Automotive industry seeking electronic solutions to four main issues~Electronics to account for 40% of automotive production costs by 2015~

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Automotive industry seeking electronic solutions to four main issues

Part.1
Electronics to account for 40% of automotive production costs by 2015

 The proportion of electronic components used in motor vehicles has been increasing steeply in recent years. In fact, many industry observers expect electronic components to account for 40% of total car production costs in the near future. Automakers are already relying more heavily on electronics technology, with electronic components making up 10-15% of the total production cost of a 2007-model compact car such as the Toyota Corolla, for 20-30% of the cost of luxury models like Lexus-brand cars, and for around 50% in the case of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) such as the Toyota Prius.
Electronic components currently comprise some 20-30% of total costs for all car categories, and this figure is expected to reach 40% or so by 2015. Roughly speaking, materials and components represent 70% of total car production costs, while labor costs account for 15% and miscellaneous expenses for the remaining 15%. If present trends continue, by 2015 electronic component costs will comprise the majority of materials/components costs.

Electronics for improved drivability and safety

 The main factor behind the rapid increase in the proportion of electronic components used in motor vehicles is the crucial role that electronics plays in developing optimal technological solutions to the four main issues that automakers face today: 1) improving drivability, 2) enhancing safety features, 3) lowering environmental burden, and 4) realizing greater operational reliability. Drivers have always demanded safety and reliability, but now that the rate of car ownership is reaching unprecedented heights, they are also insisting on ease of driving. Automakers must now also address environmental issues, which have become a topic of growing concern. The effective application of electronics technology is absolutely vital to the automotive industry as viable solutions to these four key issues.

 To improve both safety and drivability, technological solutions such as pre-crash safety systems, parking support systems, and cruise control systems are being adopted for a wider range of vehicle models with considerable progress being achieved in the performance of these systems. Until recently, pre-crash safety systems centered on mitigating the shock of collision, but systems now being developed will also offer collision avoidance features. For this, vehicles are fitted with CMOS/CCD cameras (cameras utilizing image sensors such as CMOS and CCDs) and the systems can detect directions the driver is facing and issue warnings (through sound or vibration) to alert careless or drowsy drivers who let their attention wander.

 Systems are currently being tested that employ a combination of radar and CMOS/CCD cameras to increase accuracy in obstacle detection. Experimentations are also being carried out for systems that control engines and brakes with microcomputers based on the information transmitted to individual vehicles from roadside infrastructure systems as well as for systems that leverage car-mounted radars for inter-vehicle communications.

 Concerning advanced parking support systems, the following features are already in practical use. The driver stops the car at a certain starting position and specifies a space where he/she wants to park. The parking support system then maneuvers the car backward into the parking space. These systems will be widely installed in the near future and will support forward parking as well. These systems use image recognition technology employing sets of CMOS/CCD cameras mounted around the car.

 There are other examples that enhance vehicle safety and drivability using electronics: 1) instrument panels incorporating LCD displays for superior HMI (human-machine interface), 2) cruise control systems with more advanced features, and 3) LED lamps more luminous than conventional lamps using incandescent filament bulbs.

 The X-by-Wire concept is also drawing attention as a significant technological advancement in the automotive electronics field and close to full-fledged commercial realization. In X-by-Wire systems, hydraulic or mechanical power transmission systems are replaced by electric/electronic systems utilizing sensors, electric wiring, and motors. The adoption of X-by-Wire will accelerate the shift in automotive electronic control from individual control to integrated control leading to improved safety and drivability, and drive the trend toward overall automobile computerization.

Reducing vehicle CO2 emissions

 As for the issue of the environment, one of the greatest technological hurdles automakers have to clear is the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. The development of eco-friendly vehicles such as HEVs, electric vehicles, and fuel-cell electric vehicle is a must-do task for automakers. Since motors and batteries become core elements of these vehicles, electronics technology plays a vital part here, too.

 Electronics technology is also fully utilized to achieve higher fuel economy of vehicles with conventional gasoline or diesel engines. For example, electronics is used to improve the performance of electric fuel injection systems and battery charge/discharge systems in conjunction with alternators as well as enables the adoption of electric power steering. Although the individual improvements in fuel economy achieved by these systems are merely a few percent, when improvements accumulate, they lead to a great contribution to overall fuel economy(*).

Better software for greater reliability

 As a result of technological progress promoted by electronics, electronics technology has become indispensable to ensuring reliability. In particular, as the code size of software for microcomputer control continues to expand, ensuring the reliability of software has become a crucial matter for the automakers.

 The proportion of man-hours devoted to software development has been rising sharply. This forces the automakers to redesign their entire development systems to allow efficient development of highly reliable, large-scale software programs. As part of this initiative, automotive manufacturers are promoting standardization of software development implementing AUTOSAR standards and Automotive SPICE standards.

Adoption of electronics technology is crucial

 Now that electronics has been largely incorporated into automotive technology, it is essential for automakers to leverage electronics technology and even seek collaborations with automotive electronics manufacturers. This will become a key factor for success concerning automakers technology development.

 For example, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, development of highly fuel-efficient power train systems is vital. In terms of resources and development costs, however, it would be difficult for automakers to concurrently develop four to five different types of power train systems, ranging from gasoline engines, diesel engines, and hybrid drive systems to electric vehicles and fuel-cell electric vehicles. Consequently, joint development projects between automakers, or projects between automakers and automotive component manufacturers or automotive electronics manufacturers, are becoming common.

 Regarding the increasing code size of software programs, automakers will be able to learn from the electronics industry (including computer/IT companies) that weathered "software crisis", the inability to deliver effective and reliable software owing to bloated and complicated program codes.

(*)The bioethanol issue

 The use of gasoline mixed with bioethanol has become the focus of particular interest as a method of lowering vehicle emissions of carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, this may have a downside. Increased production of bioethanol would have the side effect of creating food shortages. In fact, prices of cone and sugar cane have shown sharp rises, since these crops are being consumed for conversion into bioethanol.

 Fears are growing that prices of wheat and rice could rise in a knock-on effect. Moreover, these price rises of crops as a whole could lead to price increases of meat from livestock fed on agricultural produce, as well as price rises of eggs and dairy products. This could aggravate existing food problems in countries with low average income levels.

 Thus, from a global perspective, increased production of bioethanol in the interests of the vehicle owners? who are comparatively wealthy-could come at the expense of low-income populations. In view of this, rather than increasing the use of bioethanol, working to improve fuel economy of vehicles should be encouraged toward the objectives of reducing CO2 emissions by motor vehicles.