotive IC market.

Analog ICs and MCUs are forecast to benefit most from the increasing electronic content within automobiles. According to the report, analog ICs accounted for 41% of the 2012 automotive IC market. These devices are much used in “traditional” applications such as to gauge input functions like speed measurement and for output functions like opening and closing power windows and adjusting power seats. One of the newer applications for analog ICs in cars is LED lighting. Depending on the application, LED drivers and various converters are used to supply constant current despite variations in battery voltage.

Microcontrollers accounted for 36% of the automotive IC market in 2012. 16-bit applications in chassis and safety applications are increasing, but enhanced 8-bit and low-end 32-bit MCUs are competing for many of the same sockets