While Renesas tries to define its future with a renewed focus on automotive, competing chip companies aren't sitting idle. In recent months, the uncertainty of Renesas' future has emboldened many non-Japanese automotive chip suppliers -- including ST, Freescale, and Infineon. Reportedly, they are moving aggressively to take business away from Renesas, or at least to secure second-sourcing agreements with leading Japanese automakers.
Asked if ST sees an opportunity to hire away design engineers from Renesas, Martin Duncan, business unit director responsible for ADAS and microcontrollers at STMicroelectronics, said, "No. But we've added a number of engineers from ST-Ericsson. Their mobile multimedia expertise turned out to be really excellent and useful to us." Ericsson and ST dissolved their mobile chip joint venture earlier this year.
Renesas, too, had a mobile subsidiary called Renesas Mobile, built after the Japanese company's acquisition of Nokia's LTE modem team.
Facing stiff competition from Samsung and Apple -- the two dominant smartphone brands on the global market -- which prefer to use their internally designed SoCs, Renesas Mobile struggled in the smartphone market, just as ST-Ericsson did. Renesas Mobile was sold to Broadcom this past summer.
Ironically, profiting from Renesas Mobile's LTE cellular expertise won't be the parent company Renesas Electronics. Instead, it is its competitor Broadcom, which is determined to pry open the automotive market.
Prior to R-Car M2 SoC announcement, Renesas unveiled a partnership with Murata Manufacturing Co, Ltd. and Ubiquitous Corporation. The Japanese company has started a technological collaboration to develop high-speed network connection technology targeting the in-vehicle infotainment market.
The partnership is said to combine Renesas' automotive SoC, the "R-Car," and Murata's WiFi module and driver software with Ubiquitous' high-speed activation solution and wireless communication software technology. Renesas claimed that "R-Car" automotive SoC "holds the world's No. 1 share in the automotive infotainment market." Murata is expected to offer a next-generation WiFi automotive module and software including 802.11ac and Miracast.
At just about the same time, Renesas unveiled the R-Car M2 SoC platform and its technology partners, Broadcom launched the industry's first automotive-quality 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth low energy (LE) combo chip. Broadcom's move, which surprised some industry analysts, illustrates the Irvine, Calif.-based company's commitment to making a dent in the automotive market, mainly by leveraging the company's leading market position in mobile connectivity devices. Broadcom's strategy is to turn their chips into automotive quality, capture the potential market early, and leapfrog traditional automotive chip suppliers.
While it remains to be seen how big inroads new entrants like Broadcom might make in the automotive market against incumbents, changes in the landscape are already happening.