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Automotive market sees influx of mobile SoC companies

Posted: 10 Oct 2013     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:in-vehicle infotainment  automotive SoC  Bluetooth 

The rise and fall of smartphone SoC companies in recent months is now intricately intertwined with the future of automotive chip suppliers. Many automotive IC companies, from incumbents like Renesas, STMicroelectronics, Infineon, and Freescale to newcomers Broadcom, Qualcomm, and Nvidia, are racing to dominate the fast-growing segment of in-vehicle infotainment SoCs.

Triggering the reshuffle of chip players in the automotive market is the rapidly changing consumer behaviour. Today's automobiles are increasingly defined by available in-vehicle connectivity with the outside world. Connectivity in this context doesn't just mean automakers' own telemetry systems. Drivers and passengers are bringing a growing number of personal mobile devices into cars.

Carmakers need to find out how best their cars can connect, display, and distribute such information from portable devices, whether smartphones, tablets, or smart watches. Automakers' SoC platform choices, for building integrated dashboard and infotainment systems, get especially tricky, because technologies adopted by mobile devices change much more quickly than the lifetime of a car.

Despite the drawbacks, a host of new chip makers, including Broadcom, Qualcomm, NVidia, Marvell Technology, and others, are now diving into the automotive market.

The growing in-vehicle infotainment segment demands a diversified connectivity suite, including LTE, 802.11ac, Bluetooth Low Energy, NFC, and others. Chip vendors armed with consumer-market scale in such connectivity fields are now best positioned to "cherry pick" high-growth areas, noted Ian Riches, director of global automotive practice at Strategy Analytics in a recent conference in Paris.

Meanwhile incumbents like Reneas and STMicroelectronics are scrambling to beef up their design teams to defend their position.

For its part, embattled Renesas Electronics recently announced the availability of a new automotive SoC, designated as R-Car M2. The Japanese company stressed that the new SoC is specifically designed to address "growing integrated dashboard and information device market demands."

The new R-Car M2 SoC, capable of delivering more than 12,000 DMIPS, offers twice the graphics performance of the company's previous generation high-end devices, according to Renesas. Designed as mid-range auto solutions, the SoC features ARM A-15 core and Renesas SH-4A core configuration. It also supports HD navigation and real-time voice control, said the company.

While Renesas tries to define its future with a renewed focus on automotive, competing chip companies aren't sitting idle. In recent months, the uncertainty of Renesas' future has emboldened many non-Japanese automotive chip suppliers—including ST, Freescale, and Infineon. Reportedly, they are moving aggressively to take business away from Renesas, or at least to secure second-sourcing agreements with leading Japanese automakers.

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