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Making automotive electronics reliable

John Day

John Day

Posted Sep 29, 2010

Cars today contain a wide array of electrical and electronic (E/E) features that control or affect starting, stopping, steering, shifting, and almost every other aspect of the driving or riding experience.

Take Hyundai’s 2011 Equus for example. It includes a 608-watt, 17-speaker Lexicon audio system; electronically controlled air suspension with continuous damping control; vehicle stability management with pre-collision warning; smart cruise control; high intensity discharge headlamps; front and rear parking assistance system with rearview camera; driver seat massage; heated and cooled front seats, heated wood and leather steering wheel – and that’s a partial list.

It is hard to say which E/E features will have the most appeal for buyers and distinguish the Equus from other luxury vehicles. Competition based on automotive electronics is already at such a pace that some features are checklist items; taken for granted along with doors and a steering wheel.

The Equus is a good example of the current state of the automotive E/E art. Based on industry averages, the car likely contains more than 70 electronic control units (ECUs) and over 100 million lines of software code, and its E/E applications are intricately interwoven.

With so many ECUs, so much software, and so much message traffic on multiple bus networks in cars today, there are endless opportunities for minor and major E/E system failures. But the reality is that E/E systems work as they are supposed to far more often than not.

Electronic systems are inherently more reliable than mechanical systems, and as the electronic content in cars increases, cars become more reliable. Paradoxically, cars are more sophisticated than ever before, with more than can go wrong; nevertheless, they are also more reliable than ever.

That was not always the case. E/E reliability has evolved over the past 40 years and continues to evolve due to the collaborative efforts of engineers throughout the automotive supply chain.

Hyundai Equus, parking assistance, HID headlamps, Rear-View Camera

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John DayJohn Day recently launched John Day’s Automotive Electronics News ( to provide news and feature coverage of the automotive electronics industry. Earlier he wrote for Auto Electronics magazine, Auto E-lectronics, EE Times, and other business and engineering publications. Visit John Day

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