Taiwanese firms target changing auto industry

  • 20-Jan-2010 03:24 EST

MSI Funtoro’s video server displays different video in front- and rear-seat displays, providing up to 54 video streams for buses.

Taiwan’s automotive suppliers are forging mergers and building new facilities to position themselves for growth in emerging markets such as electrified vehicles, LED lighting, and versatile infotainment. Manufacturers in various industries see the chance to expand their shipments to OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers as the industry makes dramatic changes, opening the doors for new suppliers.

Although the island nation is known primarily for manufacturing about half the world’s PCs and motherboards, Taiwanese manufacturers already have a solid presence in autos. The auto parts sector industry is around $4 billion annually, according to the government-backed Industrial Economics & Knowledge Center.

One of Taiwan’s largest companies, PC and board supplier Micro-Star International, entered the automotive field two years ago by merging with Funtoro, which produced a range of electronic systems for cars, trucks, and buses. PCs and server technologies will form the basis of its automotive thrust.

“We see automotive electronics and PCs moving together,” said Vincent Lai, Vice President of Marketing Development at MSI. Automotive sales should grow to 10% of the PC maker’s revenues this year, up from only 2% in 2009, he added.

Much of that revenue will come from the bus and coach industry. MSI is producing a media-on-demand server that supports up to 54 monitors that can display video from sources such as DVDs and satellite TV. MSI linked the 54 monitors together using ethernet, which makes it easy to add or remove monitors while also leveraging the low cost of ethernet connections. A scaled-down version targeted at cars provides separate streams for rear seats, drivers, and front-seat passengers.

Infotainment is also the focus for E-Lead Electronics, which produces a number of radio head units that are sold mainly to OEMs. Many of them are sold for Asian versions of vehicles that are upgraded with E-Lead radios when they are imported.

The radios employ Bluetooth, iPod, and USB connectivity and have large 6.5-in displays. However, they aren’t currently attached to networks. “Adding CAN is a big challenge,” said Mark Su, Marketing Vice President. “There are a lot of differences in CAN systems and a lot of developers hold back the technology so it’s difficult to get the necessary software.”

As the auto industry moves toward electrified powertrains, several Taiwanese manufacturers are also aiming to get in on the ground floor. Fukuta Electric and Machine Co. built a new facility capable of making 1000 electric motors per day when it moves into full production late this year.

Sports car maker Tesla Motors is one of the companies that uses its motors, which have outputs of up to 180 kW. “Our motors are very light, around 55 kg, but they can run at up to 14,000 rpm,” said General Manager Gordon Chang.

Semiconductor maker Panjit Group moved into the lithium battery market late last year by acquiring battery developer LifeTech Energy Inc. In addition to making batteries that are used in Toyota’s Prius and other hybrids, LifeTech has developed a system that lets fleet owners check the status of each vehicle’s batteries.

The company also makes power-management systems that balance loads that manage temperatures and extend battery lifetimes. “Our second-generation management system has been approved by Chrysler and General Motors,” said Jimmy Lin, Executive Assistant to the President at LifeTech.

Hota Gear, which makes transmission gears, also recently expanded its facilities as it gears up for global electric-vehicle markets. “We’re beginning to make transmission parts for hybrid vehicles, and we’re also working on a lot of parts for electric vehicles,” said Sales Supervisor Scottie Tien. “North America currently accounts for about 65% of our business, but we feel Europe can be bigger than the U.S.”

In the lighting field, Giantlight Traffic Supplies Instrument Co. is making a rapid transition to LEDs, beginning by producing daytime running lights. Its first offering uses four Osram LEDs in a projection lamp.

“We picked projection LEDs instead of reflective because projection provides more brightness and longer lifetimes,” said Vera Parn, Business Chief at Giantlight. She noted that about a third of the company’s lamps are sold to OEMs.

Another emerging market, tire-pressure monitoring, is the new focus for Mobiletron Electronics Co. Its 433-MHz radio-frequency system is being used in cars, but it may play a bigger role in trucks and buses going forward. That is because its transmission is strong enough to send signals the full distance of a 30-wheel container flatbed.

Taiwan’s automotive suppliers will demonstrate their capabilities in Taipei during April at AutoTronics Taipei. The trade show will have more than 1000 exhibitors, with an expected crowd of 56,000.

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