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Freescale heads for all-electric car avenue

Posted: 16 Jan 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:automotive electronics architecture? trends? Freescale?

Grimme: The ultimate goal of most manufacturers is to get to a completely electric vehicle.

What are the trends in automotive electronics against the background that complexity has reached a level that begins to threaten overall reliability? This question commenced a spirited discussion on automotive electronics and electric automobiles with Paul Grimme, senior vice president and general manager of the transportation & standards group at Freescale Semiconductor Inc.

According to Grimme, "It is important to consider that electronics are in cars to solve real problemsthings like meeting better CO2 emissions or meeting the next Euro-6 requirements, or reducing passenger and pedestrian fatalities. Yes, it does require sometimes some complexity and part of our job is to keep this as simple as we canin terms of products, software and organization.

At Freescale, we have an organization that works directly together with automakers and helps them to simplify overall electronics architectures in the vehicle."

True enough, the following paragraphs detail Freescale's commitment to the all-electric car vision.

Freescale has a cooperation with STMicroelectronics in place. What is the purpose of this cooperation given the fact that Freescale itself has a strong 32bit product line?
More and more modules are required to offer high performance. More and more, these systems are going to 32bit MCUs. The software that goes with them is a large part of the investment. If a customer is engaged with multiple suppliers across many different 32bit architectures, they are way below the critical mass.

Our idea of collaborating with ST was to build on a strong presence we already have with our Power architecture, primarily in powertrain applications, and develop an industry standard ecosystem of support around the Power architecture, creating many new products between our two companies for the chassis, the body instrumentation spaces as well as provide a stable supply chain for our customers.

To provide infotainment in the car, technologies are migrating from the living roomwhich certainly creates a series of challenges in terms of security, in terms of adaptability and in terms of design cycles. Do you regard this as a business opportunity or as a danger, a security threat?
The infotainment section in the car will probably be kept separately from mission-critical systems like the powertrainsimply because you run different types of operating systems, you have much more rigorous safety and quality requirements. As you pointed out, the infotainment segment can be a magnet for lots of consumer features and services and therefore it does not have the same type of automotive rigorous testing the rest of the system does. I agree with your comments on the rate of change and adaptability because many carmakers are not sure to what degree they should encompass all this consumer equipment and content. Many of them take a cautious approachby adding a socket for an iPod you do not have to embed an iPod in the dash. It can use the infrastructure of the vehicle but it is not embedded and the car is decoupled from the details of the consumer device.

In Autosar, Freescale is a premium member. Where do you see Autosar and where do you see it heading?
Autosar is still on its way. They are moving it globally now for OEMs, tier one suppliers. It is adapting to the market environments and to different kinds of applications in terms of usefulness and practicality. For instance, in some very highly dominated architectures and proprietary software domains like powertrain, Autosar may not find so much penetration because the investment in the hardware and the architecture is a much bigger proposition than it might be for body control. In the body area, there is quite a bit of Autosar-compliant design done. There, it makes a lot more sense. It is also a fact that as we design our silicon, some of these highly complex systems require a specialized hardware. So, it is clear that Autosar is coming. We have announced a partnership with Elektrobit. We released an Autosar-compliant platform, and you will continue to see more and more of that.

Are there any major roadblocks that you see?
I don't know if you can call it a roadblock, but the biggest thing that slows it down is that each maker of electronics, particularly on the car level but also the tier ones, must have their own software development strategy. Once they have that, they understand how Autosar fits into their software development strategy. The automotive industry was dominated by metal manufacturers for a long time and struggled to get in to electronics. Now, it is moving from hardware to software, and people are struggling in some cases to put their software strategy together. That's why I think Autosar takes a little bit longer to grab hold. Once these companies have come up with that, many will understand that Autosar makes sense.

Do the same arguments used against Autosar apply to FlexRay? Automotive OEMs have complained that FlexRay is too complex and expensive, and said they would like to have a stripped-down version. Some cars equipped with FlexRay are out in the field, but how will that story play out?
Generally, what I see is that more and more companies are adopting FlexRay into their protocol planning. Less are waiting for a lower-cost version.

It is the performance of the vehicle, particularly in the areas of powertrain and safety/chassis, that many carmakers have to implement either to meet regulations or to keep up with trends. They have no choice but to adopt these high-speed fail-safe networks in their vehicles to satisfy that. There is no alternativewhich is reliable or cost-effective enough or available. FlexRay is gaining momentum.

In Europe, there is a lot of talk about hybrid drives. The hybrid technology will enhance the semiconductor content of the vehicles, but mostly on the power semiconductor side. What is Freescale's hybrid drive strategy?
First, you have to think of what hybrid drives do in the evolution of our customers. They come from internal combustion engines and plan for very good advancements in terms of economies of emissions of these combustion engines so these engines will continue for a long time to come. We have customers in Japan that have roadmaps for CO2 emissions from internal combustion engines for the time frame until 2050, so they expect a long life for these types of system.

However, the ultimate goal of most manufacturers is to get to a completely electric vehicle, with fuel cells or some other kind of power plant on board. Hybrids are a step in between those two. A hybrid system is an internal combustion engine with an electric motor added to it. You still have the engine control requirements of that internal combustion engine in the vehicle. Then you add electronic control for the electric motor as well as the high voltage components in the vehicle to handle that.

From our standpoint, we have a very strong position in the processing partwhether it is the combustion engine or the electric motor. Also, battery control requires microprocessors. However, as you rightly point out, we do not do have the high-voltage components in our portfolio today. As part of our agreement with ST, we licensed their high-voltage capability IGBTs and high-voltage FETs. The development of high-voltage components is on our radar screen; we are planning the development of these products. Hybrid technology clearly does add a lot of electronic content to the vehicles.

- Christoph Hammerschmidt
EE Times Europe

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