[CEATEC Preview] Power Semiconductors and Communications Are Highlights in Automobile Electronics

Sep 25, 2008
Naoshige Shimizu, Nikkei Electronics

The automotive market is currently riding a huge wave of change. Gasoline prices are escalating all around the world, the US market is facing financial crisis and people are moving away from automobiles in the Japanese market.

Japanese automakers are facing nothing but adverse conditions. Under these circumstances, the only key for the Japanese automakers to the survival in the global competitions is the technology to improve fuel economy, and automakers have been promoting miniaturization as well as a shift to electric cars. Particularly, a number of technologies contributing to the shift to electric cars are expected to be exhibited at CEATEC JAPAN 2008.

Among such technologies, the next-generation power semiconductor technologies incorporating the SiC, which have a potential to significantly enhance the efficiency of electric cars, are receiving considerable attention.

Two notable announcements were made in September 2008. One is an inverter using SiC diodes for vehicle use. Nissan Motor Co Ltd developed it in collaboration with Rohm Co Ltd. Nissan has started driving tests of FC vehicles loaded with this inverter (See related article).

The other is a SiC power module composed of an inverter and a converter, which was jointly developed by Honda R&D Co Ltd and Rohm (See related article 2). In respect to the two announcements, we should pay attention to the exhibition by Rohm.

Nissan Motor Co Ltd, which exhibited in CEATEC for the first time as an automaker last year, will participate again this year. The company focuses on the "Telematix," a communication service intended for vehicles. Nissan will show the future of automotive communication services in the "Media Modal-Shift" booth established in collaboration with SoftBank BB Corp, Hewlett-Packard Japan Ltd, Xanavi Informatics Corp and others, as well as at its own booth.

We should also pay attention to navigation systems, which function as communication terminals for the Telematix. Recently, high performance stationary systems costing more than ¥200,000 (approx US$1,893) are being replaced with simplified portable systems (PND) costing less than ¥100,000.

New types of navigation systems such as low-priced stationary systems and high-performance PNDs are coming into the market now. For example, Fujitsu Ten Ltd disclosed a stationary navigation system priced at ¥85,000 in September 2008. Although it is a stationary system, its price is comparable to the prices of PNDs.

Pioneer Corp and Sanyo Electric Co Ltd respectively disclosed products that provide wireless communication services to PNDs and have started to move toward the shift to high-performance products.

It will be possible to see vehicle navigation systems looking for the next path to the future at a number of CEATEC booths.