The development of high-tech automotive cockpits by companies like Visteon and Audi will help usher in an era of self-driving cars. Fred Katayama reports.
Visteon's bold bet is paying off. The Ford Motor spinoff that emerged from bankruptcy seven years ago shed its interiors and climate businesses to focus on this: integrating the infotainment systems with the instrument cluster into a two-for-one system. The parts maker transformed the cluttered, unworkable dashboard of old into a consolidated component. It's powered by one computer, not two. Its SmartCore platform saves money, lessens weight, and boosts performance. It's now a leader in the race to produce all digital, integrated "virtual cockpits". Visteon has nabbed two key contracts this year: China's Donfeng Motor and Mercedes-Benz. Driving this integration trend: the increasing electronics content in vehicles and the shift to electric power trains. Visteon CEO Sachin Lawande says the push toward autonomous vehicles will further accelerate the integration of these so-called electronic control units, or ECUs. SOUNDBITE: SACHIN LAWANDE, CEO AND PRESIDENT, VISTEON, (ENGLISH) SAYING: "The higher the number of ECUs, it drives up the weight and the power consumption in the vehicle. Autonomous vehicles are largely going to be electric power train vehicles than conventional power train. This is going to be, the consolidation in short, is going to be a very big asset or help in making the powertrain last to the extent the vehicles of the future will require." IHS Markit predicts the $37 billion cockpit electronics market will nearly double to $62 billion by 2022. Visteon will need to keep an eye on the rear-view mirror. IHS's principal analyst Mark Boyadjis says Visteon will face plenty of competition. SOUNDBITE: MARK BOYADJIS, PRINCIPAL AUTOMOTIVE ANALYST, IHS MARKIT, (ENGLISH) SAYING: "They have been a leader in developing a cockpit domain controller, but they're not alone. Delphi also has business in the space, Bosch, has won business in the space, Harmon has won business in the space. And we fully expect Continental, Panasonic, Denso, many others to get involved." Down the road, look for integrated systems like SmartCore to offer climate control systems, rear seat entertainment, cruise control, and head-up displays. Lawande says Visteon has all the key components it needs to integrate for the cockpit of the future but will consider making bolt-on acquisitions. Also key: bolstering its software capability as it transforms itself into a software technology company and battles new entrants from the high-tech industry in the long journey ahead.