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Walden Rhines on the Automotive Electronics Landscape

Walden Rhines on the Automotive Electronics Landscape
by Roger C. Lanctot on 09-23-2017 at 8:00 am

Mentor President and CEO Walden Rhines gave a comprehensive overview of the automotive electronics landscape at the Mentor Integrated Electrical Solutions Forum (IESF) in Plymouth, Mich., this week. A key focal point of Rhines’ comments was the twin industry disruptors: EVs and AVs.

A Texas Instruments alum, Rhines described the normal electronics industry technology adoption life-cycle as a ramp up, during which a market grows and attracts new players, followed by continued growth toward an ultimate plateau and consolidation. He pointed to the onset of electrification and automation as forces drawing in dozens of new entrants to the automotive industry.

Rhines counts 300 companies around the world developing electrically propelled cars and light trucks and,, separately, 96 companies with announced autonomous drive programs. Supporting the development of these systems is creating substantial demand for increased investments in greater in-vehicle processing capabilities and the need for new vehicle architectures.

These demands are not only extreme for the financial demands and opportunities they are creating but they are also reshaping and being reshaped by new virtual design requirements and thermal management priorities. One might argue that the shift toward the greater integration of vehicle systems is even testing prior philosophical underpinnings of vehicle design while introducing new concerns regarding cybersecurity and privacy.

Rhines’ presentation was a tour de force of automotive electronics developments and set the stage for the in-depth discussions that followed at the event on topics ranging from cybersecurity and infotainment to the twin disruptors previously noted. Following up Rhines’ insightful offering was industry curmudgeon, gadfly, visionary, bad boy and former senior GM, Chrysler, BMW executive and author, Bob Lutz, who described the “Future of Human Transportation.”

A self-described car guy and frequent Tesla Motors critic, Lutz lamented the anticipated demise of car driving by humans. Lutz described what he sees as a future dominated by “sausage-shaped” self-driving pods as governments and insurance companies wrest the steering wheels out of the hands of human drivers.

Lutz says his sausage-pod future driving scenario will erase the value of legacy automotive brands reducing today’s titans of vehicle production to contract manufacturers for the likes of Uber and Lyft or their ilk. He further postulated the end of vehicle ownership as there will be no point, in Lutz’s transportation “end state” vision, of owning your own sausage pod when the pod of your dreams will be available on demand.

Lutz gave no timeframe for his apocalyptic picture of human-less driving but he was careful to emphasize that in his unique view the internal combustion engine is likely to persist. While he allowed that the current enthusiasm for EVs – primarily on the part of governments (and perhaps Tesla owners) – will eventually reduce fossil fuel demand, he said that the reduced demand will drive down fossil fuel prices preserving and extending the delta between the operating costs of EVs vs. cheaper ICE-based vehicles.

Casting his eye to the distant transportation horizon, Lutz sees no breakthrough in energy density or cost reduction capable of giving EVs a serious cost advantage to ICE vehicles regardless of the other advantages in performance and emissions reduction. In the end, though, after car companies and car ownership have fallen by the wayside car enthusiasts like Lutz will be confined to automobile dude ranches, he says. And motorcycles, another Lutz passion, don’t have a chance (or a place on roads dominated by AVs) over the long run, in his estimation. (Hasn’t Lutz heard of autonomous motorcycles – or does he simply see no point in such a concept?)

It’s good to know that an 85-year-old can embrace new technology like automated driving, even if it threatens a favorite pass-time or two. But when it comes to Bob Lutz accepting pure EVs as the dominant mode of human transportation in the future, it looks like the old GM Vice Chairman simply has to draw the line – in spite of the 300 companies around the world chasing the dream. It seems that EVs will remain the burr in Bob Lutz’s saddle to the end. It’s worth noting that Lutz tipped his hat to the still-thriving horse-riding industry, valued north of $10B, before leaving the stage.


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