Chips and cars, and the keys to auto innovation – who’s driving who?
Semiconductor companies Analog Devices, Bosch and Infineon argued with automotive manufacturers Daimler and Audi this week at Electronica 2018 in Munich, in Germany, about who holds the keys, and who is taking the wheel, in the development of autonomous vehicles, and the disruption of the entire mobility space.
In one of the more entertaining sessions at the event, the two sides eventually came down in the middle, of course, concluding, in the spirit of the new digital economy, they stand to take shared responsibility for, and shared value from, the future of connected driving.
But there was some heat in the exchanges, at least initially. The transformation of mobility is rooted in software, which is tied to computing power, residing in hardware, said Stefan Steyerl, regional head of sales for Analog Devices.
“We will see multiple changes [in the market], compared with decades past. This is reflected in trends in software, and the basis for that is semiconductors. We need to make sure discussions between the two markets see semiconductors move from the shadow into the light,” said Steyerl.
“Car manufacturers have to understand the capabilities semiconductor manufacturers can offer to translate these [emerging] application topics. It will be a hand-in-hand collaboration, to tackle these systems, because we want to bring these [applications] to vehicles fast. It will take five to seven years, but we need to get a head-start, now. The two sides have to work more closely.”
Peter Schiefer, president of Infineon’s automotive division, commented: “Software is more and more important. But 80 per cent of innovation in the automotive industry is down to semiconductors – which are what will define the cars of future, whether they are electric or autonomous.”
The message was car makers will not make the digital transition without their counterparts in the embedded electronics market. It is a straight supply-and-demand deal, with most of the new digital expertise flowing one way.
Jens Fabrowsky, executive vice president for automotive electronics at Robert Bosch, the German manufacturing giant, which has a smaller line in semiconductors, commented: “Semiconductors are driving the OEMs. It’s that old chicken-and-egg questions. Except you can only write software on semiconductors. So there is a clear position.”
“Are you going to leave it like that?” asked Automobilwoche, the German trade magazine hosting the session at Electronica 2018, gesturing to Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler, in the shape of Frank Cornelius, in charge of the company’s centre of competence for battery systems.
“It is a matter of perspective,” shot back Cornelius. “I understand why you’d say that. But I would say we are driving the semiconductor market. Because we are ensuring customers get the innovation they desire.”
But Daimler drew the sting; Cornelius took a more considered line, suddenly. “The landscape has changed,” he said. “We have seen we need semiconductors, and the semiconductor industry has seen it needs the automotive market.
“The OEMs present an attractive market, and will be more so. So we need to move away from this negative connotation; it is more of a cooperation. We are all driving in the same direction.
Audi sought to build on the diplomatic tone struck by Daimler. The two sides need each other, said Thomas Müller, the company’s head of electronics. “It’s two perspectives,” he said. They capture the same view, in the end. But he noted at the same time car makers will take solutions for their digital requirements from wherever they find them.
“OEMs are defining the customer proposition, and will build and develop. But we have requirements, gained from our market insights, and we are not only getting answers from the semiconductor industry,” he said.
The collaboration between the sides should develop, he said, to ensure the pace of innovation accelerates.
“We need to work much closer together. So far, innovation has gone through the same value chain, and it takes way too long. We need to work together differently.”
Again, advancements in semiconductor design and production will enable faster innovation, said Schiefer at Inineon. “Semiconductor manufacturers are at the first step in the value-added chain. As we work together, we can see the challenges early on. And the automotive industry will also realise the options it has. We can increase speed, and that’s crucial,” he commented.