Auto parts industry evolves with the coming of age of self-driving cars

Auto parts suppliers are set to play a key role in smart cars. Here’s how…

Although the instrument panel on your gas guzzling new car sports sleek digital gauges with multicolored screens, a peek behind the electronics that keep everything together reveals a rat’s nest of components crammed together to get everything going.

Auto suppliers, including Visteon Corp, are now racing to clean up that clutter.

With the auto industry racing towards a virtual cockpit in the upcoming self-driving cars, Visteon is among a slew of suppliers who are aiming to streamline the dashboard so as it make it simpler, lighter and cheaper as well.

IHS Markit, a market research firm, estimates the electronic cockpit market to be worth $37-billion as of now. It is set to double by 2022. As per PriceWaterhouse Cooper, the electronics of self-driving cars could account for as much as 20% of the car’s value in the next two years; this is up from 13% in 2015.

The number of auto suppliers for these components is set to shrink with automakers wanting to work with fewer companies capable of doing more, said Mark Boyadjis, a principal automotive analyst at IHS Markit.

“The complexity of engineering ten different systems from ten different suppliers is no longer something an automaker wants to do,” said Boyadjis.

As per his estimates, automakers will work with only two to three cockpit suppliers for each of their models, down from six to 10 today.

Visteon’s solutions stands out because of its computer module dubbed “SmartCore.” This domain controller operates the vehicle’s infotainment system, instrument cluster, and other features.

Detroit-based Visteon Corp has already landed two big contracts for undisclosed sums so far: in April it landed Dongfeng Motor Corp’s contract while the other contract is with Mercedes-Benz.

As per Visteon, an European automaker will also use its system in 2018.

Mercedes did not respond to requests for comment.

According to analysts, German automakers are taking the lead in consolidating functions within the dashboard with Audi being the first to debut a virtual cockpit in its instrument cluster and infotainment system.

As per Munich-based management consulting firm Roland Berger, streamlined dashboards could lead to significant cost reductions for automakers by as much as $175. This will also result in improved fuel efficiency. While today’s vehicles contain 80 to 120 electronic control units (ECUs), this number is expected to fall significantly in coming years.

Other features that are ready for integration are safe-driving features, rear seat entertainment systems and heads-up displays that provide vehicle data, including car speed on the windshield, say industry watchers.

Five years ago, the dashboard was just “a plastic molded cockpit that we stuffed electronics into,” said Yerdon, Visteon’s marketing chief. “Now it’s more about an electronic architecture that’s experience-driven, and we mold plastic around it.”

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