DETROIT—Electrified powertrains, higher levels of safety and convenience automation and connectivity are fueling an increase in electronics content in vehicles.
At the same time, these trends are also creating new needs for innovative electronics solutions to make them work.
Safety functions in advanced driver-assistance systems, such as driver monitoring, require greater processing capability. Infotainment and navigation systems require a distinct combination of hardware and software. Over-the-air updates will become more important to vehicle owners and require more complex vehicle architectures capable of accommodating and implementing software changes seamlessly. And ultimately, the electrical makeup of a vehicle is evolving from independent electronic control units toward a centralized architecture to respond to these needs.
The value of electronics in vehicles is only going to accelerate, industry observers believe. The market is expected to grow from $238 billion in 2020 to $469 billion in 2030, according to estimates from consultancy McKinsey.
But getting there is going to take some hefty rethinking on the part of auto makers and suppliers, said Brian Rhodes, who leads the connected car and vehicle experience research team at IHS Markit.
"There's a barrier of having so much history for a lot of these automotive companies that have been around for so long," Rhodes said. "To completely rethink how they produce a vehicle is extreme. But we're doing that. This trend in electrification is seemingly here to stay."
But he added: "I do think that completely rethinking from the manufacturing process, to where the wiring harnesses are located, is necessary to be successful."
Many companies are well along in rethinking their strategies.
This year, German megasupplier Bosch established a Cross-Domain Computing Solutions division. The idea was that the organization would draw Bosch engineers from its automotive electronics, powertrain solutions, multimedia and chassis systems control divisions under one umbrella to accelerate development on software-intensive electronics systems and vehicles' electrical architecture.
Canadian supplier Magna International Inc. has been growing its own footprint in electronics in recent years. It opened a $50 million facility dedicated to its internal electronics division in 2019.
But the company also formed a $1 billion joint venture with South Korean electronics giant LG Electronics in December, a partnership intended to help the companies better meet demand for electric vehicle components.
General Motors announced a hiring push last year, looking for electrical systems engineers and others.
The company said this will help it develop the software and electronics content needed as it seeks to lead the EV race.
Over the past two years, Japanese-Italian supplier Marelli Corp. has been bolstering its electronics business while combining the portfolios of the former heating, air conditioning and exhaust supplier Calsonic Kansei and Magneti Marelli, the former auto parts business of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Among recent appointments to the company's leadership team was Mike Peters, newly named CEO of electronics, who came from Harman International.
All of these strategic investments signal just how crucial electronics will be to the future of auto makers and their suppliers.
But electronics also are ultimately what will differentiate one manufacturer from another, said Alex Oyler, global head of car IT for SBD Automotive.
"When we're talking about these high-performance computing platforms, whether it be for infotainment, digital cockpit, for ADAS or for general vehicle functions, these are the components that help them differentiate," Oyler said. "The software that they're actually deploying on these components, and the features or services that they can render through integrating these components, is what is going to determine their success in the market and one of their main competitive value propositions versus their competitors."
Regardless of the strategy, electronics will carry the auto industry to its next stage of life.
"What the industry needs to be thinking about, especially as an enabler for higher levels of autonomy, is having a more integrated architecture where the vehicle is able to be almost constantly updated with new configurations and new software," Oyler said.
"But in order to do that, it requires an entire rethink of the hardware stack that goes into the vehicle," he added.
"There are a lot of different ways to approach that. But what we feel the industry needs to do in order to bridge the gap from what they have today in the vehicle in terms of electronics to enable this high-performance computing, software-defined vehicle is think about what their target is for their vehicle electronics 10 years from now—but create a realistic path to get there."