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Semicast sees ARM processors winning in cars

Posted: 24 Nov 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ARM processor? automotive market? embedded?

Market analyst Semicast Research says that ARM is forecast to maintain its position as the leading architecture for 32bit embedded processors in the automotive sector in 2009, ahead of Power Architecture.

ARM is estimated to have overtaken Power Architecture as the leading 32bit architecture in the automotive sector in 2008. Semicast judges that ARM will maintain its lead in 2009 and then consolidate its position in 2010 and over the medium term, with a growth rate of 16 percent. In comparison, the growth rate for Power Architecture is forecast to be 5 percent.

Power Architecture was introduced to the automotive sector almost 10 years ago, following the announcement from Motorola (now Freescale) of the MPC5xx family as a replacement for 68K in powertrain control. Today Power Architecture is established as one of the leading 32bit architectures in powertrain, particularly in North America, although it faces strong competition from SuperH (Renesas) and V850 (NEC).

In contrast, ARM's presence in the automotive sector has developed in areas other than powertrain, and today it is established in multiple systems across the vehicle including airbag, body electronics, electronic braking, instrument clusters, infotainment and embedded navigation systems. It is this diverse application base, which Semicast identifies as the key factor behind the higher revenue growth forecast for ARM over Power Architecture in the automotive sector, as a wide range of suppliers work together to drive forward ARM in the vehicle. For example Texas Instruments is a leading supplier of ARM-based embedded processors for electronic braking, while Fujitsu and NEC have introduced ARM-based solutions for embedded navigation systems. Freescale also offers ARM-based solutions in the automotive sector as well as Power Architecture; its i.MX31 applications processor features in the Sync infotainment system developed by Ford and Microsoft. Colin Barnden, principal analyst at Semicast commented that "We estimate an average of just less than two ARM-powered chips in every light vehicle produced worldwide in 2009 and forecast that this will rise to three in 2014."

One interesting future development is the possibility of an ARM licensee mounting a direct challenge to Power Architecture in the powertrain sector. A possible candidate is TI, which could leverage its existing knowledge of ARM in electronic braking, and its relationship with Bosch, into powertrain control. Engine control will be steadily changing from conventional combustion to hybrid and electric powertrains over the next decade and this could present ARM licensees with a window of opportunity for a series of design-wins. With TI looking to reduce its exposure to the wireless baseband chipset market, it will be searching for new sources of revenue and powertrain would certainly be steady and assured. Semicast judges that TI will remain the leading supplier of ARM-based embedded processors to the automotive sector in 2009, with Freescale the leading supplier of Power Architecture. Could the stage be set therefore for another installment of TI against Freescale?

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