With a new president and chief executive in the driver's seat, Fujitsu Microelectronics Inc. is preparing to plow into the North American automotive IC market.
While keeping a keen focus on the high-end networking sector that occupies the bulk of FMI's resources, Kazuo "Ken" Iida is steering the San Jose-based Fujitsu Ltd. division toward a segment of the semiconductor industry that is not experiencing this year's dramatic downturn.
Iida previously served as president of Fujitsu Microelektronik Europe, where the company enjoys a strong position in the automotive sector.
"In the automotive market, our solutions are number one," Iida said. "Our combination of microcontroller, CAN [control area network], plus embedded flash memory is unparalleled. Maybe others are catching up, but at present, we're number one."
Semiconductor companies are attracted to the automotive segment because it's stable, according to Bill McClean, an analyst at IC Insights Inc., Scottsdale, Ariz. "It's one of the few bright spots in the IC industry these days," he said. "It's a fairly consistent market that doesn't have the tremendous inventory builds and burns."
IC Insights estimates the automotive semiconductor market will grow 10% to 11% this year, to about $10.3 billion. The research firm forecasts a market of more than $17 billion by 2004.
"Because there are so few big auto- makers, suppliers have to be very cost- competitive," McClean said.
But automakers also want the highest-quality devices, "which is why a lot of the integrated circuit producers don't pay much attention to the automotive market," he said.
FMI has both the technology and pricing to compete in the segment, according to Iida.
"In the European automotive market, we're very successful in Mercedes, BMW, and Audi," he said.
Iida said he wants to repeat that success for Fujitsu with U.S. automobile manufacturers. The company is using new devices in this pursuit, including two recently introduced 16-bit microcontrollers in its Fujitsu Flexible Microcontroller series. The MCUs are targeted at vehicle display-control applications such as needle-type meters for speedometers and fuel gauges, according to the company.
FMI will eventually offer MCUs for engine-control applications, Iida said. "Now, mainly, we're doing dashboard controls," he said.
Fujitsu has quality products and tenure in the industry, according to IC Insights' McClean.
"They have a chance to compete just like everybody else," he said. "Automotive is not an easy market, but it's a good market."