The automotive market is one of the most strategic and rapidly growing segments for Renesas. According to the latest forecast from iSuppli, the automotive semiconductor market had a compound annual growth rate of 10.7% between 2002 and 2009. Volker Politz, VP Automotive Business Unit, Renesas Technology America says the company expects the European and North American markets to grow steadily in the next several years, as we see a continuous healthy demand in both markets. He answers questions from Ed Richardson of Automotive Industries:
Automotive Industries (AI): What is the significance (to customers) of the establishment of the Automotive Semiconductor Division as a business unit?
Politz: The automotive market is very demanding, due to the combination of requirements: high reliability, long development cycles, leading-edge technology and a stable supply chain. To address this dynamic global market, Renesas formed the first truly dedicated global business organization for the automotive electronics business in October 2003. We have a dual reporting structure, in which each business unit in the U.S. and Europe reports to its local headquarters as well as the automotive business unit headquarters in Japan. This is significant because the business unit has all the important capabilities to enable the timely delivery of high-quality automotive system solutions, including engineering, sales and marketing functions. Everyone in our team is experienced in automotive electronics and understands the challenges and requirements of the market. The Automotive Business Unit is focused on merging the customers needs and wants with Renesas semiconductor strengths.
Renesas has 350 employees worldwide in the Automotive Business Unit and 500 in design and development. We have over 30 employees dedicated to the US Automotive Business Unit.
AI: What is your product focus?
Politz: Renesas is a global semiconductor supplier with a broad range of semiconductor solutions with a primary focus on microcontrollers (MCUs) and microprocessors (MPUs). Applications include airbag sensors, stability control, powertrain, navigation, telematics, car audio, body electronics, electronic power steering, body electronics, dashboard and adaptive cruise control.
AI: What is the definition of a microcomputer and what does it do in a vehicle?
Politz: In a nutshell, a microcomputer is a small computer that executes software and monitors inputs to control various functions, from something as simple as a window motor to something as complex as a complete engine. There are two types of microcomputer: microcontrollers (MCUs) and microprocessors (MPUs). An MCU consists of a CPU (central processing unit), RAM (random access memory), Flash memory for the storage of software, and peripherals that perform specific tasks such as timing or allow the MCU to interface with the rest of the electrical system. The main difference between an MPU and an MCU is that the MPU doesn’t have on-chip flash memory.
AI: What do you see as the main trends in the manufacturing and design of computer chips, particularly for the automotive market?
Politz: In our opinion, the main trends in the automotive semiconductor market are:
– Growth of software requirements, which increases both the Flash and RAM sizes.
– Increase in CPU speed to handle the higher complexities of new functions and requirements. This can best be addressed by increasing the CPU speed with smaller process technologies, using multiple CPU cores on a single IC, and using cache architectures.
– Reduced vehicle development cycles in order to satisfy end customers. This impacts the process technology that is chosen and the amount of resources needed for the design of that technology.
– New networking requirements and the evolution of existing networks. These factors have a dramatic impact on the way vehicle system architectures are designed and developed, as well as on the semiconductors that make them work.
AI: What is the importance of open architecture in chip design?
Politz: First of all, an open architecture is any CPU core that is either licensed to another semiconductor manufacturer or made available for reuse to several semiconductor suppliers. There is a perception that open architectures have a strong benefit. That may not always be the case, however.
Although chips based on an open architecture have identical cores, other important elements such as the peripherals, the flash memory and the RAM differ from one semiconductor supplier to another. Typically, those differences are significant enough to negate the benefits of having the same CPU core.
AI: What do you see as the most promising automotive applications?
Politz: Navigation and car information systems – They are growing segments with increasingly sophisticated levels of integration.
– Safety systems – Airbag systems, ACC (adaptive cruise control), camera systems for backup monitoring, camera systems for safer parking, and occupant sensing are among the features many car buyers now want.
– EPS (electric power steering) – This feature increases fuel economy.
– Transmission controllers – Due to an increasing requirement for improved fuel economy, OEMs are accelerating the development of transmissions with more than the typical four speeds and with dual clutches.
– HEVs (hybrid electric vehicles) – According to an industry report, the projected number of HEVs (gasoline and electric) is estimated to reach 200K units in 2005 in North America. By 2010, this number is expected to increase to 1M units. According to the latest projection from Ford, they may sell up to 20% or 650K units in 2010. If this is true, the HEV market could be as high as 20% of the approximately 17M market, or as many as 3.4M units.
– Body Electronics – Auto makers are really striving to satisfy car buyers’ desires for ‘creature features’ such as heated and cooled seating, motor controlled doors, and power lift gates. In addition, there is significant growth in tire pressure monitoring systems, CAN gateway functions and electrical power distribution systems.
AI: How important is flash memory from a manufacturing and design point of view – where do you see growth in the use of this type of technology?
Politz: Renesas flash capabilities are one of our cornerstones of success. We are very proud of the extremely reliable and technologically advanced flash cells that we produced.
– Microcontrollers with embedded flash memory offer tremendous advantages compared to masked ROM microcontrollers, including the following:
– Better inventory management
– Reduction in device part numbers
– Significantly shorter lead times for implementing new software
– Lower microcontroller obsolescence costs due to the ability to make software code changes
– Improved time-to-market for new or revised products and software upgrades
– Flash programming closer to the end of OEM manufacturing cycle so the most advanced software can be loaded
– Increased software development and test time
– More flexibility for responding to changing customer and market requirements
– An unprecedented ability to upgrade software code in the vehicle without the need to remove the electronics module. A potential exists for changing the software code in a vehicle (to upgrade features, correct problems, etc.) with maximum transparency to the end customer.
– Significant reductions in liability costs related to software code problems
– The elimination or substantial reductions in vehicle manufacturing stoppages
– Reduced costs for repairing or replacing electronics modules in vehicles.