It was tailfins and chrome in the 1950s, horsepower in the
'60s. But the central design features on today's automobiles
revolve around technical advances and digital technology.
Hybrid vehicles stuffed with state-of-the-art electronics are
) line of luxury electric vehicles are taking shape before the
Toyota Motor (
) andGeneral Motors (
) are set to introduce zero-emission fuel-cell-powered vehicles
in 2015. BMW is reportedly close behind.
Only slightly further away,Google's (
) driverless cars are beta-testing their way along an increasing
numbers of highways.
And they're not alone. Audi, Toyota, Tesla, Nissan and
Mercedes-Benz are also developing driverless vehicles. The
reality is still a few years off and faces regulatory obstacles.
But large portions of the technology are already in cars today:
real-time navigation systems, self parking technology and
collision avoidance systems.
"Now we have cars that stop on their own or can tell when a
driver is falling asleep," said Bob Conrad, senior vice president
and general manager of the automotive microcontroller business
atFreescale Semiconductor (
), a major supplier of microcontrollers used in vehicles. "The
more advanced cars have radar-equipped backup cameras, blind spot
detection and other advanced safety features."
Welcome to the connected car, a fast-arriving future in which
high-tech dashboards and embedded electronics track vehicle data
and manage an increasing array of functions in concert with the
Internet and wireless telecom networks.
It represents a new world of opportunity and challenge for
many traditional industry vendors. And it is fast making the auto
industry supply chain a top consumer for high-tech suppliers.
"The connected car is a big thing, said Egil Juliussen,
analyst at research firm IHS. "A very wide spectrum of companies
compete in this field."
The average car today has about $330 worth of semiconductors.
A standard vehicle might have about 26 computer microcontrollers.
High-end cars have about 200, not including analog sensors and
other types of low-end silicon chips.
Those figures are rising each year, IHS reports. Leading auto
industry chip suppliers include Freescale,Infineon Technologies
,Texas Instruments (TXN),STMicroelectronics (STM) andNXP
These supply and, increasingly, compete with traditional
tier-one suppliers of components and electronics, led by
Germany's Bosch and Continental, Japan's Denso and
U.S.-basedDelphi Automotive (DLPH) andVisteon (VC).
Chipping Away At The Future
Some car companies now spend a third of their research and
development budget on advanced information and entertainment
systems, Internet radio, technology to achieve greater gas
mileage and better handling, help providing emergency services
and so forth.
The industry is also focusing on integrating advanced human
machine interfaces, said Ben Scott, analyst at research firm IHS.
This includes gesture control, proximity recognition, heads-up
displays and eye tracking.
"Some of this advanced technology is on the road today," he
said. "Offering more technology and features ultimately allows
car manufacturers to sell more vehicles and raise market
Infotainment systems are an area of intense interest. These
systems offer all of the capabilities of in-car entertainment
systems, but add in hands-free phone capabilities, navigation and
location-based services information, touchscreen and voice
control, and many more features.
Traditional names like Panasonic and Pioneer are among the top
suppliers as well asHarman International (HAR), Continental,
Denso andGarmin (GRMN).
But the field is widening. Specially designed graphics chips
fromNvidia (NVDA) power the 17-inch touchscreen infotainment and
navigation system in Tesla's new Model S. Nvidia processors also
manage the vehicle's digital instrument cluster.
In a company statement, Nvidia senior vice president Dan
Vivolvi called the Model S "one of the most sophisticated
consumer electronics devices ever built."
According to London-based automotive
, about 32 million cars will be equipped with infotainment
dashboard systems in 2018, up from 4.3 million last year.
In addition, SBD says almost 36 million new cars will be
shipped globally with embedded telematics, such as GM's OnStar
system or BMW's ConnectedDrive.
The major telecom operators are also actively involved. In the
future, analysts say, every car will be connected through a
cellular network. Many of the telecom operators are part of an
organization called GSMA, which in 2011 launched its
Connected Car Forum
. GSMA claims nearly 800 mobile operators and 200 other companies
in the mobile ecosystem as members.
Over the next five years, GSMA says, there will be almost a
sevenfold increase in the number of new cars equipped with
factory-fitted mobile connectivity. More than 50% of vehicles
sold worldwide in 2015 will have a cellular connection with
in-car intelligence that monitors a variety of systems and
Embedded telematics is the industry term used to define
cellular connectivity with cars and the bundle of data collected
about what's happening inside the car, with both the driver and
the car infrastructure
These systems are already widely available in packages such as
GM's OnStar. Embedded telematics are widespread in the U.S. and
the technology is being increasingly mandated in cars all around
the world. Governments in Europe, Russia and Brazil are
increasingly mandating use of the technology, with China expected
By 2025, says SBD, 600 million drivers will have some form of
connectivity system embedded in their cars.
Smartphone Meets Smart Car
SBD also forecasts that 21 million cars sold in 2018 will be
fitted with smartphone integration systems, up from 1.9 million
last year. The smartphone systems, such as
or Toyota Entune, typically enable a driver to view apps running
on their smartphone on a screen in the car.
"Consumers want to bring their smartphone and tablet
experience to the car," said Scott. "Car manufacturers are taking
this seriously and are spending a lot of time and money on
developing infotainment systems."
The Well-Wired Driver
Five years agoFord Motor (F) joined withMicrosoft (MSFT) to
develop in-vehicle connectivity systems, which led to Ford's Sync
voice-controlled technology and
touchscreen technology, now in a majority of Ford vehicles sold
today. Ford says the innovation is particularly attractive to
Software plays a critical role in all this, which explains why
Ford last month acquired Livio, a Michigan-based software
developer of smartphone-to-vehicle communication applications.
Ford soon expects to have more than 14 million vehicles on the
road with smartphone-connected technology, up from 3 million in
Early this monthNokia (NOK) announced that Mitsubishi Motors
North America would include its digital map and navigation
technology, called Here, in several different 2014 models.
Nokia announced Here last August. The technology provides
drivers with embedded navigation systems with real-time traffic
updates, information on restaurants, parking spots, electric car
charging locations and other features. Nokia has partnerships
with Ford, BMW, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and others -- part of its
entry into the growing field of Internet-linked entertainment and
In 2008, Nokia paid $8.1 billion to buy digital mapping
company Navteq. Nokia's Here is one of the three businesses it
will keep after Microsoft's $7 billion deal to acquire the
Finnish company's cellular handset business.
Once limited to the luxury car realm, car manufacturers are
now competing to integrate more advanced technologies even in
their most basic vehicles. Wider adoption is also being driven by
government mandates for safer vehicles with improved miles per
gallon, which is what fueled the earlier development of anti-lock
brakes and air bags, for example.
Chipmakers and other suppliers work to develop direct
relationships with car companies and to sell to tier-one vendors
like Bosch, Continental, Denso and Visteon. Safety and security
applications are expected to be the most common services
supported by the connected car. This includes emergency calling
systems and stolen vehicle tracking.
"Infotainment systems and advanced safety features are
standout growth areas," said Freescale's Conrad. "Computer
networking in the car, the need for systems to communicate, is
also an evolving area."