CHICAGO, Ill. - The FlexRay Consortium has confirmed that Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and Hyundai Kia Motors have joined the consortium, thus putting the weight of the overwhelming majority of major automakers behind the FlexRay effort to create a common standard for automotive by-wire technology.
The four Asian automakers join General Motors, Ford, DaimlerChrysler, and BMW, along with Bosch, Motorola, Philips, and other major electronic suppliers that have previously joined the organization. The new members account for the construction of approximately 15 million vehicles per year and FlexRay members now account for about 40 million vehicles per year.
According to statistics from the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, approximately 58 million vehicles per year are built worldwide, which means that FlexRay members build approximately 69 percent of them.
"With the additions of the Asian manufacturers, the number of possible applications for FlexRay has increased by a vast number of vehicles," noted Claas Bracklo, senior manager of electrical/electronic architecture for passenger car development, DaimlerChrysler AG, and chairman of the FlexRay Consortium. "Numbers are the driving momentum for any standard; you need to have significant business partners."
None of the Asian automakers have acknowledged their entry into the consortium, but FlexRay executives included all four Asian companies as premium associate members on their site. FlexRay technology, which consists of electronic hardware and software, is being tabbed as a key feature in future vehicles because it provides a time-triggered, deterministic solution for safety-critical applications, such as brakes and steering.
Automotive engineers said that the addition of the four major Asian automakers is key for several reasons. By strengthening the FlexRay lineup the eventual adoption of so-called "by-wire" technologies, such as steer-by-wire, brake-by-wire, throttle-by-wire, and suspension-by-wire, become more imminent.
FlexRay could eventually serve as the architecture for control of powertrain, chassis, and airbags and could serve as the primary cable that ties all vehicle buses together.
"Our long-term vision is to have a fully deterministic communications system underlying everything in the vehicle," Bracklo said. "FlexRay could be that system."
The availability of FlexRay is significant to automakers and electronics suppliers alike.
"It allows us as OEMs to not spend valuable resources working on something that is not really a customer feature," said Ben Baker, director, chassis, electrical and powertrain interface at General Motors' Vehicle Engineering Center (Warren, Mich.). "With FlexRay in place, we can spend our time working on features that are more important to our customers."
Prototype samples of FlexRay silicon have already been produced, and pre-production silicon is expected from Philips Semiconductors and Motorola to be available at the end of 2004. By-wire steering and braking systems can be expected to hit the road two to three years after that pre-production silicon is introduced.
"It's a good indication that FlexRay will get the standards job done globally," noted Paul Hansen, publisher of The Hansen Report on Automotive Electronics. "It's almost unanimous. The question right now seems to be, 'Who isn't signing on to FlexRay?'"
FlexRay executives are still in discussions with French automaker PSA Peugeot Citroen and Delphi Automotive, both which had previously announced their memberships in the competing TTA Group standards effort.
"We now have most of the European manufacturers, American manufacturers, and Asian manufacturers," Bracklo said. "What's left is only the French, and we are in the same kind of discussions with them that were having with the Japanese manufacturers last August."