Autonomous driving, infotainment and constant updates will require much more powerful but also more standardized microchips and central computers in future cars. At the same time, costs can be reduced and the supply relationships for semiconductors, which have recently been strained due to the supply crisis, improved, said Klaus Hofmockel, hardware development manager at the IT division Cariad in the Volkswagen Group. “In the medium term, we want to reduce the variety of control units in the vehicle,” he explained. “The goal is to bring all microcontrollers to a standard.” In more highly equipped cars, there are still up to 100 control units.
Facilitate handling of supply chains
“We have to find new ways to centralize the computer systems in the car,” said Hofmockel. “In addition to simpler software updates and simpler maintenance, this ultimately also makes it easier to deal with the various supply chains.” Electronics have been difficult to obtain for the auto industry since the corona crisis, and many manufacturers have been able to produce less than planned.
In order to be able to keep up with competitors like Tesla when it comes to the crucial chip technologies, for example for its own major projects Artemis or Trinity, VW wants to plan the systems from the start. “We are less concerned with a completely proprietary chip design,” explained Hofmockel, however. “The next step is more about a co-design between car and semiconductor manufacturers – that is, about defining together on an equal footing which systems work best.”
VW has selected Bosch and the US chip group Qualcomm as partners. A phased plan is being pursued, said Hofmockel. “In the cooperation with Qualcomm, we will initially use existing chip designs that will be integrated into the VW operating system. Later, the focus will be more on the development of customized chips.”
High-performance computers on wheels
In the next generations, smaller and smaller high-performance chips will be used. “The car of the future is a high-performance computer on wheels. For this we need an enormous amount of computing power combined with the lowest possible power consumption,” explained Hofmockel.
The security of supply must always be taken into account. “We’re at a point where you have to make a commitment to semiconductor manufacturers about five years in advance about which chips you want to purchase in the future and in what quantities.” Some purchasing relationships with suppliers of conventional parts are “rather a phased-out model. Ultimately, it’s about developing skills to understand high-performance semiconductors in depth.”
As a kind of comprehensive IT brand, Cariad is to push the development of self-programmed software and its integration into the electronics of various VW subsidiaries. In the end, there was a problem with the implementation and with the further preparations. CEO Herbert Diess asked for understanding that the development of the division may take a little more time than initially thought.
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