In the world of vehicle electronics and electrification, Paul Hansen stands in a league of his own. As the author and publisher of the must-read The Hansen Report on Automotive Electronics, which he founded in 1988, Hansen is the industry’s keenest eye and most respected observer. And once again, SAE International is delighted to have him return to its Convergence conference and exhibition, slated for Oct. 19-20 in Detroit.
On the morning of Oct. 20, Hansen will moderate “The Carmakers Speak” panel, featuring the top electrical engineers from seven of the world’s major OEMs. Recently Automotive Engineering International spoke with him about what he’ll be asking the panelists, as well as his view of the latest vehicle-electrification trends. Following is an excerpt from that conversation; the complete interview can be viewed on AEI-online.org.
AEI: Paul, this year’s "Carmakers Speak" panel literally is a who’s-who of the industry’s top EEs. You must be excited to get at these folks!
Hansen: No question, this is the best Carmakers Speak panel I’ve ever had. We’ve got the top engineers from Honda, General Motors, Ford, BMW, Chrysler, PSA, and Toyota. And they’re ready to step up and answer questions about which everybody wants to know.
AEI: What are the "hot" issues you expect will be discussed by your Convergence panel?
Hansen: We’ll talk about who’s up and who’s down regionally—which OEMs and Tier 1s are in the lead and who’s coming along. The center of gravity of automotive electronics has moved from Detroit to Germany and Japan. If you look at all the standards that are in play in the automotive electronics world, and those being promoted, almost all of them are German—Flexray, Autosar, CAN, Osec, and GENIVI. Even standards for smart phone connectivity, terminal mode standard, while it came out of Nokia, has cooperation from a German consortium. In terms of who’s setting standards for automotive electronics, it’s definitely the Germans.
We also really want to know from Toyota where they stand on Autosar. They’ve been investigating it for years, but what is their level of commitment to Autosar? They may or may not tell me, but it would be a huge breakthrough. Toyota NEVER goes on panels like this! Vehicle electrification, connectivity, and infotainment technologies will certainly be discussed. And “cloud computing,” using the Internet, is such a remarkably wonderful advancement that needs to be applied to the automobile—and not just to the infotainment systems. That’s another likely topic.
AEI: Collaboration is a theme overriding the Convergence show.
Hansen: That’s the theme that Ford and Microsoft put together as co-hosts, isn’t it? They collaborated to bring Sync to all of us. This is the first Convergence I’m aware of in which the chairmanship, so to speak, is being shared. It supports that notion of collaboration. Collaboration also underpins all of the technical sessions that have been planned.
AEI: You mentioned Sync, and there’s GM’s recent relaunch of OnStar. The Infotainment space is exploding. What’s most interesting to you?
Hansen: A lot of stuff! It’s one of the most dynamic parts of the auto industry. There are so many stories here. First you have the dominant Tier 1s—the Harmans, the Continentals, the Bosches, and the Japanese—Clarion, Aisin-Seiki, Denso, and others. They make infotainment systems that are basically a combination of navigation and radio, and they’ve sold these at rather high prices to the OEMs, starting with the luxury brands.
So the question is, to what degree can those infotainment systems move downmarket and into lower-priced vehicles? And what effect does a smart phone and Internet connectivity have on these Tier 1 engineered infotainment systems? The whole infotainment market has been roiled really. We have the Tier 1s and also standards playing a role here. The GENIVI standard that’s come along is an attempt to re-use software to make infotainment development significantly less expensive. Then you’ve got connectivity to smart phones; that’s another factor.
One of the many questions in my mind is how will all this play out for the infotainment system suppliers? I personally think the infotainment system suppliers who have to do all the integration—regardless of whether or not we have smart phones—they’re still in a pretty good place. I think their markets will be going up.
AEI: Vehicle electrification surrounds the infotainment boom. It brings more subcontrollers in the vehicle, more ECUs, more wiring. Do you see the complexity forcing more consolidation of electronic and electrical systems in the vehicle?
Hansen: Yes, it is an added layer of complexity. It’s not necessarily something that brings the industry to a whole other challenging era, beyond what we’ve already been facing. But electrification does add significantly to the value of electronics and electrical parts on board the vehicle—semiconductors, IGBTs, diodes, much more robust; wiring harness. And as you suggest, motor control systems. But I think as you know the whole world is thinking about electrification. All carmakers are making the investment to add those powertrains to their vehicles.
See Paul Hansen’s The Carmakers Speak panel on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 10:00 a.m. to noon, Riverfront Ballroom, Cobo Center, Detroit.