As the leading supplier of automotive semiconductors, Motorola Inc. built a business on successive generations of new electronics. The company is known for its portfolio of computer chips for engine control, antilock brakes, body electronics and communications.
Now, the next wave approaches with the advent of drive-by-wire systems and vehicles with 42-volt electrical networks.
Scott Anderson is general manager of Motorola's Transportation Systems Group, based in Austin, Texas. He spoke recently with Staff Reporter John Couretas about the growth of electronic content in vehicles and the outlook for new products. Edited excerpts:
Your electronics market projections for 2002 show strong growth in key segments such as powertrain, safety and security, and intelligent transportation systems. But body electronics is the slowest growth area. Why?
Body electronics doesn't look like it's growing as much, but part of the reason is that we're starting to see some integration of body modules. Safety and security and Intelligent Transportation Systems are being driven by new systems, the drive-by-wire and the 42-volt systems that some are looking at. And, of course, the 42-volt system is just a consequence of all the electronics we're putting in cars.
Have the automakers decided to upgrade their vehicles' electrical systems from 12 volts to 42 volts?
Right now, it looks like 42 volts will be the standard of choice. The customers are still looking at whether they're going to have two systems in a car, the 12 volt and the 42 volt side by side. To be honest, it's not clear yet what's going to happen.
Is this going to start with luxury vehicles, then expand through the rest of the market?
We'll probably see them in Europe first on luxury vehicles where there's a lot of demand for power. The other thing that's driving this is all the motors in the cars. There are 10 or 20 motors (in a car) today and we'll be at 80 or 100 motors in the future. It's all those power features.
Doesn't this complicate the job of controlling the electronics? How do you manage that?
We have some teams now working in Munich and Detroit to try to simulate the whole car. Car manufacturers are no longer worried about a specific system; it's the whole car. How do these systems tie together? Look at brake-by-wire. All of a sudden that system will be tied into steering or powertrain. It's really becoming very complex.
Are these simulation tools available now?
They're becoming available. We have a lab in Munich; we call it the virtual garage. They're working with some of the customers and universities to develop these simulation capabilities.
Why would an automaker want to simulate a whole vehicle? Conflicts?
It's optimization and costs. You might start to see where computing in one subsystem might take over for computing in another subsystem, when that's needed. That's still being looked at.
How important are standards for the vehicle bus, or electronic network?
The busing becomes much more important. Then you have to start looking at whether (you want to) tie the whole system together. That's where things get really interesting. Brakes are a good example. You have the brakes tied into, perhaps, the radar. Or you have the brakes tied to the airbag system or active suspension. The stuff really starts to get fun.
In safety and chassis, where do you see the growth?
A lot of that will be things like brake-by-wire and steer-by-wire. You start to move from full hydraulic power steering ... to electrically assisted power steering and, at some point, electric power steering.
Continued integration of transmission and engine electronics. Camless engines are one. The starter-alternator is another.
If you start thinking about having control of the starter and alternator - you already have control of the fuel injector - then you take control of the valve train.
You start to think about lots of other things you'd like to do. Maybe when you pull up at a stop light, you're only driving on two cylinders to save gas. Once you have that much control over the engine, in terms of economy, performance, reliability, endurance, there's a whole lot of opportunities.
Do these new electronic features allow you more leeway on pricing? Or do your customers still drive cost pretty hard?
A lot of the new features come in at the high end. And then together, between the customers and ourselves, we work together to drive the cost down so they can be more competitive for a range of cars.
A lot of these applications, even when you're thinking about brake-by-wire and steer-by-wire, are cost-driven. You're eliminating a lot of weight. You're throwing out the power steering pump and all the brake lines. Sure, there may be a trade-off because you're adding a lot of features all the time. But automakers look at it as a cost savings once it gets into production. It's like anything else: You need the volume to drive it.
You've introduced a new in-dash computer called the MobileGT. What do you hope to accomplish with this product?
The intent is that as you come onto this MobileGT platform, you add applications as they become available. That flexibility is what most of the customers I've talked to are looking for in the short term.
Plus, they don't want to spend a lot of their engineering effort designing that system. They're telling us, just give us the capability, and we'll worry about the man-machine interface and how it looks in the car. And that's the one thing Motorola is offering right now.