Following mobile phone chips, automotive chips have also entered the 5nm era.

On November 12, the First Financial reporter learned from Qualcomm that Qualcomm’s fourth-generation Snapdragon automotive digital cockpit platform has been sampled, and the development kit will be ready in the fourth quarter of 2021. Ai Hezhi, senior director of product marketing at Qualcomm, said that the above platform uses a 5nm process technology.

In semiconductor manufacturing, the process technology represents the advanced level of the chip. Generally speaking, the smaller the number, the more advanced the technology is. However, due to the difficulty of the process and the long ramp-up time for mass production, the current mainstream solution for automotive chips is the 7nm process.

It is understood that among the global automotive chip companies, in addition to Qualcomm, NXP is also expected to deliver the first 5nm samples this year.

The battle for advanced technology

Driven by the trend of networking, electrification, and intelligence, automobiles have become “data centers on wheels”, and the amount of automotive semiconductors has increased rapidly. According to data previously released by Gartner, the global automotive semiconductor market is expected to reach US$65.1 billion in 2022, accounting for 12% of the global semiconductor market and becoming the fastest growing part of the semiconductor segment.

“Automakers are adopting 5G technology faster than 4G.” Ai Hezhi said at the Qualcomm 5G Innovation Cooperation Forum that from 2013 to 2014, only 2 automakers launched 4G-enabled cars, and in 2021-2023 more than 18 Automakers have released or are about to release 5G-enabled vehicles.

Qualcomm’s 5nm automotive chip samples China into the arena of global automotive chip manufacturers

Ai Hezhi believes that computing requirements are driving (automotive electrical and Electronic architecture) to evolve from a traditional architecture to a domain-based architecture, and will evolve to a partitioned architecture in the future.

“The total value of Qualcomm’s automotive solutions orders is close to US$10 billion, including in-vehicle networking, infotainment, and in-car connectivity.” Ai Hezhi said that in the past, the technical iteration of automotive digital cockpit chips needed to be replaced every five to six years, but The technology has evolved to about two to three years now.

From the perspective of the industry structure, in the past, companies such as NXP, Infineon, STMicroelectronics, and Renesas dominated the automotive semiconductor market. Due to the relatively stable market, outsiders rarely have the opportunity to enter. However, with the rise of ADAS and autonomous driving technology, the demand for computing and data processing capabilities of smart cars has skyrocketed, giving technology companies that are already interested in this market another reason to attack.

It can be seen that in addition to Qualcomm, the three giants Intel, Nvidia, and AMD have also entered the game. Tesla has even preemptively started to develop self-driving chips, and the battle for computing power has begun.

“Since NXP has decided to introduce the 5nm process for automotive products with TSMC, Qualcomm and Ambarella have also introduced the 5nm process for automotive chip products, and before that, Nvidia and Intel’s Mobileye’s autonomous driving chips are both in the manufacturing process. It’s 7nm, and Tesla’s self-driving computer HardWare 3 uses Samsung’s 14nm process.” An industry analyst told reporters that although traditional automotive chips boast high reliability and stable supply, the long-term development of autonomous driving is considered , The computing performance required by the processor chip responsible for signal judgment must be improved. In this case, advanced manufacturing processes have become an indispensable key.

China becomes the arena for global auto chip makers

According to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, as of the end of May 2021, the number of new energy vehicles in my country (4.280, 0.08, 1.90%) was about 5.8 million, accounting for about 50% of the global total of new energy vehicles, but more than 90% of China’s new energy vehicles Automotive chips mainly rely on imports.

Under the “software-defined car”, the automotive electronic and electrical (E/E) architecture continues to evolve, and the decentralized ECUs are centralized into several domain controllers according to their functions, and finally will be centralized into a central computing platform. The new business opportunities brought about by this technological change have accelerated the deployment of global automotive chip giants in the Chinese market.

Ai Hezhi said that in the past 18 months, Qualcomm Automotive Solutions has supported Chinese automakers to launch more than 20 models. In addition, Great Wall Motors (58.770, -2.98, -4.83%) is based on the autonomous driving computing platform built on the Qualcomm Snapdragon Ride platform. Its mass-produced models will be delivered in the second quarter of 2022, and will reach L4 level autonomous driving capabilities in limited scenarios.

In the eyes of industry insiders, China’s auto market has become a “fighting arena” for the world’s high-performance smart chips. Chen Liming, President of Horizon, said in a forum, “Currently, players of smart chips choose the Chinese market as their first launch place, and Horizon’s chips are also the first to be listed in China. The EyeQ5, a product of Mobileye, the world’s largest autonomous driving technology provider, will also be launched in China. China debuts, and Nvidia’s system-on-chip Orin will also debut in China next year. There are also some new players such as Qualcomm, whose chips will also debut in China next year.”

Chen Liming believes that in the current situation of chip shortage, the use of central computing architecture, that is, the reduction of MCU chip applications and the improvement of smart car computing efficiency will be one of the ultimate solutions to solve the automotive chip shortage.

From the perspective of the technology camp, several types of automotive chip manufacturers have formed differentiated competition in the main control chip of the smart cockpit. Qualcomm, Intel, and NVIDIA compete fiercely in the smart cockpit main control chips for mid-to-high-end models. Samsung and Huawei are emerging to enter the high-end market. AMD provides customized chips for Tesla’s flagship models. Renesas, NXP, etc. are in low-end models. It is widely used, and domestic innovative manufacturers such as Horizon cooperate with domestic models.

However, from the perspective of process advantages, international manufacturers have already started the mass production preparation of 5nm process technology “into the car”, and a car-grade chip usually takes 2-3 years to complete the car-grade certification and enter the OEM supply chain , After entering, it generally has a supply cycle of 5-10 years. From the perspective of time to catch up, domestic car companies and car chip manufacturers still have a long way to go.

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