Tesla has navigated the worldwide automotive chip scarcity higher than most. It additionally pioneered utilizing a unified pc structure. How are these issues associated? What are the broader classes right here?
Initially posted on EVANNEX.
By Charles Morris
Of all of the improvements Tesla has delivered to the auto business, not the least vital is the unified pc structure utilized in its autos. This has enabled lots of the fantastic Tesla-only options that house owners rave about, and it’s not an excessive amount of to say that it’s been one of many firm’s best aggressive benefits. Now present occasions are highlighting what may very well be one other main profit.
Whereas researching my guide, Tesla: How Elon Musk and Firm Made Electrical Automobiles Cool, and Remade the Automotive and Vitality Industries, I used to be lucky to have the ability to interview Tesla co-founder Ian Wright, who supplied some eager insights about Tesla’s programs strategy to its software program, and this turned out to be one in all my favourite elements of the guide. I’ve referred to it in not less than a dozen articles, and because of the continued semiconductor scarcity, it seems like I’m going to get some extra mileage out of it.
The younger Tesla had roots within the Silicon Valley tech business, and its autos have been designed with a single pc working system from the start. This was the other of the way in which the legacy automakers have been (and principally nonetheless are) doing issues. A typical legacy car has a patchwork of separate computer systems that management completely different programs within the car. “I’m searching the window at my 2008 Volkswagen Touareg, and I wager that’s acquired sixty or seventy digital black containers, 300 kilos of wiring harness, and software program from twenty completely different corporations in it,” Ian Wright instructed me in 2014.
Consultancy Roland Berger not too long ago instructed Bloomberg that automakers want to revamp vehicles to make use of fewer semiconductors. Automakers are hoping that the hated chip scarcity will wind down quickly, however Roland Berger predicts that extreme bottlenecks will persist via 2022.
“Carmakers want to hurry up the transition to centralized digital architectures and thereby transfer to superior and modern nodes,” the analysts stated in a current report. A shift to a central design with a single onboard pc might drastically scale back the variety of chips wanted in a car. Roland Berger says the common car incorporates some 1,400 separate chips.
Sure, readers, my interview with Ian Wright happened seven years in the past. He instructed me that the legacy automakers have been “struggling” with the software program design of their autos, and that in the event that they continued to do issues that means, they have been “going to have an issue.” Effectively, now they’ve large issues. The consulting agency AlixPartners estimated that the chip crunch price the auto business some $210 billion in misplaced gross sales in 2021.
One other challenge is that legacy automakers don’t have a tendency to make use of the most recent and best chips. A part of the rationale for the provision crunch is that chipmakers aren’t fascinated about growing the provision of the older-generation semiconductors which might be utilized in most vehicles. If automakers would recurrently replace their chips, as builders of computer systems and client electronics (and a sure California carmaker) do, they may discover manufacturing capability to be much less of an issue.
EVs don’t essentially use fewer semiconductors than legacy ICE autos — quite the opposite, they have an inclination to make use of extra. EVs must convert the AC energy that comes from the grid into DC, which is saved in batteries (vehicles that use AC motors, as some Teslas do, must convert once more). This course of is managed by converter , which requires massive numbers of chips.
As Transport Dive experiences, a typical diesel-powered truck makes use of round 500 chips, however an electrical one might require as much as 5,000. The chip scarcity absolutely has one thing to do with the delayed launch of the Tesla Semi. Final October, Elon Musk introduced one more delay, saying that Tesla “needs to be via our extreme provide chain shortages” by 2023.
Tesla has navigated the provision crunch extra nimbly than different automakers, and we all know that not less than a part of this was as a result of it was capable of nimbly swap to newer, extra available chips. “In Q1, we have been capable of navigate via world chip provide scarcity points partially by pivoting extraordinarily rapidly to new microcontrollers, whereas concurrently creating firmware for brand spanking new chips made by new suppliers,” wrote Tesla in its Q1 2021 shareholder letter.
We are able to’t know precisely how a lot of a bonus Tesla’s unified pc structure is proving to be in terms of coping with chip shortages, however to paraphrase Herman Melville, there’s nothing improper with reporting an inexpensive surmise if there’s proof to help it. A unified structure is plainly higher. Tesla has it. Different automakers don’t.
Pc and software program are essential to the auto business, and because the tetra-trend (electrification, connectivity, autonomy, new possession fashions) continues, they’ll grow to be ever extra necessary. For Tesla, computing is a core operate, and that is one more space through which the legacy OEMs should catch up, or, as Mr. Wright predicted with basic understatement, they’re going to have issues.
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