Author(s): Raghu Gopal
As cars become smart and well-connected, makers of chipsets and sensors have been circling the automotive market looking to address areas of safety, convenience, comfort and efficiency. Silicon suppliers such as Intel, Nvidia, Qualcomm and Samsung are already fully energised to tap this market joining Infineon Technologies, NXP, Renesas Electronics, STMicroelectronics and Texas Instruments.
Now, as the market for smartphones has matured and autonomous cars have become an emerging opportunity, Taiwan's MediaTek announced its plan to grab a piece of this pie. Last week, the chipmaker revealed it plans to bring out a family of integrated chips for the car industry, which will begin sampling in the first quarter of 2017.
The automotive industry is looking for advanced and affordable solutions to bring cars into the era of smart and connected things. MediaTek, which has established itself as the leading supplier of system-on-chips to Chinese smartphone makers, is positioning itself to cater to this growing market.
MediaTek highlights the problem of disparate technologies being used in cars causing fragmentation. Automakers often work with multiple suppliers, most of which specialise in a single, best-in-class solution meaning that products can't always seamlessly communicate with each other. MediaTek says it will tie together systems by developing solutions in four major automotive areas: vision-based advanced driver assistance systems, high precision millimetre-wave radar, infotainment and enhanced telematics. This is a logical argument. However, CCS Insight believes silicon supply is likely to remain fragmented for the foreseeable future, owing to growing complexity and variety of specific-function silicon, costs and the automotive industry's interest in maintaining diverse supply and competition.
The car industry also works at a different pace than the smartphone industry, with consumers keeping the same car for up to a decade. Product life cycles are longer and core technologies evolve at a different speed. But there are new pressures from customers who have grown increasingly tech-savvy, and regulators looking to car makers to address problems of safety and efficiency, as well as the competitive pressures of creating exciting products. Dynamics stand to become even more complex with the disruption of autonomous vehicles.
The phrase "gold rush" might be hyperbole, but there's certainly a growing level of enthusiasm among chipset suppliers looking to put their smarts in all cars. This has been the motivation behind several high-profile acquisitions during the past few months including Qualcomm's purchase of NXP and Samsung's planned acquisition of Harman International (see Samsung Muscles into Auto Tech). Intel has also pledged to invest $250 million in autonomous car technology over the next two years and has recently established an automated driving group to be headed by Doug Davies, current head of Intel's Internet of things division.
MediaTek could find customers among major Chinese car makers such as Brilliance, BYD, Chery, Dongfeng, Geely and Hongqi, but there are dozens of other smaller brands that are seeking competitive tech solutions for their cars. MediaTek found its place in the smartphone market, becoming the engine for many second-tier smartphone makers. It could find itself successfully replicating this strategy for the automotive market.