Electronic supplier and automaker collaboration grows

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Freescale and BMW teamed up to create a gateway controller for the latter's luxury sports activity vehicles, highlighting the industry’s increasing openness to collaboration.

Freescale Semiconductor and the BMW Group teamed up to jointly develop a dual-core microcontroller that is being used in BMW’s 2010 luxury sports activity vehicles, highlighting a growing trend for automakers and suppliers to collaborate. A growing number of automakers and suppliers are collaborating to shorten design times and help engineers take a broader vehicle view of systems.

In a year-long design effort, BMW and Freescale developed the MPC5668G, a microcontroller that acts as a gateway that interconnects many body and driver convenience electronic control units. It’s expected to be deployed in the next BMW 1 Series and 3 Series and on the new X3 platform.

The move also highlights a growing trend for chipmakers and Tier 1 suppliers to work more closely with OEMs. Freescale also has a long-term partnership with General Motors for the creation of chips for powertrains.

“When you’re joined at the hip with somebody like BMW, it can help drive architectural changes,” said Steve Nelson, Global Marketing Director for Freescale’s Automotive Segment. “In safety, the cores are run in lockstep. In body applications, we run a lot of network processing on one core and handle control functions with the other.”

Other chipmakers agree that major benefits come when vendors and suppliers share information and work together. “For the IC supplier, collaboration leads to better understanding of the OEM requirements and production of a device that more precisely meets manufacturer needs,” said Shawn Slusser, Vice President, Automotive, at Infineon Technologies North America.

The Freescale chip’s role as a gateway between body control and driver convenience systems also spotlights the growing interaction between electronics systems. That’s prompting more teamwork at the Tier 1 level as systems work in close cooperation, making it more important for the systems to be considered as part of a whole rather than as stand-alone boxes.

“There’s a lot more collaboration today than five years ago; we see it on a daily basis on almost every program,” said Joachim Wolschendorf, FEV’s Chief Technology Officer. “There’s a new level of openness in most collaborations, even by people who used to hold their cards very close to their chests."

The Freescale controller also highlights the growing interaction between systems such as body control and safety. “When you look at safety, more and more factors are determined by the person, not the car,” Nelson said. “The body controller determines whether a person is leaning forward, which will have an impact on how the airbag deploys.”

The need for greater interaction between systems is also fueling a more holistic view of vehicle design. That’s especially true in electric vehicles.

“When you look at heating and air-conditioning in the cabin, you’re looking at things that really draw a lot of energy,” Wolschendorf said. “With hybrids and electric vehicles, the need for real system optimization is much higher than before. You’re not just looking at the HVAC system, you’re looking at it in conjunction with battery management and even regeneration functions that work in combination with the brakes.”

Tight relationships are particularly helpful in new fields. In telematics, for example, automakers are working with a number of service providers as the industry attempts to create attractive service packages that consumers will be willing to pay for. In systems, manufacturers throughout the supply chain are working closely together when they work in new areas such as hybrids and electric vehicles.

“Everyone’s trying to develop something that doesn’t already exist,” Wolschendorf said. “We need to utilize the strengths of battery suppliers and electric motor suppliers. It’s a two-way street, we don’t have a lot of experience with electric motors and the electric motor people don’t have much automotive experience.”

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