Global Automotive Chip Market Leaders: Analysis of Technological Innovation and Strategics

In today’s rapidly changing automotive industry, the widespread adoption of electric vehicles and the key role of silicon carbide (SiC) in the EV market is having a profound impact on the entire SiC value chain. This change can be summarized as “He who masters silicon carbide controls the future of the automotive industry.” According to McKinsey’s statistics and analysis, the SiC device market is currently valued at approximately $2 billion and is expected to grow from $11 billion to $14 billion by 2030. It is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 26 percent, and 70 percent of the SiC demand is expected to originate from the electric vehicle market. In the face of this huge market opportunity, global automotive chip giants such as STMicroelectronics, Infineon, ON Semiconductor, Rohm, and Renesas have accelerated their layout and launched fierce market competition.

In addition, driven by the trend of software-defined cars, the electronic and electrical architecture of automobiles is evolving from decentralized to centralized. In this process, the microcontroller unit (MCU) will assume more computing, control, and communication functions. This puts higher demands on MCU manufacturers: not only do they need to provide high-performance, low-power MCU chips, but they also need to provide comprehensive software platforms and toolchains to help automakers quickly develop and deploy software.

To summarize, in order to stay competitive in this evolving automotive chip market, all major chip makers are playing to their strengths and innovative strategies.

Infineon

Infineon, the market leader in power semiconductors and the world’s largest supplier of automotive chips, achieved remarkable success in fiscal year 2023, setting new records for revenue and profit. Its total revenue amounted to EUR 16,309 million, up 15 percent year-on-year, while profit amounted to EUR 4,399 million, up 30 percent year-on-year. This growth highlights Infineon’s strength in the semiconductor sector.

According to Yole’s analysis, Infineon’s leading position in the power semiconductor market is particularly significant and far exceeds that of its competitors. Infineon is in first place, followed by ON Semiconductor, STMicroelectronics, Mitsubishi Electric, Vishay, as well as a number of Japanese companies and China’s Ansell Semiconductor.

It is worth mentioning that Infineon’s acquisition strategy has played an important role in consolidating its leading position in the power semiconductor market. Infineon acquired International Rectifier, which owns the Power GaN business, in 2015, and Siltectra, which owns SiC wafer dicing technology, in 2018. By 2023, Infineon acquired GaN System for $830 million in cash and formally completed the transaction on October 24 of the same year. The deal was not only the largest in the power GaN industry but also an important strategic move for Infineon. With this acquisition, Infineon not only demonstrates its focus on the growth potential of GaN, but also shows its intention to enter the high-power market outside of SiC and to consolidate its leadership in the power semiconductor field. yole estimates that by 2028, GaN revenues from power applications will grow more than 10-fold, with a CAGR of up to 53%, and that the overall GaN market is projected to reach US$2 billion. billion dollars.

In addition to power semiconductors, Infineon’s performance in sensors and microcontroller products has earned it an edge in the automotive market. Infineon offers complete and comprehensive system-level solutions in all areas of automotive applications. Whether in body and electrical and electronic architecture, chassis and safe autonomous driving, or powertrain, Infineon has an extensive product line. With these products, Infineon has been awarded several long-term contracts for automotive semiconductors, including MCUs and power semiconductors, further consolidating its leading position in the automotive chip market.

NXP

NXP Semiconductors, a leader in the global automotive processor market, derives a large part of its business from the automotive sector.TechInsights Strategy Analytics has ranked NXP as the No. 1 automotive processor in the world by 2022. This achievement emphasizes NXP’s significant position in the automotive chip market.

NXP’s automotive processor line is represented by the S32, and the company is continuously improving the performance of the S32 processor. The recently launched S32M2, a dedicated motor control solution for software-defined automotive edge nodes, effectively increases the software reuse of the S32 automotive computing platform. In addition, NXP is one of the few companies pushing automotive chips to advanced processes. In the automotive field, which has traditionally been dominated by mature processes, NXP’s flagship S32 processor has reached the 5nm technology level.

Driven by its business in the automotive and core industrial segments, NXP forecasts full-year 2023 revenues to be flat with 2022, despite a challenging and cyclical market environment. 2023 financial results show first quarter revenues of $3.12 billion and a gross margin of 56.7%, second quarter revenues of $3.3 billion and a gross margin of 57.0%, and third quarter revenues of 3.43 billion dollars, gross margin of 57.2%.

NXP’s increasing focus on software in recent years is a major shift in the era of software-defined vehicles. NXP is committed to providing platform-based solutions and making platforms and tools as compatible with each other as possible. From the release of the first CAN transceiver in the 1990s to the present, NXP’s product line has covered a wide range of product categories such as MCU microprocessors, analog front-ends, gate drivers, safety power management, in-vehicle networks and sensors. By organically combining these products, the company has become a supplier of system-level solutions for electrification. Almost all of NXP’s products are based on the Arm architecture, which is easily scalable for users and has given NXP an advantage in its long-term partnerships with several automotive OEMs.

Although NXP is one of the few major automotive chipmakers that does not have a presence in the SiC space, the company has become one of the few companies in the world that can present and interact with its customers in a systems-thinking manner for virtually every electronic control unit. This comprehensive capability has enabled NXP to remain a strong competitor in the automotive chip market.

STMicroelectronics

STMicroelectronics (ST) owes its leadership in silicon carbide (SiC) to its early partnership with Tesla. According to a McKinsey study, ST leads the SiC discrete device and module market with a 36% market share in 2022. This significant market share reflects ST’s leadership in SiC technology and its strong presence in the market.

ST is investing heavily in SiC, with approximately $4 billion in capital expenditures planned for this year, aimed at expanding its 300mm wafer fabrication capabilities and silicon carbide manufacturing capacity. This investment demonstrates the importance ST attaches to SiC technology and its long-term development plans in this field.

McKinsey’s analysis also points out that China is the country with the highest expected demand for electric vehicles, and is expected to account for about 40% of the total silicon carbide demand for electric vehicle production. China is expected to remain the world’s largest SiC market through 2030. In response to this demand, ST has localized its layout in China. In June of this year, ST announced the establishment of a manufacturing joint venture with China’s Sanan Optoelectronics in Chongqing, which will conduct large-scale mass production of 8-inch silicon carbide devices. This initiative is designed to meet China’s growing demand for ST SiC devices in applications such as automotive electrification, industrial power, and energy.

Market share of SiC discrete devices and modules

In 2023, ST’s performance bucked the market and benefited from the growth of its automotive business. in the first quarter of 2023, ST reported revenue of $4.25 billion with a gross margin of 49.7%; in the second quarter, revenue improved to $4.33 billion with a gross margin of 49%; and in the third quarter, revenue further increased to $4.43 billion with a gross margin of 47.6%. Revenue growth in automotive products and power discrete devices contributed a significant portion of ST’s earnings growth during the period.

Overall, ST’s strong performance in the automotive and industrial chip segments, particularly its leadership in SiC technology, has solidified its position in a changing market environment.

Renesas

Renesas Electronics leads the automotive microcontroller unit (MCU) market, ranking No. 1 with a 30% market share in 2022, according to ICinsights. Renesas’ main products are the R-CAR series, which are widely used in mainstream domestic models, especially the R-CAR V3H.

To better meet the needs of the automotive market, Renesas Electronics has recently released a roadmap for the development of next-generation automotive SoC (System-on-Chip) and MCU processors. These new processors utilize advanced packaged small-chip technology and are designed to deliver the high performance required for domain and area electronic control units (ECUs) in the electronic/electrical (E/E) architectures of next-generation vehicles. In addition, Renesas plans to offer a virtual software development environment to accommodate the automotive industry’s trend toward a left-shift approach.

Renesas’ revenue

In addition to continuing to grow in the MCU and SoC space, Renesas is following the trend in the automotive industry and has begun to focus on SiC power devices. Renesas plans to start SiC production in 2025 and has signed a $2 billion SiC wafer supply agreement with Wolfspeed to receive 150mm and 200mm silicon carbide die and epitaxial wafers.

However, due to the current uncertainty in the automotive industry, especially the changes in the Chinese market, Renesas said it will slow down the pace of SiC production. 2023 Renesas’s overall results, although not a significant decline, but there was some decline. First-quarter sales were 359.7 billion yen (up 3.7% year-on-year) and operating profit was 124.8 billion yen (down 10.8 billion yen year-on-year). In the second quarter sales were 368.7 billion yen (down 2.2% year-on-year) and operating profit was 129.1 billion yen (down 16.3 billion yen year-on-year). By the third quarter, sales were 379.4 billion yen and operating income was 132.3 billion yen. Of this, sales in the automotive business rose 11.7% year-on-year to 176.3 billion yen. In contrast, sales in the industrial, infrastructure, and IoT business declined by 11.5% to ¥200.7 billion.

Taken together, Renesas’ leadership in the automotive MCU market is solid, while its new moves in the SoC and SiC fields show the company’s focus on and adaptation to future technology and market trends. Despite the volatility of the market, Renesas is proactively adapting its strategy to meet challenges and seize new opportunities.

Texas Instruments

Texas Instruments (Texas Instruments, referred to as TI) in recent years, the core strategy focuses on the massive expansion of its internal manufacturing capabilities, especially in the field of 300 mm wafer manufacturing. As one of the earliest manufacturers to enter the field of 300 mm wafer fab, TI has been its strategic focus. In the past few years, TI in the existing factory based on a series of expansion plans, is adding six new 300 mm wafer fabs, focusing on investment and enhancing the 45 to 130 nm technology node capacity.

TI has two fabs in Lee Head, Utah, LFAB1 and LFAB2. LFAB1 was acquired in 2021 and began production of 300-mm wafers in 2022; in February 2023, TI announced the construction of a second 300-mm semiconductor fab, LFAB2, at the site, which will be connected to the existing fab.

In Richardson, Texas, TI has two fabs, RFAB1 and RFAB2. RFAB1 opened in 2009 and was the world’s first 300 mm analog fab. The second 300 mm wafer fab connected to it, RFAB2, began production in 2022.

The DMOS6 facility in Dallas, Texas, was one of TI’s early 300mm fabs and began production of 300mm analog technology in 2014.

TI is currently building four fabs in Sherman, Texas, SM1, SM2, SM3, and SM4. The project was announced in November 2021, with the first fab expected to be in production by 2025.

TI is optimistic about the growth potential of the automotive sector. The company produces analog and embedded processing chips for markets such as industrial, automotive, personal electronics, communications equipment, and enterprise systems. In the first three quarters of 2023, the automotive business was the only area where TI showed growth, while the market weakness was felt in the industrial sector.

Specifically, revenue for the first quarter of 2023 was $4.38 billion, revenue for the second quarter was $4.53 billion, and revenue for the third quarter was $4.53 billion, with a net profit of $1.71 billion, a 14% decline from the same quarter last year. Forecast revenue for the fourth quarter is between $3.93 billion and $4.27 billion. Even at the highest forecast, total revenue in 2023 would only reach $17.71 billion, down 10 percent from $20.03 billion in 2022. Despite this, TI has continued to invest, investing $3.7 billion in R&D and $4.9 billion in capital expenditures over the past 12 months, according to Haviv Ilan, the company’s president and CEO. These investment behaviors show that TI is actively laying out the future to meet market changes and challenges.

ON Semiconductor

ON Semiconductor, has realized significant business growth over the past few years, especially after the addition of CEO Hassane El-Khoury, and the success behind it is largely attributed to the company’s significant shift in strategy.

In August of 2021, ON Semiconductor shifted from its traditional IDM (Integrated Device Manufacturer) model to a more flexible Fab-lite model, exiting under-sized fabs. This strategic realignment enabled ON to quickly capitalize on opportunities in the automotive and industrial markets. By May 2022, ON presented its Fab Right strategy targeting efficiency improvements and best-in-class return on invested capital (ROIC), claiming that this would be the company’s pathway to accelerating 3X revenue growth in the semiconductor industry. According to ON’s financial forecasting model, ON’s revenues will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 10 to 12 percent from 2022 to 2027, a growth rate that is three times the projected growth rate of the semiconductor market.

ON Semiconductor’s focus on smart power and smart sensing, particularly in silicon carbide (SiC), silicon power (IGBTs, FETs) and power ICs, as well as smart sensing technologies for automotive and industrial applications, has yielded significant results. Even in a challenging 2023, ON achieved record revenues. revenues in the first quarter of 2023 were $1,959.7 million, with automotive revenues up 38% year-over-year and accounting for 50% of total revenues; revenues in the second quarter were $2,094.4 million, with automotive revenues surpassing $1 billion, up 35% year-over-year; and revenues in the third quarter were $2,180.8 million, with revenues from Automotive revenue reached an all-time high of $1.2 billion, up 33% year-over-year.

Simon Keeton, executive vice president and general manager of ON Power Solutions, has pointed out that in traditional fuel vehicles, ON’s electronic components are worth about $50-$100 per vehicle, while in electric vehicles, the figure can exceed $2,000.

At the heart of ON’s tremendous success in the automotive space is EliteSiC. 2023 saw ON’s silicon carbide revenues nearly double quarter-over-quarter in the first quarter and nearly quadruple year-over-year in the second quarter. To support the increase in SiC manufacturing capacity, in October 2023, ON Semiconductor completed the expansion of its state-of-the-art and world’s largest silicon carbide (SiC) manufacturing facility in Bucheon, South Korea. When operating at full capacity, the plant will be able to produce more than one million 200 mm SiC wafers per year. With these initiatives, ONC is maintaining and even exceeding the growth rate of the SiC market.

Rohm

Rohm Electronics Corporation sees the automotive market as a key area for growth in the current weak market environment and has made significant investments in silicon carbide (SiC) technology. Rohm plans to invest up to 510 billion yen by the end of March 2028 in SiC technology.

On November 7, 2023, Rohm implemented a major strategic move by acquiring the assets of Solar Frontier’s Kunitomi plant in Japan. The plant will be operated in the future by Blue Bix Semiconductor, a subsidiary of the Rohm Group, as a second plant in Miyazaki, and will become Rohm’s main production base for SiC power devices. This marks the first time that Rohm produces wafers in Japan after Rohm’s SiC wafer production mainly relies on its SiCrystal factory in Germany. The acquisition will help Rom quickly expand its production scale. Rom set the goal of 2030, SiC wafer production capacity will be 35 times more than in 2021. Specifically, by 2025, Roma’s SiC capacity is expected to increase by 6.5 times.

Conclusion

In summary, in order to cope with the development of automotive intelligence and electrification, the higher requirements put forward by the chip, the world’s major chip giants are in the automotive products, technology and cooperation and other aspects of the active layout. Each company is showing its unique competitive advantages and innovative strategies. It is foreseeable that the competition in the automotive chip market will become more intense in the future, and this field will continue to witness significant development and change as technology continues to advance and market demand grows.

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