complete acceptance of the concept. “Collaboration was not always the norm for the auto industry,” noted David Cole, chairman emeritus for the Center for Automotive Research . Fifty years ago, Ford, GM and Chrysler never shared technology, he said, partly because collusion was viewed as a violation of antitrust laws. The hyper-competitive atmosphere even applied to the relationships between divisions within a single organization. At one time, Cole said, divisions of General Motors refused to share engines or employees. Thus, Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Pontiac and Chevrolet paid for development of their own proprietary engines, and employee movement between those divisions was considered a violation of unwritten protocol. “They actually had a history of competing against themselves,” Cole said.
That’s changing, however, albeit not with great speed. King-type leaders, such as Jacques Nasser at Ford and Roger Smith at GM, were replaced by “coach-type” CEOs, such as Alan Mulally and Mary Barra, who focused on team values and collaboration, Cole said. Moreover, auto companies have begun to break down the walls between them. General Motors, for example, recently teamed with Ford Motor Co. on nine- and ten-speed transmissions and with Honda Motor Co. on fuel cells. Similarly, GM, Ford and Chrysler cooperate under the auspices of a research organization known as USCAR (US Council for Automotive Research), as well as the USABC (US Advanced Battery Consortium).
Self-driving vehicles built by Renesas use an automated driving platform known as Autonomy, which provides an “open platform” approach. (Source: Renesas Electronics America)
Continued cooperation will be critical in the case of autonomous cars, suppliers say. “As the industry moves toward Level 4 and Level 5 driving, vehicle architectures will fundamentally change,” noted Amrit Vivekanand, vice president of the Automotive Unit for Renesas. “Vehicle networks will change, too, because of the sheer volume of data that’s going to be running on the car.”
Vivekanand added that the move to openness is about collaboration, and not about the use of open source software, such as Linux. “That, perhaps, is where you’re seeing some pushback from carmakers, especially in the area of safety-critical systems,” Vivekanand said. “But that’s not what we’re advocating.”
Renesas, along with other suppliers, promotes the use of a building-block type approach in which they supply microcontrollers and mixed signal devices for chassis, steering, braking and other parts of the auto. “We want to supply Lego blocks that can be mixed and matched in different ways to fulfill the customer’s needs,” Vivekanand said. “Then the OEM or the Tier One can plug their IP into it.”
To be sure, that approach would benefit the suppliers, as well as the automakers, which is one of the reasons for the big push. Autonomous vehicle technology is so complicated – in some cases requiring hundreds of MCUs per vehicle – that the semiconductor companies simply can’t build vehicle-specific solutions for every automaker.
Suppliers say that intellectual property of the autonomous systems – automatic braking, steering, object detection and the like – will continue to be the responsibility of the automakers and the Tier Ones. “Individualization is the role of