Freescale, GM link up for hybrid controls

  • 13-May-2008 04:48 EDT
Freescale's Power Architecture chips control GM's two-mode hybrid.

Freescale Semiconductor and General Motors are strengthening their partnership in powertrains, extending it to hybrid controls. The move comes as Freescale hits a number of milestones during its transition to a new CEO.

Freescale is supplying the microcontrollers used for the two-mode hybrid drivetrain in General Motors’ Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon Hybrids. The power inverter module used in this powertrain is controlled by Freescale’s Power Architecture chips.

The design win bodes well for Freescale’s attempts to gain share in the emerging hybrid market, which grew at a 40% clip in the U.S. during 2007, according to J.D. Power and Associates. That is because GM, Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW co-developed for the two SUVs the two-mode full-hybrid system, holding potential for Freescale to gain seats with those partners.

The 32-bit processors used by GM hit a milestone early this year, exceeding 100 million shipments to the auto industry. Many of those went to GM, which has used the Power Architecture devices throughout its powertrains since 2004. Freescale also announced that it has shipped more than 300 million 16-bit S12 and S12X processors to the auto industry.

These announcements come as Freescale struggles to hold its number one position in this industry. The supplier is losing some market share as new consumer products become part of the automotive field.

“Their market share is slipping very slightly,” said Mike Williams, Automotive Analyst at Gartner. He noted that Freescale is not a big player in two high-growth segments, portable GPS and digital radio, which are growing at around 8%. The overall market for automotive semiconductors is growing at about 5%, he explained.

Maintaining a lead over Infineon and STMicroelectronics, who are closing the gap on Freescale, is the challenge now facing Rich Beyer, who became CEO in February. The former head of Intersil Corp. replaced Michel Mayer, who became CEO in 2004.

The challenge from number-three supplier STMicro also underscores the intertwined nature of the electronics industry. Early this year, Freescale and STMicro announced that they have produced first silicon for the first four automotive Power Architecture chips they jointly designed in a program started two years ago.


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