TrendForce’s latest research on the automotive electronics market finds that government policies worldwide to reduce carbon emissions have facilitated faster adoption of ICT-based solutions within the automotive industry. According to TrendForce’s analysis, the global average value of analog ICs and power transistors for power management will come to US$209 per vehicle in 2017, an increase of 11% from US$188 in 2016. Furthermore, the automotive industry is projected to account for 23% of the total worldwide demand for power transistors this year. Automotive has become the second largest application for power transistors, while the industrial application is the leading source of market demand for the product.

“Countries have adopted stricter standards for carbon emissions and air pollutants generated by vehicles,” said TrendForce research manager Jian-Hong Lin. “To comply with regulations, auto makers are making energy efficiency a priority in their vehicle designs.”

Lin also pointed out that automotive semiconductors have become especially critical for companies developing xEVs, which include battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). A plug-in vehicle has an electric charging system to provide power, a power conversion system to convert DC to AC and DC to DC of another voltage, plus a power supply system to distribute AC and DC to secondary systems within the vehicle. “Efficiency in AC/DC conversion and safety in power management are two key elements in the regulatory standards that xEV must meet before they are released to the market,” said Lin. “Therefore, specifications and performances of semiconductor components used in xEVs are very important.”

Demand for analog ICs and power transistors is expanding as xEV batteries grow in capacity and deliver electricity in higher voltages

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Lin pointed out unlike a smartphone, which needs only one power management IC (PMIC), a xEV due to safety requirements have numerous PMICs spread across its subsystems to maintain voltage levels as well as neutralizing static charges and signal interferences.

Lin added: “Power management occurs just as electricity is trasmitted from the charging station and stored into the vehicle’s battery. Further conversions of currents and reduction of voltages take place in the vehicle’s primary inverter, secondary inverter and DC/DC converter. Therefore, PMICs have a major role in every subsystem of a xEV.”

Semiconductor components for power management include application-specific MCUs, MOSFETs, IGBTs, driver ICs and ICs for the battery management system (BMS). Currently, the main suppliers of these components are globally recognized automotive electronics companies such as Infineon, Renesas, STMicroelectronics and Texas Instruments. As xEV batteries grow in capacity and deliver electricity in higher voltages, the demand for analog ICs and power transistors – whether for conversion or circuit protection – is expected to rise.

Looking at the global power transistor market by applications, the automotive segment will account for 23% of the market for 2017, up from 22% in 2016. TrendForce further forecasts that the automotive’s share of the market will reach 26% in 2021. This year, automotive is set to become the second largest application market for power transistors.

China’s IC companies are laying the groundwork for a vertically integrated supply chain that can provide automotive products

While most other digital ICs are able to continue to shrink in size following Moore’s Law, power transistors are encountering physical limits to further down-scaling. There are also limited options of materials that power transistors can use to work under high voltages and to raise conversion efficiency. At the same time, traditional silicon-based PMICs do not fit the specifications standards for the latest generation of driver safety and assistance systems. Overcoming these bottlenecks requires further advances in semiconductor materials. Hence, silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) are two semiconducting compounds are have the been the focus of development in the field of power semiconductors.

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China now accounts for over 30% of the new vehicle sales worldwide, and its government actively supports the development of the domestic xEV industry. With xEVs, Chinese car brands may have a chance to establish a greater presence on the international market. Likewise, China has placed great importance on the domestic research of SiC and GaN components for power semiconductors and is also supporting the construction of fabs that supply these products. Currently, there are several 6-inch wafer fabs in the country that is being upgraded to produce SiC and GaN components. Also, major Chinese cities such as Xiamen and Quanzhou are also investing to build their local and vertically integrated supply chains for power electronics devices. These planned industry clusters would contain manufacturers of wafer substrates, epi-wafers and chips. It remains to be seen if Chinese semiconductor companies can change the competitive landscape of the automotive electronics market that is dominated by European, U.S. and Japanese enterprises.