China Automotive Microcontroller Market – Growth, Trends, COVID-19 Impact, and Forecasts (2021 – 2026)

The technology is shifting toward V2X, which stands for ‘vehicle to everything,’ where information from sensors travels via high-bandwidth, low-latency, and high-reliability links. China is one of the leading supporters of cellular V2X, and with LTE-based solutions, the government currently plans for intelligent transportation systems (ITS), with spectrum in the 5.9GHz band allocation for C-V2X. By 2025, the strategy initiates that most new vehicles sold will be intelligent vehicles known as the "person-vehicle-road-cloud" model, which will achieve a new generation wireless communication network for vehicles (5G-V2X). This is expected to drive the demand for microcontrollers.

· The growing demand for electric vehicles is expected to drive the market’s growth. According to the Chinese Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM), the EV market’s share increased, with 8.4% decline in sales of combustion vehicles (26.82 million in 2018 to 24.56 million in 2019), with EV sales remaining relatively constant with 1.26 million in 2018 and 1.21 million in 2019. While government officials expect fossil vehicle sales to decline in 2020, the EV sales will remain relatively healthy, helped by a stable incentive environment and substantial numbers of Tesla’s locally made vehicles in China. Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, among others are accounting for the demand for EV vehicles. Furthermore, premium EV makers in China, such as Tesla and Nio, have plenty of future growth, are driving the microcontroller market’s growth. Also, China’s New Energy Vehicle (NEV) policy is primarily guided by the MIIT, who announced that NEV subsidies would remain relatively steady during 2020 due to the cause of COVID-19 pandemic.

· The anticipated rise in advanced features from the mid and high-end segments ​are expected to drive the growth of the market. The high demand of Chinese customers for greater connectivity in cars is driving the automakers to implement upgrades on their Chinese models ahead of the other major car players. The Chinese connected vehicle market is anticipated to witness a double-digit growth rate. According to the Accenture survey, currently, 11.6 million cars on Chinese roads feature online connectivity, which account for 10.6% of the market. Also, more than 41 million people in China will be using in-car connectivity by 2021.

· Furthermore, in the quest to the forefront of the worldwide ICV (Intelligent Interconnected Vehicle) competition, numerous Chinese companies forged ties with firms across the world. Sino-German partnership in this field covers research collaborations, JVs to vehicle construction and HD mapping. As a Chinese firm with the most advanced ICV technology, Baidu maintains close ties with companies, such as Daimler, Bosch, Continental, and BMW, primarily via its Apollo platform. This advancement in features, with numerous partnerships, is expected to drive the demand for new innovation in microcontrollers that further increase the market’s growth.

· Ongoing trade stand-off and recent decline in the automotive sector due to the COVID-19 pandemic are challenging the market’s growth currently. In January 2020, China’s car sales reduced by 18%, and the China Passenger Car Association (CPCA) considers that the first two to three-month sales could decline by 40% or more. Production shortfalls mostly from international players in China, resulting from supply chain disruptions will impact global automakers. While Moody’s Investor Service adjusted its global vehicle sales forecast to decline by 2.5% in 2020, instead of a previous 0.9% decline due to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, the decline is likely to be 6-8%, with knock-on effects into 2021.

Key Market Trends

ADAS to Witness a Significant Growth in the Safety and Security Segment

· With increasing modernization of vehicles, the demand for microcontrollers is gaining an upsurge, particularly in applications, such as airbags and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) solutions. ADAS systems use electronic technology, such as microcontroller units (MCU), electronic control units (ECU), and power semiconductor devices that help the vehicle driver while driving or during parking.

· When designed with a secure human-machine interface, they are intended to increase car safety and, more generally, road safety. For safety and security, 16-bit microcontrollers are mostly being used to control the vehicle.

· Furthermore, China NCAP (C-NCAP) aims to follow the lead of Euro NCAP for its assessment protocol. The organization is currently studying the feasibility of including active safety technologies as a part of their future rating. The possibility of increased vehicle safety requirements in China is already pushing OEMs to offer more advanced ADAS. Furthermore, the China-new Car Assessment Program (C-NCAP) has added the automatic emergency braking (AEB) test with a rating score of 11%. This requirement is probably to accelerate ADAS product demand and penetration in China during the long term.

· Furthermore, STMicroelectronics announced to be named partner on an ADAS platform, to address the medium to the low-end automotive market in China, where the ADAS will be consisting of various microcontrollers that adhere to the market growth.

· Also, in April 2019, a part of the strategic collaboration, NXP invested an undisclosed sum in Hawkeye Technology (China), which will build radar sensor modules using front-end transceivers and microcontroller chips from NXP. NXP announced that the move to the more advanced systems is largely responsible for the huge growth rate in automotive radar. Whereas today’s production vehicles are typically using between one and three radar sensors for Level 1 and Level 2 ADAS, whereas future vehicles may employ as many as 6-10 radar chips on Level 4 and Level 5 vehicles

· Also, Singulato, an emerging Chinese automaker, indicates that conventional automotive design is highly different, and when it comes to intelligent driving capabilities, separate data cannot be combined for multi-scenario applications. The company has a set of sensors of its own, and another automated parking company also uses different sensors from others. Singulato further adopts integrated design at the beginning, using the same sensors to implement more than a dozen of ADAS functions. Furthermore, such design makes subsequent OTA (over-the-air) update easier. With advent adoption of integration by the company in the ADAS platform, the demand for microcontrollers is expected to increase.

· Also, players, such as Cogobuy strategically invested in Locoway in August 2019. Locoway is specialized in research and development for automatic safe driving smart terminals, including ADAS and driver monitoring systems (DMS), as well as providing hardware, software, and services for smart cars. Services by Locoway include testing and installation of ADAS and DMS for several bus companies in China. This further enhances the market demand for 16-bit microcontrollers.

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Chassis to Hold a Significant Market Share

· With an increasing export value of chassis fitted with the engine on a yearly basis in China, the demand for microcontroller is expected to increase. The integration of multiple functions onto a single device emerged as a new technology trend. In the past, there were separate ECUs for separate functions. Currently, integrating them is a bigger step forward for automakers and tier 1 suppliers in China.

· In February 2019, Renesas’ RH850/U2A incorporated up to four 400-MHz CPU cores, along with up to 16 megabytes of flash ROM and 3.6 MB of SRAM. It largely depends on the strength of computing power.

· In developing the new MCU (microcontroller), Renesas took elements from its existing P-line family of MCUs and then combined with elements from its existing F-line family of devices. The P-line had typically been employed in chassis.

· Furthermore, to support the ASIL D level required for chassis/safety applications, the hardware-based virtualization assist technology allows customers to implement multiple software with different functional safety levels on the RH850/U2A MCU and run concurrently without interference while maintaining the real-time performance required to control the vehicles.

· Also, in September 2019, to help the automotive industry meet the upcoming emissions regulations for single- and twin-cylinder gasoline engines, STMicroelectronics, with Arrow Electronics, released a complete reference design ECU (Electronic Control Unit) for electronic fuel injection (EFI). The SPC5-L9177A-K02 ECU reference design targets small engines for motorcycles, scooters, and three-wheelers, which must satisfy the upcoming China IV.

· The reference design key components are ST’s SPC572L Line 32-bit Power Architecture automotive-powertrain microcontroller and L9177A high-integration IC hosting power supplies, interfaces, and load actuators, which are specifically designed for the application and market needs and to manage up to four-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines in addition to chassis, transmission, steering, and braking systems.

· However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several Chinese vehicle assembly plants extended their seasonal shutdowns, and the automotive component supply chain is disrupted with some industrial areas in lockdown. However, with a low rate of the pandemic in China, currently, a few automotive plants reported resumption of production since March, while some are remain shuttered. Major affected carmakers in the region include Dongfeng, GM, and PSA. This hampers the export for automotive chassis integrated with the engine by which there will be significantly low growth registered by the microcontroller market, mostly for 16- and 32-bit microcontrollers.

Competitive Landscape

The Chinese automotive microcontroller market is moving toward a fragmented market, due to new innovations in the product and new technologies being integrated into the vehicles. This provides an intense rivalry to the Chinese players. Key players are NXP Semiconductors​, Microchip Technology, etc. Recent developments in the market are:

· October 2019 – NXP Semiconductors launched the i.MX RT1170 range of crossover MCUs, which are expected to open the GHz microcontroller era. The firm says the new chip combines unprecedented performance, reliability, and high levels of integration to propel the automotive applications.

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