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China will demand automotive electronics technology

Posted: 19 Jul 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:automotive electronics?

Around the world, technology is becoming more pervasive in people's everyday lives. Innovations in technology give consumers access to information on-the-go and make their daily tasks more simple and safe. Increasingly, demand for these technologies is growing. The automobile, and automotive electronics, are areas of particular interest to consumers, as they spend a great deal of time driving to and from work and running errands each day. In essence, people want to feel at home in their cars and have access to all the conveniences they have at home while out and about.

According to the market research firm Strategy Analytics, the automotive electronics market worldwide is expected to grow to $163.5 billion in 2008 from $122.5 billion in 2004. As the third largest automotive market in the world and the fourth largest market for vehicle production, China will have an increasingly significant role in the development of future cars and how fast cutting-edge in-car technologies, especially auto electronics, will reach consumers.

China is increasing its infrastructure to support its emerging role in the global automotive industry. Its not a surprise that most major car makers and Tier One suppliers operate factories in China. As the worlds most populous nation with an expanding middle class, the low production costs and burgeoning automotive engineering design and development talent in China have prompted companies to invest in design centers in the country as well.

As the new kid on the block in the automotive design industry, China may face some challenges when squaring off against the competition. In order to remain relevant in the industry, cars made in China will need to integrate technologies and features that are on-par with those from Europe, North America, and Japan. Rather than reinventing the wheel and risking creating base technologies that are only applicable in China, it is critical that those in Chinas automotive engineering industry leverage the existing technologies and standards employed by their competitors. Thus they can benefit from greater economies of scale, and focus their resources on developing original, differentiating IP to stay competitive.

Keeping up with the pack
Typically, brand new innovations in the automotive industry face long qualification processes and design cycles. By leveraging existing technology that has already been through these long design cycles, Chinese car makers can create compelling and competitive cars in much less time than the pioneers for this technology in the more mature automotive markets. Chinese automotive engineering focus should be on how to make this technology intuitive and safe for Chinese drivers and passengers.

For example, dashboard mounts and hands-free technologies can help drivers have safer and productive phone calls while on the road. Most of the required technology already exists, but the ergonomics of existing solutions may not be right for the Chinese market. Similarly, portable DVD players and videogame consoles can be mounted in the rear seat area to keep passengers entertained on long drives. Even portable MP3 players can store and play an individuals entire music library via the car stereo. With mobile devices offering infotainment features like video streaming and the ability for electronic payment, there is a host of possibilities for new in-car multimedia features born from existing mobile devices.

Development partners and faster time to market
Development partners are another important resource that China will need to rely on to become competitive. Partnerships will not only benefit China by offering industry experience and technology building blocks for IP innovation, but they will benefit partnering companies by enabling faster time to market for their technologies in China, as well as market credibility.

One example of a successful partnership in China is that of Philips and Edal Electronics. The companies worked together to develop a reference design using an existing Philips one-chip solution for use in China. The device included a tuner and analog sound processor, which helped simplify design for Chinese automotive engineers. As a result, Philips is continuing to work with Edal to leverage existing Philips innovations such as DVD loaders, tuners, power amplifiers, and application specific devices to design products that address the broad Chinese needs for car radio and DVD reference designs. While the partnership between Philips and Edal has benefited a multitude of small radio manufacturers, Philips is working with other organizations to develop amplifiers and new radio ICs.

Philips has also partnered with Guangzhou ZLG-MCU Development Co. to advance automotive security and comfort applications. ZLG engineers are using Philips portfolio of microcontrollers, in-vehicle networks, and RFID (radio frequency identification) products to help Chinese build CAN and LIN networks to meet the safety and comfort demands of consumers worldwide. The fruit of this partnership is currently being deployed by a number of Chinese car companies as well as by other international companies with joint ventures in China.

Local innovations to meet disposable income
Chinese consumers are quite savvy about the features they desire in the products they buy. While manufacturers can develop features of interest to Chinese consumers, they must keep in mind that many of those consumers have a lower disposable income than consumers in other international markets. This poses a challenge for manufacturers by requiring that they bring cutting-edge features to market, but at an affordable price. This situation underscores the necessity for engineers in the Chinese automotive industry to leverage existing, standardized innovations and adapt them to the local market instead of making expensive investments in developing proprietary systems.

A key area that China will need to focus on is the human machine interface. HMI enables simple and intuitive interaction between the driver and the cars multimedia devices. A successful HMI will need to reflect the needs of Chinese consumers and be tailored to their style of interaction. Clearly, no developers know the Chinese better than those in China-so Chinese organizations involved in HMI development for the market will be uniquely poised for success.

By striking the right balance between creating original IP and leveraging existing innovations, there are a number of in-demand technologies that can benefit the Chinese automotive industry. One such technology is tire pressure monitoring sensors (TPMS). In China, car accidents caused by low tire pressure are increasing. To alleviate this problem, the Chinese government is considering mandating TPMS be installed in all cars. In the meanwhile, car manufacturers are rapidly deploying TPMS to increase consumer sense of safety.

Another popular safety and security innovation is car immobilizers. Immobilizers employ ICs to identify whether the person entering a car is authorized to be doing so and, if not, they will not allow the car to start. Working on innovations relating to these and other car enhancements such as display technologies and connectivity (including in-car USB, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi), may give Chinese design engineers a leg-up on the competition.

Source: Philips

Overall, to become a relevant player in the global automotive market, China should not spend precious R&D resources reinventing the underlying technologies such as car infotainment ICs, in-vehicle networking ICs, and car access and immobilization ICs that are readily available. Chinese organizations should, instead, forge mutually beneficial partnerships that leverage each organizations core strengths. By focusing on localized HMI, emerging technologies, and other IP that is not readily available, Chinese companies will develop capabilities that will be extremely competitive and exciting in the global marketplace.

About the author
Drue Freeman
is VP of Global Automotive Marketing and Sales for Philips Semiconductors.




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