You probably know that Renesas Technology and NEC Electronics are merging, reportedly to become the third-largest semiconductor company. It’s not clear how the respective product lines will come together, but Renesas and NEC both have a strong presence in the auto industry, so the deal is significant and it follows a dismal year.
Business prospects today are definitely better than they were a year ago, according to Paul Fox, director of marketing for Renesas’ automotive business unit, though they can’t compare with the good old days of 2006. “Back then a lot of people were flush with cash, the market was doing well, and there was a lot of R&D going on,” he recalls. “Today, organizations are focused on projects likely to generate revenue sooner, rather than later.”
With estimated vehicle sales of 11.4 million in 2010 compared with 10.5 million last year, Fox anticipates about a 10% jump in semiconductor revenues based on vehicle volume, but overall semiconductor sales should increase by 15-20% due to demand for the kinds of “creature features” on display at the Consumer Electronics Show. “There is very strong demand based on connectivity for portable devices,” he says, “and another significant factor is demand driven by government regulation.”
Fox suggests that the proliferation of high-resolution portable devices is raising consumers’ expectations for sophisticated dashboard displays, thus graphics is one of the more popular semiconductor applications. Concerns over fuel economy and mandates to curb emissions are factors spurring sales of powertrain control devices.
Renesas markets 32-bit microcontrollers based on its SH-2A core for both graphics and powertrain applications. It pursues safety and connectivity applications with SH-4A MCUs, the newest of which are the SH74552 and SH74562 active safety advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) applications such as obstacle detection and risk avoidance in popularly priced vehicles. Faster versions in larger packages are sold for use in higher-end cars.
Powerful MCUs drive complex applications that require a ton of software, and Fox says customers are offloading an increasing amount of system integration work onto MCU suppliers. “We’ve done board support packages for some of our SH-4A devices, and we’re developing additional tools. Semiconductor companies are providing more of a solution. We are less in the hardware business and more in the systems business.”