2021 is shaping up to be a big year for automotive tech

Bob O'Donnell

Posts: 11   +1
Staff member
Highly anticipated: In 2020, Tesla somehow managed to create a stock market valuation as large (or larger, depending on the day) than the next 7 largest carmakers combined, but chalk that up to Wall Street insanity rather than the actual progress of the market. The truth is that car tech adoption has been modest at best, and traditional carmakers are showing signs of life. Plus, we’re still many, many years away from a day when you can walk into an auto dealership and drive away in a fully autonomous car. Despite that plunge through the hype cycle, it really does seem that 2021 is shaping up to be a big year for automotive tech.

Several years back, the tech industry was abuzz with what looked to be an enormous and imminent opportunity to completely reshape the automotive industry. Powerful new chips were poised to bring autonomous driving to the masses, tech companies were positioning themselves as disruptive innovators destined to turn mobility into a service, and traditional car companies were thought to be lost causes. Needless to say, five years on, that’s not exactly what happened.

However, it really does seem that 2021 will be a very big year for automotive tech. The signs are everywhere. Some of the biggest stories coming out of this year’s virtual CES were automotive related: the impressive, forward-looking keynote by GM CEO Mary Barra, the college lecture-like discussion on the current state of autonomous driving by the CEO of Intel-owned Mobileye Amnon Shashua, the enormous 56” Hyperscreen display from Mercedes Benz’ forthcoming EQS electric sedan, and even the latest iteration of Sony’s concept car the Vision-S. Toss in a significantly reinvigorated round of rumors on Apple’s “Titan” car project, and the stage is clearly set for a big year in automotive tech.

This time, however, things are a bit different. First, of course, there’s the widely acknowledged reality that achieving fully autonomous Level 5 vehicles (on the 5-level scale of self-driving technology) is significantly harder to do than many first predicted.

There is also the recognition that the move to fully electric vehicles—which many consider a prerequisite to achieving autonomy—is also happening at a significantly slower pace than many thought. Most importantly, however, there’s a growing awareness that a huge continuum of opportunity exists for automotive tech between where we are now and a fully autonomous electric vehicle. In other words, not all automotive tech has to be focused on self-driving vehicles—there’s a huge range of things that can be done to make the time we spend in our cars more enjoyable, more productive, and safer.

The reality of that mindset came through loud and clear in the aforementioned GM CES keynote. While the company is indeed working on things like battery technology for electric cars and driverless “pods”, much of what it revealed/demonstrated was the more practical enhancements that technology can bring to the driving and overall automotive experience, everything from lighting to interior displays, software-based feature upgrades, and assisted-driving functions.

Much of that same pragmatic perspective seems to be behind the latest automotive-related developments from chipmaker Qualcomm as well. The company unveiled a number of new chips, software, and platform partnerships all designed to improve the enjoyment, capability, connectivity, and safety of vehicles that we’ll actually be able to purchase over the next few years—including some from GM, with whom Qualcomm announced a new extended partnership.

The big debuts are fourth generation chip and platform architectures for its Snapdragon Automotive Cockpit platforms, as well as expansion of its Snapdragon Ride assisted and autonomous driving platforms. In addition, the company talked about the ongoing momentum it is seeing with its 4G and 5G modem-based telematics solutions for car connectivity (including forthcoming C-V2X support for car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communications) and the currently shipping third generation digital cockpit platforms.

The latest chip offerings feature some of the same 5nm-based core architecture advancements as its popular Snapdragon line of smartphone chips, but they are purpose-built for the car market and include automotive grade functional safety capabilities, such as redundancy, to meet requirements such as ASIL-D and ISO 26262 safety standards.

On top of the hardware, Qualcomm also announced a growing range of partnerships with software companies, both for low-level operations, such as virtualization with companies like Blackberry-owned QNX and Green Hills Software, as well as consumer-facing features such as Alexa integration with Amazon, automatic valet parking features from Valeo, and precise lane-level positioning (even in places like covered parking garages) with Alps Alpine. All told, it’s an impressive array of hardware, software, and partnerships now necessary to advance automotive tech in a meaningful way.

In fact, one of the most interesting things about the Qualcomm automotive news is that it highlights how complex and how interdependent the world of smart car technology has become. Getting to fully functional cars with advanced capabilities is clearly going to take a large number of partners working together. This is another significant change from the last round of automotive tech hysteria when many companies were trying to achieve too much on their own.

Qualcomm also made a point to highlight the range of choices that it now offers to meet the widely varying demands of different automakers and even different car lines within a given automaker. For digital cockpits, the company offers three levels of capability, and its newly expanded Snapdragon Ride platform is expected to scale from basic Level 0 functions in a single chip to Level 4 autonomy through the combination of multiple chips within a single drive computer.

The company also acknowledged the new reality that we could easily start to see multiple different chip vendors parts being used in a single car—such as one for digital cockpit and IVI (in-vehicle infotainment) functions and another for ADAS (advanced driver- assistance systems)—or even multiple vendors each taking on different tasks within each of those major subsystems.

The bottom line is that all of these developments—and many more to come—are pointing to the reality of software-defined, always-connected cars. While that too was a popular talking point many years back, the truth is that we’re finally starting to get the hardware that’s necessary to power these new capabilities, the range of software tools required to enable them, and the collective experience and perspective needed to turn a more realistic set of automotive tech goals into a more compelling reality.

The signs are encouraging—let’s hope this really is a big year for automotive tech.

Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter .

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Uncle Al

Posts: 7,965   +6,731
The biggest news will be if the automakers follow Biden's advice and come up with a reasonable vehicle that has good range and is priced well below the $30K threshold so lower-middle class and the poor have a shot at affording it. The new quick-charge batteries promising 200 mile range with a 5 minute re-charge are extremely helpful and will generate a lot of change overs from gas engines but certainly not all. This needs to be a gradual change over so it is more acceptant to everyone and still allows for those diehard gas engine enthusiasts to have a place as well ....
 

QuantumPhysics

Posts: 4,322   +4,577
As a stock investor, I realized it prudent to invest in the big auto makers when the crash happened in March. My family did so during the 2008 crisis and made a mint off of Ford.

This time around, the automakers retooled to create PPE thus justifying their investments.

For 2021 my strategy is investing in Big Banks, Big Oil/Energy companies, Auto companies and EV auto companies.

Big Banks and Big Oil pays the dividends. All of the EV companies - specifically Tesla - have skyrocketed mostly on Tesla's coattails.

But these are long term holds - not good for day trading. My biggest problem with them is they don't pay Dividends which makes them more tempting to Day Trade.
 

mbrowne5061

Posts: 1,767   +1,012
...The new quick-charge batteries promising 200 mile range with a 5 minute re-charge are extremely helpful and will generate a lot of change overs from gas engines but certainly not all. ...
Honestly, I am still super skeptical about those batteries. I won't question whether they were mass produced, but I do wonder about their longevity. Even then, if the hardware is actually 'hard' and not vaporware, I am still skeptical of "5 minute charging" for batteries at EV-scales. Lithium batteries have a voltage between 2.5-3.6V~ (depending on the exact chemistry), so whatever voltage the rest of the system operates at must be a multiple of this - and you can't really 'play' with that voltage. So in order to charge that those impressive rates, after AC/DC conversion, the car will require a massive amount of current draw. Our grid overall can probably handle it with some upgrades that need to applied anyway, but I wonder if the 'last mile' of the grid can handle the currents that would be necessary to supply a 'population' of cars like this.

IMO, slow charging, long-range batteries are still the better route for now. At least until the electrical grid is upgraded across the board.
 
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Uncle Al

Posts: 7,965   +6,731
Honestly, I am still super skeptical about those batteries. I won't question whether they were mass produced, but I do wonder about their longevity. Even then, if the hardware is actually 'hard' and not vaporware, I am still skeptical of "5 minute charging" for batteries at EV-scales. Lithium batteries have a voltage between 2.5-3.6V~ (depending on the exact chemistry), so whatever voltage the rest of the system operates at must be a multiple of this - and you can't really 'play' with that voltage. So in order to charge that those impressive rates, after AC/DC conversion, the car will require a massive amount of current draw. Our grid overall can probably handle it with some upgrades that need to applied anyway, but I wonder if the 'last mile' of the grid can handle the currents that would be necessary to supply a 'population' of cars like this.

IMO, slow charging, long-range batteries are still the better route for now. At least until the electrical grid is upgraded across the board.
I am also skeptical about their lifespan, but the costs quoted so far look to be about 25% of existing batteries. I have found one other article that stated these would be recharged by 220 3 phase 50 amp which is the approximate voltage/ampacity of the "on demand" water heaters so if you want to recharge this at home it's' going to cost a bit for an electrician to wire it. Of course for overnight they could have an alternative "trickle charge" but no mention of that so far.
 

Tantor

Posts: 91   +126
...This needs to be a gradual change over so it is more acceptant to everyone and still allows for those diehard gas engine enthusiasts to have a place as well ....
How about we do a 'gradual change' the other way and wean all these diehard electric motorheads off their inane electric car fixation? That would keep them quiet until the changeover to internal combustion is accomplished.
 

Tantor

Posts: 91   +126
The biggest news will be if the automakers follow Biden's advice and come up with a reasonable vehicle that has good range and is priced well below the $30K threshold so lower-middle class and the poor have a shot at affording it.
What, is Biden some kind of expert in automotive marketing? Are you kidding?
 

Nobina

Posts: 2,875   +2,604
I don't like most of car tech as it is usually something that takes away control from me, the driver. The way software is made today, rushed with bugs and constant updates that break things makes me avoid it.
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 7,965   +6,731
What, is Biden some kind of expert in automotive marketing? Are you kidding?
One doesn't have to be a genius to understand how to attract the greatest number of customers. It does help to have a basic understanding of scientific principles and to be able to apply them. The direct connection between the burning of fossil fuels and climate change is beyond obvious and only remains a mystery to those that ignore the facts. I was once a non-believer until I started at square one and followed it through to the final conclusion.
 

mbrowne5061

Posts: 1,767   +1,012
I am also skeptical about their lifespan, but the costs quoted so far look to be about 25% of existing batteries. I have found one other article that stated these would be recharged by 220 3 phase 50 amp which is the approximate voltage/ampacity of the "on demand" water heaters so if you want to recharge this at home it's' going to cost a bit for an electrician to wire it. Of course for overnight they could have an alternative "trickle charge" but no mention of that so far.
I think most places in the USA also require special permitting to get 3-phase 220VAC. And at 50 amps, that is 'just' 11KW. I don't see them charging a EV battery in 5 minutes with 'only' 11KW.

Something is not adding up here; some piece of information is either being held back from the public, or is being glossed over by tech writers/in the documentation.
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 7,965   +6,731
I think most places in the USA also require special permitting to get 3-phase 220VAC. And at 50 amps, that is 'just' 11KW. I don't see them charging a EV battery in 5 minutes with 'only' 11KW.

Something is not adding up here; some piece of information is either being held back from the public, or is being glossed over by tech writers/in the documentation.
Actually 220 VAC 3 phase is standard to all panels at 200 amp or greater and the size delivery is governed by the breaker & wire size so it's not a problem. The real problem is most people are not comfortable handling such voltage/amperage. By my calculations (had to go back to the book on this one would take a service accommodating 408 to 440 volt. That is actually common in Europe but not in the US, which is a bit strange considering the economic advantages, but then again, how many people would be comfortable plugging a lamp into such voltage?!?
 

wiyosaya

Posts: 5,615   +3,805
I think most places in the USA also require special permitting to get 3-phase 220VAC. And at 50 amps, that is 'just' 11KW. I don't see them charging a EV battery in 5 minutes with 'only' 11KW.

Something is not adding up here; some piece of information is either being held back from the public, or is being glossed over by tech writers/in the documentation.
Charge to a battery is mainly dependent on voltage and that is controlled by the charge controller. That is, a battery will only charge if the voltage you place on it is higher than the extant voltage of the battery. 11Kw is a relative power figure. In DC systems, it would be considered 11-kilojoules meaning it can supply 11-Kilowats per second.. To get the actual power applied to the battery, you have to multiply 60-seconds times however many minutes. For example, 5-minutes times 60 seconds is 300, times 11 Kw is 3,300 kilowatt-seconds. I have no idea what the capacity of those quick charging batteries are, but the charge time of 5-minutes at that rate is only something like 0.9 Kwh, and that seems rather small. If you leave that amount of power charging the battery for 1-hour, then, presumably, it will have absorbed around 11 Kwh. of course, there are losses in the process, and there is a power factor when using AC that amounts to some fraction of the available watts = volts * amps equation.

So, you are right. It might not charge in 5-minutes at home, but it will charge given enough time.

EDIT: Corrected my half-fast power math. ;)
 
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